Admittedly, the Tunnel Trail at New River Gorge National River in south-central West Virginia is a bit of a letdown sans its namesake attraction: a cave-like passage now closed to visitors. Barring deep structural fixes to the poorly-supported tunnel—historically a favorite among locals—the rock maze is likely to remain inaccessible for months or years to come. However, it is still possible to complete the ½-mile Tunnel Trail loop, a casual stroll through dense woods and past towering rock faces.
Begin the hike from the parking area at the Grandview Visitor Center, the primary information station in the Grandview section of New River Gorge National River. Situated just 20 minutes from Beckley—a former coal mining town of 17,000—Grandview is a popular picnicking, climbing, and hiking spot for locals and tourists alike. The highlights of the area are the stunning viewpoints overlooking New River Gorge—namely Main Overlook and North Overlook (see my previous post here); lacking open vistas, the Tunnel Trail is more of an afterthought.
Nonetheless, hikers looking for a cool, shady walk can reach the Tunnel Trail by heading east from the Visitor Center, crossing the road, and following the wheelchair-accessible path to the Main Overlook. Just before the viewpoint, take a right onto the Tunnel Trail, which is well-marked. Almost immediately, the neatly-laid stone path drops down a double staircase, then squeezes through a rock cut.
Paralleling a vertical wall of sandstone on the right, the trail splits at 1/10 mile. Bear right, covering the high ground first. After climbing a short but steep staircase, look for the unmarked tunnel entrance on the left: boarded up and impassable. (Note: As of May 2016, it was apparent that part of the ceiling had collapsed.)
Continue climbing, resigning yourself to admiring the tunnel from above. As you climb a wooded hillcrest, look to the left, where it is possible (through the caution tape) to make out the passage running roughly north-south.
At ¼ mile, the Tunnel Trail approaches the top of a cliff and proceeds down a multi-tiered wooden staircase. Thereafter the trail bears left and follows the base of the cliffs, with occasional—though very obscured—views down into the gorge on the right. At 1/3 mile, the stony footpath passes under an impressive overhang. A couple minutes later, another wooden staircase on the left marks the end of the closed tunnel; alas, this too is impassable—as a fire has left it blackened, charred, and, in some parts, disintegrated.
Continue straight, eventually rounding the corner and gradually climbing back northeast toward the trail junction. In summer, the vegetation in this section is dense and vibrant green, with moss-laden sandstone adding to the allure. At 4/10 mile, return to the trail junction and bear right. From here, it is a short climb up familiar territory back to the Main Overlook and parking area.
Allot at least a half hour for this moderately strenuous hike.