Come explore the maze-like, sandstone slot canyons of the Great Channels of Virginia. The area, located in Channels Natural Area Preserve, near Abingdon in southwest Virginia, is a hidden gem for hikers.
Slot canyons are a fascinating geological feature and can be a lot of fun to explore. Slot canyons are narrow canyons formed by water rushing over rock over millions of years. After enough time, the tiny cracks in the rock's surface begin to erode, drawing a higher volume of water. Given a few millennia, that tiny crack eventually turns into a narrow, high walled canyon.
Most U.S. slot canyons are found in the southwest - and I don't mean southwest Virginia but places like Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. The Great Channels of Virginia are a real rarity not only for their east coast location but also for the lush vegetation they are surrounded by.
Geologists theorize that Virginia's unique channels were created by permafrost and ice during the last ice age. Whatever the cause, the maze of canyons they left behind makes for an amazing day hike!
Hiking The Channels
The Great Channels of Virginia are located in Channels Natural Area Preserve, in Channels State Forest, near Abingdon VA. The 20-acre labyrinth of slot canyons are found at the apex of Clinch Mountain's Middle Knob.
You won't have to climb too much to reach them, however.
The 6.6 mile out-and-back trail starts from the Hayters Gap parking lot (36.86445, -81.94690), at the crest of Clinch Mountain, on Rt. 80. The trail is fairly easy and well-marked. It follows an old road bed most of the way and features minimal elevation gain.
Keep left for "Channels State Forest" at the fork in the trail and, before you know it, you're atop Middle Knob. Continue over the boulders, past the abandoned fire tower, and along the spur trail into the woods ... and The Great Channels of Virginia.
Now you can enjoy exploring the 30 to 40 foot wide crevices in this 20 acre, 400 million year old, sandstone block maze. And it really is like a maze - so be careful that you don't lose your way.
Once you're done, head back the way you came.
The Great Channels of Virginia
The Channels Natural Area Preserve has no restrooms, trash cans, or drinking water, so plan accordingly.
Learn about the hike and area in greater detail at virginiatrailguide.com.
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