All of my life I’ve heard of the Blue Ridge Tunnel in Afton, Virginia.
In November of 2020 a new hiking trail opened allowing the public to see this railroad tunnel that hasn’t been used by a train since 1944.
On December 26, 2020, I finally got to see this fascinating tunnel that I’ve heard about all of my life.
What is the Blue Ridge Tunnel?
The Blue Ridge Tunnel is a 4,273-foot train tunnel constructed between 1850 and 1858.
It was engineered by Claudius Crozet, a French immigrant who also was a founder of Virginia Military Institute. The town of Crozet, Virginia is named after him.
When the tunnel was completed in 1858, it was the longest railroad tunnel in North America.
The tunnel passes under Rockfish Gap, under I-64, under the Appalachian Trail and Skyline Drive.
In 1944, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway replaced the tunnel with a slightly lower adjacent tunnel. The old tunnel was too small to be used for more modern trains.
You can read more about the history of the railroad on the Claudius Crozet Blue Ridge Foundation website.
How My Grandfather Used the Tunnel
When my maternal grandfather was a young man, he used the tunnel as a shortcut when walking between where his parents lived in Waynesboro and where is grandparents lived on Ennis Mountain in the Rockfish Valley.
What I was told about the tunnel came from my mom who heard the stories from her father.
Sometimes granddaddy would be in the tunnel and a train would come. He would press his body against the wall as the train passed by. He also said that there was a water source in the tunnel.
As a teen, I knew boys who walked down the train tracks in Afton to see the tunnel. My brother and cousin did this but I never did.
In the 1980s when adventurous teens explored the tunnel, they couldn’t pass all the way through it because in the 1950s a propane company leased the tunnel to use for storage.
The propane company built concrete plugs on either end of the tunnel, 750 feet from the east side and 1,900 feet from the west side.
Propane was never stored there but the plugs remained until recently. My brother and cousin entered from the east side, so they didn’t get to venture very far into the tunnel.
Finally Seeing the Blue Ridge Tunnel
On December 26, Mr. SP, Sherman, my mom, and my cousin and her husband hiked to see the tunnel. We all were very excited to see it!
To see the tunnel, you can park at the west entrance located on Route 250 or you can park at the east entrance on Route 6. We chose the west entrance because there is more parking there.
It was super cold the day that we hiked, so we all were bundled up.
Hiking to the West Entrance of the Tunnel
If you hike the entire trail from one trailhead to the other and back, the hike is 4.6 miles long.
From the west trailhead, the hike starts downhill.
We took Sherman with us because he is brave and loves crawling through pipes, so we knew that being in the tunnel wouldn’t bother him. If you bring your dog, be aware that the tunnel may be scary for them. (Same with kids!)
Virginia has had a lot of rain this year and there was a stream of water running down the mountain near the west entrance. Sherman got a drink of water as we passed by.
If you hike with a dog in hot weather, this stream could be dry, so consider bringing water with you for yourself and for your dog.
The trail is crushed stone and is nice and wide. I wondered if bikes are allowed and according to this website, they are. After going downhill, the trail goes uphill.
If you want to see the tunnel without having to hike up and down hills, park at the east entrance where the hike to the tunnel is flat. Go through the tunnel and then turn around and retrace your steps.
This option would be good if you are hiking with young kids or with a person in a wheelchair.
West Entrance of the Tunnel
After hiking 0.8 miles, we reached the west entrance of the tunnel.
You can see by the number of people in the picture that this trail is very popular.
We waited for the group of people to clear and then we entered the tunnel.
Susan, my cousin and BFF, snapped a selfie of the ladies just before we entered the tunnel.
Just inside the tunnel were amazing icicles.
Mr. SP took this picture from inside the tunnel as Mama, Susan, and I were walking toward the entrance.
Inside the Tunnel
The west entrance of the tunnel is lined with brick.
The brick ends pretty quickly turning into rock.
As I walked through the tunnel, I pictured my grandfather walking the tracks and hearing a train. The tunnel isn’t that wide, so when a train passed him, it must have been very close to his body as pressed himself against the tunnel walls. It also had to have been very loud.
We suspect that this area of the tunnel is where one of the concrete plugs that the propane company built in the 1950s was located.
The tunnel is 0.8 miles long. When hiking the tunnel, you will need a flashlight or headlamp.
My grandfather said that there was a water source in the tunnel and there is was close to the east entrance.
East Entrance to the Blue Ridge Tunnel
The east entrance of the tunnel was incredibly beautiful surrounded by mostly frozen water runoff.
This area was icy the day that we hiked but not enough to be dangerous.
Near the East entrance to the tunnel is a historic landmark.
The active train tracks can be seen below the trail. A train didn’t pass by while we were hiking.
Hiking to the East Trailhead
The hike from the tunnel to the east trailhead is flat. Along the trail are many signs with information about the tunnel.
The tunnel was dug by hand and the rock blasted with black powder, as dynamite had not not been invented when the tunnel was constructed.
There were many signs to read but I did not get picture of all of them because people were grouped around many of them.
The next time that I hike this trail, I plan to spend more time reading the signs.
Blue Ridge Tunnel East Trailhead
0.7 miles from the east tunnel entrance is the east trailhead. There is parking here, but not as much as the west trailhead has.
Bruce Tyler’s law office is located beside the train tracks at the east trailhead. He built the office in 1984 to resemble the old train depot demolished in the early 1960s.
I’ve never met Bruce but knew his daughter from school and his wife from working at Wintergreen.
Hiking Back to the Tunnel
We turned around to hike back to the west trailhead.
We all couldn’t help but stop again to take pictures of the east tunnel entrance.
Either entrance is so pretty and my prediction is that people may plan to take wedding vows in this location. Wouldn’t their wedding pictures be stunning?
Note that the east side of the tunnel is not lined with bricks.
The west end of the tunnel can barely be seen.
We all were really fascinated with the icicles in the tunnel.
This is Mama exiting the tunnel.
Sherman walked 4+ miles at home the day we hiked the tunnel trail, so after adding on a 4.6 mile hike to his morning, he was very ready to get out of the tunnel and back to his dog bed in our vehicle.
Near the west tunnel entrance, you can see where the old train tracks were located.
Soon we were back to the car, all very happy with the day’s adventure.
After Our Hike
After our hike, we headed down Afton Mountain to Basic City Beer Company for a late lunch and beer for the guys.
Mr. SP and Rick had been wanting to try the beer at Basic City Beer Co. and they both really liked all of the kinds that they tried.
Mama is not pictured because she went home instead of joining us at the brewery.
We really enjoyed this brewery and will definitely go back. Susan and I don’t like beer so we were the drivers for our husbands who like beer very much.
Other Spots to Enjoy After Hiking
Instead of heading to Waynesboro after our hike, we could have hit one of the popular Nelson County spots for food and drinks. Visit Nelson 151 for a complete list of Nelson County breweries, cideries, distilleries, and wineries to visit.
The quiet Nelson County where I grew up is now quite the tourist spot.
If you are a local, don’t miss seeing the Blue Ridge Tunnel! We all so much enjoyed seeing it.
If you are planning a trip to Virginia, add this to your itinerary!