Tunnel in winter.

Blue Ridge Tunnel

Field review by the editors.

Afton, Virginia

Completed after eight years of digging and blasting in 1858, the Blue Ridge railroad tunnel was at the time the longest in the USA: 4,273 feet through Rockfish Gap in Afton Mountain. Sixteen Irishmen and three enslaved men were killed during its construction, and uncounted others died from disease. According to one of the informative signs that line the tunnel's approach, the enslaved workers were usually assigned the less dangerous jobs, because they were considered more valuable than the Irish.

A wider replacement tunnel was opened in 1944, and this tunnel mostly sat abandoned for over 70 years until it opened as a hiking and cycling trail in November 2020. The dark interior is known for its year-round 50 degree temperature and mini-waterfalls; visitors should bring a jacket, a hat, and at least two light sources (and be wary of ice at the portals in winter). At its mid-point the tunnel is 700 feet below ground, with the Appalachian Trail crossing far above it.

Blue Ridge Tunnel

Address:
129 Afton Depot Lane, Afton, VA
Directions:
I-64 exit 99. Drive southeast on US-250/Rockfish Gap Tpke for 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Afton Mountain Rd. Drive a half-mile. Turn right onto Afton Depot Lane. Drive to the parking lot. Walk about a mile to the tunnel entrance, and the tunnel is four-fifths of a mile long. Bring a hat, a jacket, and at least two light sources.
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