The Blue Ridge Tunnel offers more than just a great hike or bike ride; it’s an experience unlike any other in the Blue Ridge.
Blue Ridge Tunnel or, Crozet Tunnel, is a hiking and biking trail through a decommissioned railway tunnel built in the 1850s. It was in operation until 1944, when another tunnel, confusingly named “Blue Ridge Tunnel” was built directly beside it.
The original tunnel sat abandoned and neglected for nearly 70 years before work began to turn it into a public trail. With new purpose, it reopened as a hiking and biking trail in 2020.
This is a place you have to visit.
Blue Ridge Tunnel Hike
Length: 4.5 miles (Less if you only do the tunnel portion)
Elevation Gain: 400 ft from the west parking lot, negligible from the east parking lot.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Great For: Families, cooling off in summer, history.
Location: Afton, VA
When to Visit: Any time since most of the trail is underground.
How We Rate It: 4/5, if you do a little research beforehand it becomes a 5/5!
What to Bring: You will need a headlamp or flashlight, preferably both and extra batteries. Warm clothes if it’s a hot day. It’s cold and damp in the tunnel, hovering around 50 degrees.
Before You Go
Usually, beyond gathering equipment and checking weather conditions, there isn’t much to do before going on a hike. But for Blue Ridge Tunnel, there are a few things you need to know to have the best possible experience.
There are placards along the trail with information about the history of the tunnel, but for more context on the significance of the tunnel there is a 35 minute documentary on YouTube by American Focus Films covering the initial construction and reconstruction of the Blue Ridge Tunnel and the people that made it possible.
I can’t recommend this enough! It’s well researched and well made.
The trail is open to bicycles and each time we’ve visited, people are biking through.
If you are going to bike you need a powerful head lamp or mounted lights on your bike. Second, we’ve noticed many people push their bikes through the tunnel. It can get crowded at times and because the tunnel is very dark, riding your bike through may not be a safe option.
Wheelchairs, Wagons, and Strollers
You can absolutely access the tunnel if you use a wheelchair or if you have little hikers in your group. Park at the East lot instead of the West so you aren’t fighting with the steep terrain.
GPS can easily enough get you to both the East and West trailhead. There are a few things to consider before you decide which trailhead to use.
East Parking Lot
Address: 215 Afton Depot Ln, Afton, VA 22920
The trail from the East parking lot is a mostly level, fine gravel path. There are also more parking spots, around 25, and spots specifically designated for large vehicles.
If you or anyone in your group have limited mobility, this is where you want to park.
The path to the tunnel is easy.
Additionally, if you are going to bike through the tunnel and you have children, you probably want to park here since they won’t have to pedal back up to the West lot.
West Parking Lot
The West Parking lot has fewer spots, around 12, and if you will be using a wheelchair, the steep trip down and back is tough. On our first visit, I helped push an elderly woman in a wheelchair back up to the parking lot – it wasn’t easy.
That said, the West trail is more similar to a traditional hike in the mountains with a winding path through the forest.
If you only want to do a short section of the tunnel you may also prefer the West entrance because the brick only covers the softer rock on the western edge.
The brick lined segment of Blue Ridge Tunnel is definitely the most photogenic segment of the tunnel.
Hitting the Trail
From either parking lot it’s clear where the trail begins. Trails to the tunnel are wide and clearly marked with historical markers along the path.
We prefer using the East entrance because it’s a little closer and definitely more level.
We are all for challenging hikes, but for us, Blue Ridge Tunnel is more about the experience of being in the tunnel.
After a little more than half a mile, you will reach the Eastern entrance from the east lot.
The West entrance is a little less than a mile from the western lot.
There is a polite little waterfall at the East entrance just before you enter the tunnel.
Put on your warm clothes before you go in, the temperature drops immediately.
If it’s a bright day the West entrance will look like a pin prick of light. You’ll have light for just a few moments once you enter before you need a flashlight or headlamp.
And no, your phone flashlight is not good enough. The light disperses too much to be useful. The same was true for our cheap multipack flashlights on our first visit.
You’ll immediately notice the rocky walls and ceiling. If you look closely you can see the remnants of drill marks carved into the rock. In the 1850s Irish workers drilled by hand and stuffed the holes with black powder to blast the rock apart.
Once you lose the sunlight, the atmosphere of the tunnel wraps around you and has an eerie excitement to it.
There is a spring pouring into the tunnel just as the light fades. A narrow channel funnels the water out of the tunnel.
Past the spring you reach the complete darkness of the tunnel. The entrance will shrink slowly as you travel deeper into the mountains.
At it’s maximum depth, you are 720 feet below the surface. If you don’t have a good light source with you, it will be very difficult to grasp the vastness of the tunnel.
When we visited I couldn’t help but think how hard every inch of progress was through the thick stone.
Nearing the Western entrance hard stone gives way to brick and mortar; covering the softer rock beneath. From wall to ceiling the beautiful brick stretches out like a mosaic to the mouth of the tunnel.
As you reach the end of the tunnel, take some time to look up at the elliptical form of the tunnel. It is a testament to the brilliant engineering and hard labor of those that worked so long ago under these mountains.
Once out of the tunnel, at the Western end, you can continue to the other parking lot, if you want, for a short hike through a mature forest.
The only way back to your vehicle will be to travel back through the tunnel. Hopefully you wore your warm clothes.
The path through the tunnel is wide and you will likely be close to the opposite wall on your return trip. This is an excellent time to check out the other side of the tunnel.
Blue Ridge Tunnel is an amazing engineering marvel. It’s an otherworldly journey to to a time before power tools, and it’s been given new life by the trail running through it.
Visiting Blue Ridge Tunnel is a must, as is learning a bit about the history of the people that gave so much to make it possible.
After the Hike
If you’re ready for a meal or a cold drink after your hike, Stable Craft is one of our favorite breweries and it’s just 20 minutes North of the Blue Ridge Tunnel in Waynesboro. They have a delicious menu and tons of micro brews and ciders on tap.
In winter you can even rent an igloo.
Bold Rock is another great option if you love hard cider. It is about twenty minutes south of Afton in Nellysford. We prefer the food at Stable Craft, but the atmosphere and alcohol are excellent at both. If you have little ones there is plenty of outdoor space at each for playing.