The Great Channels of Virginia are a place of geologic wonder so bafflingly unexpected and incredible I feel whatever I write here to describe them is going to be woefully inadequate. They don't make sense...they don't belong...in the Southwest perhaps, but not in the East. The fact is though that here, on a mountaintop in southwestern Virginia, is a labyrinth of what can only be described as slot canyons...that's right, slot canyons...in Virginia. My first reaction to hearing of the Channels, perhaps six months ago, was incredulity...followed by astonishment (after a quick web search)...followed by bewilderment in the fact I had no previous knowledge of such a spot...followed by an immediate and intense need to go experience the Channels for myself.
Before I get into the trip though, let me tell you a bit about the Channels themselves. They're located atop Clinch Mountain or, more specifically. atop Middle Knob on Clinch Mountain which is about a dozen miles north of Wytheville, Virginia. The Channels are made up of a sandstone rock which is around 400-million years old. This sandstone is a common caprock of the mountain ridges in the area. Geologists believe that sometime during the last Ice Age, when the climate of Virginia was much colder, cycles of permafrost and ice-wedging caused the sandstone cap to fracture and split...leaving us with the mountaintop slot 'canyons' we have today. Pretty amazing right?
Like I said earlier, I pretty much decided immediately I had to see this incredible place for myself. Also, after teasing a couple online shots to my two sons they both told me in no uncertain terms that this was a hike I had to take them on also when I went. So a family trip it would be! We picked a fantastically clear and comfortably cool early summer day for the trip. The hike would begin from Hayter's Gap on Virginia Highway 80, which provides the closest access to the Great Channels. From the small parking area the route ascends first via a private road (which the owners graciously allow hikers to use) before continuing to climb via the well-traveled Brumley Mountain Trail...all told about 3.5 miles one-way. I will say it is a bit of a climb, as the trail gains some 1,200-feet of elevation between the gap and the summit. It's a gradual climb though, and not all that rugged. The wide and well-marked trail led us to the summit of Middle Knob where a tall, rusted fire tower greeted us and beyond, perhaps another 100-yards or so, was the Great Channels. We spend the better part of an hour exploring the maze of slot canyons...climb over, under, and squeezing through some of the most spectacular rock formations I've seen in the Southeast. On top of that, the views from the ledges atop Middle Knob were spectacular in their own right. It was an incredibly unique trip and one that I doubt any of us will soon forget.
So, come on along with my boys and I as we hike our way up to one of the most unique places I've ever had the opportunity to visit in the East. I present to you the Great Channels of Virginia...ENJOY!!!
Mileage Hiked: 7.5 miles Hike Duration: 4:00
Trailhead Temp: 60'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 3,020' Max. Elevation: 4,208'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,200' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 213'