I just returned from a trip that took me to our 5 parks on the far Western side of the state, Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park, Wilderness Road State Park, Natural Tunnel State Park, Grayson Highlands State Park and Hungry Mother State Park. It has been a while since I’ve been to any of them and for one of them my first visit ever. Over the next few weeks I’d like to take time to share highlights of my visits and some pictures I took while at each park in a 5 part series. This is the third installment.
Natural Tunnel State Park
Just a short drive down Route 23 from Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park, Natural Tunnel State Park is one of our premier parks. I got there right at 8am and quickly found my way to the parking lot above the tunnel. The chairlift to the bottom wasn’t to begin operations for another 2 hours, so I took an early morning walk. The trail leading to the tunnel is only about .3 miles long, but it is steep and a good workout.
Once at the bottom the view is breathtaking. There is one small tunnel that looks man made that railroad tracks come through, then across a small bridge over a babbling creek, and then the tracks curve into the “natural tunnel” and disappear into the dark. Above the tunnel is this sheer rock cliff that is so tremendous my lens couldn’t capture but half of what I was seeing. I got a little thrill while standing on the tracks when I heard a train horn in the distance. The tracks are still active and see as many as 10 trains a day come through the tunnel, quite unusual I’d say for a State Park.
I quickly ran up to an overhead boardwalk to capture the picture of the train coming through. After that excitement, I began that steep walk to the top, all worth the incredible view below.
I caught up with Craig Seaver, Park Manager at Natural Tunnel for many years. He gave me a great tour of this up and coming destination vacation park. The park has had a first rate overnight conference center and swimming pool for many years, but new development is quickly turning this park into a great place to bring the family.
A new campground sits at the top of the mountain and just above that are 10 cabins being built that should open in spring of 2010. The cabins should have some awesome views on a clear day while you sit on rockers on the back porches. Last year the pool added a 100 foot water slide to go along with a smaller kiddies slide and two diving boards. Even though it was after Labor Day and a little cool, the blue water of the pool looked so inviting. The park also has several picnic shelters available for rent and an incredible amphitheater.
Craig said they see several acts come to the park every year, but the highlight is typically the “Papa Joe Smitty” concert each year that draws some big name acts to the park. There were several seats undercover close to the stage, but I think I would just as much enjoy lying on a blanket on the grass with a nice picnic basket. The park is really one of our most beautiful parks and now has camping and soon will offer some wonderful cabins. I enjoyed my seeing everything and talking with our great staff we have working at Natural Tunnel.
But without a doubt, I think my highlight was something Craig pointed out to me as we drove through the campground. He said, “you see those 3 big RV’s there, those are all Maryland State Park Rangers”. I thought, maybe they make better money then us, but obviously we must have better State Parks. Y’all come back now, ya hear.