By Ann Farrar and Dick Ketelle
We explored a new area to us a couple days ago -- the Channels State Forest. It is on State Hwy 80 in southwest Virginia. The Virginia Department of Forestry purchased this land from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in 2008. TNC had purchased the property a few years earlier for the purpose of protecting and conserving this resource. Within the boundary of the ~4,800-acre property is a 721-acre parcel that has been dedicated as the Channels Natural Area Preserve under the provisions of the Natural Area Preserve Act of 1989 to be managed by the Department of forestry in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The area highlighted in blue, in the map above, shows the location of Channels State Forest on Hwy 80.
The preserve name is derived from the maze-like system of sandstone crevices and boulders that occur near the summit of Middle Knob on Clinch Mountain. The Channels were likely formed while the high-elevation sandstone cap was under the influence of permafrost and ice wedging during the last ice age. These forces shattered and enlarged joints in the sandstone caprock. As you can image, Dick was "in his element" examining and exploring the maze!! It brought back memories to both of us of scrambling through Mahoosuc Notch on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.
The hike to The Channels is about 3 miles (6 miles roundtrip) and ~1,200' of elevation gain on the Brumley Mountain Trail. The trailhead is at the top of the mountain on Hwy 80.
On the trail, you will pass an old fire tower, no longer accessible, before the rock maze entrance. Once in The Channels, we probably spent a couple hours walking around, taking pictures, and enjoying lunch on top of one of the giant boulders in the sunshine.
We had so much fun exploring the maze!!!
There is a small parking lot at the trailhead and no parking is allowed on the road. We arrived in the morning and had no problem finding a parking place, but it was more crowded in the afternoon.
There area is only open during daylight hours, and it seems to be enforced with monitoring at the trailhead later in the day. "Leave no trace" is practiced at this location; no restrooms or trash containers are available
Our Journey to Middle Earth