Great Channels of Virginia Hike: Virginia’s Best Kept Secret?
My husband and I love to travel. We enjoy planning exotic, far-away trips. I forget though that you sometimes do not have to travel far to have some incredibly unique experiences. Your own backyard may surprise you. The Great Channels of Virginia is a good case in point.
As a local Virginian, I had never even heard of this place. Slot canyon in Virginia? I thought they only existed out West. Nope. I’ll walk you through our incredible hiking experience to one of Virginia’s not-so-well-known hidden gems.
Quick Overview of Hike
- Hiking distance: 6.6 miles
- Hiking time: 2 hr. 45 min.
- Parking: Brumley Mountain Trailhead
Great Channels of Virginia Trail Map
This is super important to know! There are TWO trails to get to the Great Channels of Virginia: the Channels Trail and the Brumley Mountain Trail.
I did not realize this. I typed in “Channels Trail Parking” and we ended up on a gravel road I did not recognize. I had watched a few YouTube videos beforehand and knew what the parking lot at the trailhead was supposed to look like.
This was not it.
Defeated, I was about to give up because it was already late in the afternoon, and I had no clue where to find this trailhead. My husband came to the rescue and figured out there are actually two trailheads. The one we wanted, Brumley Mountain Trail, was located 20 minutes down the road. See the map below.
Map of the parking options of the Great Channels of Virginia hike
The Channels Trail is a difficult 11-mile out-and-back trail.
The Brumley Mountain Trail is a moderate 6.6-mile out-and-back trail. * This is the preferred trail, and the one we hiked.
BRUMLEY MOUNTAIN TRAIL
The Great Channels of Virginia used to be private property until it was sold in 2004 to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Brumley Mountain Trail is not that old. It was constructed by hundreds of volunteers from the Mountain Heritage of St. Paul and dedicated in 2013.
I didn’t purchase the AllTrails App until AFTER this hike. If I had, I would have ended up at the right trailhead to begin with. This $29.99 app is so worth it. I have used it on numerous Virginia hikes since the Great Channels, which has saved me from getting lost.
I wish I had discovered this app sooner!
It is super easy to use. Search for your hike. Download an offline map. That way even if you lose cell signal, you will always know which direction to go. The app even notifies you if you accidentally go off-trail. I love it! We will be doing some hiking in Maine soon, and I can’t wait to use it more.
If you use the AllTrails map for this 6.6-mile hike, the trail is listed as “The Great Channels via Brumley Mountain Trail.”
If you want to do the much harder 11-mile hike, then search for “Middle Knob via Channels Trail” on the AllTrail app.
The Great Channels via the Brumley Mountain Trail
Parking for the Great Channels of Virginia
The Brumley Mountain Trailhead at the Channels Natural Area Preserve is limited to only 10 vehicles. Parking is located right off Route 80. If those ten spots are occupied, do NOT park on the side of the road or you may be ticketed.
We hiked this trail on a Thursday afternoon around 4 pm in the late spring. Luckily, there was only 1 other car besides ours.
No entrance fee.
Great Channels of Virginia Parking Spots at Brumley Mountain Trailhead
Our Step-By-Step Hiking Experience at the Great Channels
The trailhead is marked by a big sign advertising Raven Ridge Lodge. Although we did not stay here, those that have rated this rustic rental quite highly.
Brumley Mountain Trailhead to the Great Channels of Virginia
The first part of the hike is slightly uphill along a gravel road. As you curve to the left, you will come across a brown gate that states “foot travel to the Channels only.”
Start of the Brumley Mountain Trail to the Great Channels of Virginia
Brumley Mountain Trail in Virginia
You will eventually come to a split. Stay left and go past the gate to keep on the Brumley Mountain Trail.
Stay left to keep on the Brumley Mountain Trail
Hiking along the gravel road on Brumley Mountain Trail
About 5 minutes later you will come across a few cabins on your right called The Channels Retreat. You can rent these two homey cabins on Airbnb: Lucky Bear and Ole Timer. Those that have stayed have rated these accommodations highly.
The Channels Retreat cabins
Shortly after passing the cabins, you will trade in the gravel road for a dirt path on your left. This section is part of the Channels Natural Area Preserve.
Hiking along the dirt path on the Brumley Mountain Trail
Take a look at the signboard shortly after you turn on the dirt path. Someone wrote “chased by a mountain lion 12/1/20.”
Is this true or someone’s idea of being funny? Mountain lion sightings have occasionally occurred in Virginia, so maybe it’s true. Thankfully, we did not meet any feline friends on our hike.
“Chased by a mountain lion” written on signboard
As you press on, you will walk around another metal gate as the trail continues westward.
Passing through a gate on Brumley Mountain Trail
Brumley Mountain Trail
Beautiful hike to the Great Channels of Virginia
We passed some beautiful wildflowers along the way.
Passing wildflowers on the hike to Great Channels of Virginia
You will reach another split. The signage will point you left, towards the Channels Spur Trail. Almost there! 10 minutes more.
The Channels Spur Trail
Hike to the Great Channels
You know you have made it when you see the old Hayters Knob Fire Tower perched on top of Middle Knob in the distance. This fire tower stopped operating in 1970.
Hayters Knob Fire Tower
Walk behind the fire tower, and you will notice a small nondescript trail, which terminates in a grouping of large boulders. It does not look like much from the top but once you navigate down and around, you will be surrounded by a labyrinth of towering narrow sandstone boulders.
Walk behind the fire tower to get to the Great Channels of Virginia
Entrance to the Great Channels of Virginia
This is the fun part!
I’m petite, so I really enjoyed trying to see how far I could squeeze my body through all of these narrow crevices. Large vines snaked across the dirt floor. Some of the boulders were encased in thick green moss. It looks like something out of a movie set.
