Natural Tunnel State Park
Elevation: 1464 ft., This site is a “must” visit for any naturalist. The 850-acre park offers camping, swimming, picnicking, and hiking, as well as a visitor center, gift shop, amphitheater, chairlift, and seasonal interpretive programs. In addition, the park contains established ruffed grouse habitat, so don’t be surprised to hear the sound of drumming during a wander through the woods. The “natural tunnel” began its formation over a million years ago during the early glacial period. Groundwater containing carbonic acid leaked through crevices of surrounding limestone and dolomite bedrock to form a cavity and pave the way for what is today known as Stock Creek. Cave tours are available as are canoe trips down the nearby Clinch River.
Hike on one of the parks’ seven trails, including the self-guided Arboretum Trail. Each trail offers slightly different habitats and wildlife-watching opportunities. Creekside bottomlands, hardwood forest, natural caves and caverns, riparian corridors, limestone outcrops, and mountaintop views are all represented. The great diversity in habitat types attracts an equally diverse assemblage of wildlife species. Because this park encompasses both valley and mountain, naturalists can experience wildlife at both low and high elevations during their visit. A 530-ft ride down into Stock Creek Gorge via chairlift spans a change of 250 feet in elevation.
Views of the valley from Lover’s Leap or one of the other scenic overlooks, especially the gazebo above the Cove Ridge Center, are spectacular. From here, enjoy eye-level views of turkey and black vultures as they soar and/or rise on thermals. In autumn, the composition of these kettles may also include several species of migrating raptors.
From Rye Cove Intermediate School Nature Center, return to Rt. 649 and turn right. Follow Rt. 649 for approximately 0.1 miles. Turn left on Rt. 646 and continue for approximately 4.0 miles to the bottom of the hill where the park entrance is on the left.