Referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World by William Jennings Bryan, the Natural Tunnel stretches more than 850-feet long and is as tall as a 10-story building. The tunnel was carved naturally over thousands of years through a limestone ridge, and today, it helps to make this breathtaking formation stand as the centerpiece of Natural Tunnel State Park in Scott County, Virginia. While this naturally-formed cave, which is so large that it is used as a railroad tunnel, easily merits a visit on its own, this Virginia state park boasts a whole range of additional attractions that make Natural Tunnel State Park the ideal destination for your next RV trip.
With cave tours and canoe trips on the nearby Clinch River, a swimming pool with a 100-foot slide, miles of hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and self-guided trails, the historic Wilderness Road Blockhouse, live music, and a chairlift to the tunnel floor, Natural Tunnel State Park has something to lure in every kind of guest from hikers and paddlers to history buffs and casual sightseers.
If you don't get enough of caverns in the park, the Appalachian Caverns, located in beautiful Blountville, Tennessee, are less than an hour away and make for a quick day trip. There's something for the whole family with so many local attractions in the vicinity.
Visitors eager to soak in the natural wonder of this park can take advantage of Natural Tunnel State Park’s 34 RV sites with water and electric hookups spread across two campgrounds. The park is open year-round, but if you want to enjoy the canoe trips and cave tours, plan to visit sometime between the warmer months of early May through late October.
Located in southwestern Virginia just a few miles from the Tennessee border, Natural Tunnel State Park sits about 13 miles north of Gate City, Virginia, and 20 miles north of Kingsport, Tennessee. The park is easily accessible by RV or car, as it is located just about a mile off of US 23 N and US 58 W.
Once inside the park, though, visitors should be mindful of more difficult roads to reach the campgrounds. The road to reach Cove View and Lover’s Leap Campground is narrow and steep, so all drivers, no matter the size of your rig, should drive with caution. Parking is available at the campsites as well as at various parking areas sprinkled throughout the park, including at the Cove Ridge Center and Swim Complex, the Wilderness Road Historical Area, and the chairlift area.
Lover’s Leap Campground, the second campground at Natural Tunnel State Park, offers 18 RV sites with water and electric hookups, which can accommodate rigs up to 50 feet. These sites are all back-in, and all have a picnic table, lantern post, campfire ring grill, and utility table. Since these sites do not have sewer hookups, guests will have to make use of the dump station located near the entrance of the campground access road. This campground features restrooms with showers, as well as a volleyball net and horseshoe pits. Visitors can purchase firewood and ice at the nearby campground host site. Unlike the Cove View campsites, sites here at Lover’s Leap can be reserved in advance.
Natural Tunnel State Park’s Cove View Campground offers 16 RV sites with water and electric hookups and can accommodate rigs up to 38 feet. There are no sewer hookups, so guests will have to make use of the conveniently-located dump station near the entrance to the campground loop. Each campsite in this loop comes with a picnic table and a campfire ring grill, and a restroom facility with hot showers sits at the end of the loop. All sites are gravel pull-through with a grassy area, allowing for relatively easy access. Guests are permitted to park two vehicles per campsite, and additional parking is available near the bathhouse. These sites cannot be reserved ahead of time, and are instead booked upon arrival.
Many of Natural Tunnel State Park’s trails are available for mountain biking, offering mountain bikers no shortage of opportunities for adventure in this Virginia gem year-round. Purchase Ridge Trail, Tunnel Hill Trail, Cabin Trail, and Gorge Ridge Trail are all open to mountain bikers. For anyone without a bike for their visit, mountain bike rentals are available at the campground host campsite, leaving you with no reason not to hop on a bike and cruise along the winding trails surrounding this natural wonder. Be sure and pack a raincoat if you go in late summer as southwestern Virginia is known for late afternoon rain showers, in which case, you will be glad you brought the Airstream.
This Virginia state park offers several miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy to difficult, and from 0.13 miles up to two miles. Any time of year, hikers can lace up their boots and follow trails to fascinating features all throughout the park: to the tunnel floor, Lover’s Leap, Tunnel Hill, Gorge Ridge, and more. Wildlife enthusiasts will especially enjoy soaking in the surroundings while hiking along the 1-mile Wildlife and Birding Trail located near the Cove Ridge Center. You may want to bring a telephoto lens on the trail in case you see some of the local fowl, such as the bald eagle or the belted kingfisher, which are known to be in the area as early as March and as late as November.
For the history buffs in your group, make sure to check out the Wilderness Road Blockhouse, which illustrates the significant role the area played in the 18th century during the country’s westward expansion. The original blockhouse was built in the late 1700s to protect European settlers from Indian attacks, and the park’s blockhouse replica and the adjoining Wilderness Road Blockhouse Visitor Center provide visitors with more information on life in this area during the 1700s. Additionally, the nearby Clinch River was navigated frequently by Daniel Boone, who lived in the area near Castlewood. The Southwest Virginia Museum, just 20 minutes south of the park in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, is a great place to learn about the early settlers of the area.
For a change of pace, enjoy some live music on your RV vacation. The Candlelight Series is a monthly event from January through April and features live bands from a variety of genres, such as swing, groove-funk, Latin, jazz, country, rock, and more. This monthly show is held at the Cove Ridge Center. There is a low admission fee for the events, but it is well worth the price as this event is known to have a host of talented musicians in the beautifully surrealistic environment of Natural Tunnel State Park.
In addition to the many native attractions at Natural Tunnel State Park, the park also offers a 5,400-square-foot pool with a 100-foot slide, two diving boards, and a kiddie pool, all perfect for people of any age who need to cool off and unwind after a day full of exploring. The complex also includes a large bathhouse as well as a place to get food and drinks. The pool is open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, so visitors hoping to soak up the sun at the junior Olympic-size swimming pool should schedule their trip accordingly.
There is only one chairlift in the Virginia State Park system, and it resides in Natural Tunnel State Park. This unique mode of travel makes it easier for everyone to enjoy the full enormity of the natural 10-story tunnel. The chairlift helps to make the tunnel fully accessible to those with disabilities. The lift carries visitors to the floor of the tunnel and then takes them right back up. The chairlift runs from the first weekend in May through the last full weekend of October, so visitors hoping to be carried down to the tunnel floor in the lift should make sure to visit the park during peak season.
From early April through late October, the park offers Wild Cave Tours, which takes visitors deep into the unique rock formations that lie below the surface of the earth. The tours allow visitors the opportunity to walk among stalactites, stalagmites, and into the homes of cave dwellers such as salamanders, crickets, and snails. In season and with river conditions permitting, the park also offers guided canoe and kayak trips on the Clinch River, giving adventure-seekers a whole range of opportunities to explore in the depths of this state park.
While there is some fishing in the park along Stock Creek, the best fishing is in the nearby Clinch River. The river, located about 5 miles from the park, offers a wide variety of fish, including walleye, red-eye bluegill, smallmouth bass, and musky. Boating along the Clinch is also popular, but before you embark on a fishing float trip, invest in a topographical map listing the ledges and falls on your journey.