My Favorite New Channel

Our most recent outing here in Southwest Virginia was a hike in the Channels Natural Area Preserve near Abingdon. I hadn’t heard of the Channels until a few weeks ago, so they were another new place for me–even as they are a very old place (they were formed during the last ice age).

Prior to 2014, the Channels were known to just a handful of insiders. Located on private property and with a long hike to access, not many folks made it up here. But then the Nature Conservancy stepped in and bought the land, and a non-profit called Mountain Heritage created the Brumley Mountain Trail. The result is a seven mile round trip out of Hayters Gap, well within reach for a day hike.

Even with the shorter approach, visiting the Channels feels like exposing a secret. There’s nothing intuitive at all about the hike, although good signage from the Preserve helps quite a bit. Once you reach the high point of the access trail, you duck through a tiny tunnel of vegetation and down a nondescript ravine. Just as you start doubting your directions, the place seems to jump out in front of you.

The Channels themselves are pathways between huge boulders, and visiting entails walking and climbing around tight slots through beautiful moss-covered walls.

There are lots of shadows and random rays of sunlight, and the textures on the rock vary quite a bit.

The whole area is about 20 acres, and every turn seems to reveal another passage. And in those spots where the sun sneaks through, it feels almost magical. Souzz said it felt other-worldly to her, like the Upside Down in the Netflix series Stranger Things (well, except no mayhem or monsters).

This whole feature feels delightfully out of place, like something you might find in Utah. The sandstone is darker and the scale certainly isn’t Canyonlands, but dropping into the Channels is a pleasant surprise in that “what is this even doing here?” kind of way–maybe like when your high school crush shows up at computer club.

This is the most unique place I’ve visited in my home state, and one of the nicest hikes I’ve taken anywhere.

I wish I knew more about geology, as I really have no idea how a place like this forms (although I did see the movie Ice Age on a flight to Atlanta once). Thanks go out to mother nature for taking the time to carve something like this. And thanks to the Nature Conservancy and Mountain Heritage for making our hike possible!

2 thoughts on “My Favorite New Channel

  1. Great article and pics! I considered hiking this a couple years back but it’s a long drive from NOVA. Can you recommend other hikes or unique to-dos nearby or on the way? Thanks.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! Not sure there’s anything quite like the Channels, but lots of great hikes between here and there. I love the site for ideas, and tend towards some of the lesser traveled hikes. Sulpher Springs Gap / White Rock Cliffs (from near Van Buren Furnace) is a favorite, as is the other side of that gorge, Kepler Overloop. You can also continue on from Kepler to Fetzer Gap, along the ridge, hardly ever seen anybody up there, and you can drop a bike at Fetzer Gap and then biking back to the car, about 4.4 miles on the biking part, almost all downhill). As you get further south, Devil’s Bathtub is a good one to add to any trip to the Channels. Go early, though, can be busy, but interesting and relatively short. Hope that helps, and always game to talk about fun trails!

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