Narrow crevices in the Great Channels
Sandstone slot canyon at Great Channels of Virginia
It was easy to get lost. At one point, I wound my way deep into this slot canyon and finally had to call out to my husband to try to find my way back. Luckily, it’s not too big.
I had worked up quite a sweat by the time we reached the entrance to the Great Channels of Virginia. I really appreciated the noticeable drop in temperature as I walked through the maze of these sandstone outcroppings.
Great Channels of Virginia
Three trees at the Great Channels of Virginia
Are we on a movie set?
The best part?
We had this little hidden gem all to ourselves! I cannot guarantee there will be no crowds if you take on this hike. But I will tell you, we were the only people there on a Thursday at 5 pm on a spring day.
Intricate sandstone boulders at the Great Channels of Virginia
Hiking at the Great Channels of Virginia
Winding our way through a maze at the Great Channels
Ok, were we sure there were no mountain lions? After about 20 minutes of exploring, we quickly retraced our steps to beat the setting sun.
Foodie Stop Near the Great Channels
If you have read any of my hiking blog posts, you know I love to combine a great hike with a foodie stop. We were staying in the nearby town of Abingdon. After our hike to the Great Channels, we swung by a local Abingdon favorite, 128 Pecan, for a casual dinner.
After a sweaty hike, I was a little worried we would be underdressed in our hiking clothes. No judgment here though. The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating.
This charming restaurant serves up some great Southern classics. We enjoyed some delicious fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese as a starter. Love pimento cheese! I can also highly recommend the chili rubbed salmon with cheddar grits.
Fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese at 128 Pecan in Abingdon, Virginia
Chili rubbed salmon with cheddar grits at 128 Pecan in Abingdon, Virginia
Things to Do Near the Great Channels of Virginia
If you are traveling from northern Virginia, you will definitely want to make a long weekend of it to enjoy this hike. We made Abingdon our base and enjoyed several other amazing outdoor adventures nearby.
VIRGINIA CREEPER TRAIL
This premium rail trail is one of Virginia’s best biking experiences. We took a shuttle to Whitetop and biked all 34 miles back to Abingdon. Don’t worry, most of it is downhill.
Along the way, you will pass over cool bridges, rolling farmlands, babbling creeks, and quaint little towns. This is truly an epic biking trail.
Riding the Virginia Creeper Trail from Whitetop to Abingdon
MOUNT ROGERS HIKE
Two words: Wild ponies.
I loved this hike. Mount Rogers is the highest summit in Virginia. If you attempt this 10.5-mile hike to the summit, you will come across wild ponies, open meadows, rocky peaks, and moss-covered forests.
Curious wild pony at Grayson Highlands State Park (starting point of Mount Rogers hike)
Hiking with wild ponies on the Appalachian Trail towards Mount Rogers
At times, you will think you are in the Scottish Highlands and at other times, you would swear you are in the Pacific Northwest. An absolutely incredible hike. See details below.
Hiking the Mount Rogers Trail in Virginia to get to the summit
This adorable historic foodie town is a must-visit. USA Today even rated it as the Best Small Town Food Scene. In addition to 128 Pecan, we also really enjoyed The Girl & The Raven (our favorite!), White Birch, and Greeko’s Grill & Cafe.
The Big Pimp Egg Breakfast Sandwich with Pimento Cheese at The Girl & The Raven. Yum!
If you are into the arts, check out a performance at the Barter Theatre. Abingdon also has a great farmer’s market on the weekend. Also, don’t miss The Tavern, Virginia’s oldest bar. We regret we didn’t get a chance to have a cocktail here but plan to when we come back. Supposedly, they have a beautiful outdoor patio space.
The Tavern in Abingdon, Virginia
MAP OF NEARBY THINGS TO DO
Map of Things To Do Near the Great Channels Hike
Where to Stay Near the Great Channels of Virginia
You could stay in the Airbnbs/Vrbo rentals that I referenced above: Raven Lodge and The Channels Retreat. I did not stay there, but they are highly rated.
We chose to stay in nearby Abingdon at an adorable Vrbo rental right off the Virginia Creeper Trail. It is located within walking distance of Abingdon Vineyards and has a beautiful river to relax by.
Old Alvarado Station Airbnb off the Virginia Creeper Trail
I loved the modern farmhouse chic decor, and the host was incredible. Highly recommended!
Old Alvarado Station Airbnb Bedroom
What to Bring on the Great Channels Hike
Anything more than a few miles, and I always bring my CamelBak with a hydration bladder. I hate carrying a water bottle. The backpack allows me to be hands-free.
You will be navigating along rocky sections and switchbacks. You do not need hardcore hiking books, but I would strongly recommend trail runners with a little traction. I love my very comfortable Saucony trail runners.
I like to document all of my hikes with my GoPro which can hold up to any weather condition. Eventually, I’m going to make some videos of all of our hiking adventures.
Final Thoughts on the Great Channels Hike
Slot canyons do not only exist out West. The Great Channels of Virginia prove that. Navigating through the moss-covered sandstone labyrinth and around snaking massive tree vines was incredibly unique! Just remember to put in the right trailhead in Google maps, and enjoy one of the most interesting hikes Virginia has to offer.
Have you hiked to the Great Channels?
Let me know in the comments below!
I came across you page because I googled about mountain lions at the channels because of that board haha I did the same thing you did and ended up at the other trailhead. It was a little sketchy. We drove up and I was like no one said any of this in their reviews about a scary gravel road 😂
Lol, that is so funny. I did the same thing and searched all over to see if any stories popped up on mountain lions in that area. I couldn’t find anything. I definitely kept looking over my shoulder as we hiked! I guess we’ll never know if it was true. The trailheads were so confusing! Hopefully, this post will help someone not end up on the road we did.