Five-Star Trails: Tri-Cities of Tennessee and Virginia details the 40 best hikes in and around Johnson City, Kingsport, and Bristol as well as the surrounding areas of Abingdon, Elizabethton, Greenville, and Rogersville. Drawing from a wealth of trails on vast public lands, the mosaic of hikes featured reflects the wide variety of terrain in the greater Tri-Cities, from high mountains to the east and south to the historic walks in Tennessee state parks. The Appalachian Trail also provides nearly 70 miles of quality hiking around the Tri-Cities. Authored by Johnny Molloy, the most experienced guidebook author in the field today, this guide has something for everyone, from a leisurely weekend stroll to advanced treks into the Appalachians.
SAMPLE HIKING ENTRY
SECTION: BRISTOL, VIRGINIA
Hike #8 GREAT CHANNELS OF VIRGINIA
GPS Trailhead Coordinates: N36° 51.877’, W81° 56.818’
Trail Condition: 4
Distance & Configuration: 6.2-mile out-and-back
Hiking Time: 4.2 hours (includes 1 hour at The Channels)
Outstanding Features: Mountaintop views, unusual rock formations
Elevation: 3,025 feet at trailhead, to 4,180 feet at high point
Access: No fees or permits required
Maps: Channels State Forest; USGS Hayters Gap
Wheelchair Access: None
Contact: Virginia Division of Forestry, 751 Oak Hill Drive, Cumberland, VA 23040-2511; (804) 492-9213; dof.virginia.gov
Hike to Middle Knob, atop Clinch Mountain, to first capture incredible mountain views from multiple rock outcrops in the shadow of a retired fire tower. Then enter The Channels, a maze of slender paths running between, around, and under huge sandstone monoliths. This Virginia Natural Area Preserve deserves it protection, and is one of the most unusual rock formations in the Appalachians.
The hike to The Channels is rewarding in and of itself, but it is at the top of Clinch Mountain’s Middle Knob where the spectacular highlights start. Save this hike for a clear day, so you can revel in the distant views while also experiencing the wondrous geological maze that is The Channels. The Channels was formerly under private ownership, and not so easily visited. But a man, Charles Kennedy, fought to have this piece of the world protected and open to the public.
Initially, the Nature Conservancy purchased The Channel. They held it until the state of Virginia bought the land in 2008. Now, The Channels is a state nature preserve contained within a nearly 5,000-acre state forest. The establishment of the Brumley Mountain Trail made foot access to The Channels a pleasant prospect. Thus, we now can hike to this most unusual attraction. Furthermore, the first mile of the Brumley Mountain Trail uses an easement granted by a private landowner, which opened access to The Channels from Hayters Gap.
Leave Hayters Gap on a gravel road heading southwest. Soon come to a pole gate and sign indicating the Brumley Mountain Trail. For now, continue following the gravel road, the private easement through which the trail passes. Begin a gradual ascent on the south slope of Clinch Mountain. Hickory, black gum, white pine, red maples and more add to the biodiversity.
At 0.3 mile, the trail briefly descends near a drainage. At 0.5 mile, the road passes under a powerline. At 0.7 mile, the private gravel road you have been following takes a hard right uphill. The Brumley Mountain Trail keeps straight on a much narrower more primitive doubletrack, traversing rock slabs. Turn into a thickly wooded drainage, then pass a private cabin on your right at 1.0 mile. Continue tracing the road through a gap. Climb a bit then reach a gate and Channels State Forest at 1.1 mile.
Continue a general uptick among oaks, azaleas, sourwood, sassafras and other xeric species. At 1.5 miles, reach a gap in the crest of Clinch Mountain. The ridgeline is narrow here and you can look north into the Clinch River Valley and south into the North Fork Holston River Valley from this slender spot. This can be a very windswept gap during winter, when views are more open. Continue working uphill on the south side of Clinch Mountain. Make a hard switchback to the right at 1.7 miles. The trail levels off before making a pair of abrupt switchbacks at 2.3 and 2.4 miles.
Traverse an open rock slab at 2.7 miles. You are back on the mountain crest. At 2.8 miles, a trail comes in from lower Channels State Forest. Begin curving around the northeast side of Middle Knob. Views open into the Clinch River Valley. Note the yellow birch trees on this cool north slope. The combination of being above 4,000 feet and being on the north slope creates favorable habitat for this northern hardwood. At 3.0 miles, join the hikers-only Channels Spur Trail. Stay left here and curve onto the peak of Middle Knob amid a sea of rhododendron. Shortly emerge near the top of Middle Knob.
Just before reaching the peak, a spur trail leaves left to a boulder field with incredible southerly views back toward the Tri-Cities. Continue to the crest, reaching an open rock slab bordered with stunted woods. Here, the old Middle Knob Fire Tower rises above. In the near, the crumbling remains of the fire tower cabin stand. What is left of cabin may be removed at some point. A jutting rock outcrop near the cabin site opens views into the Clinch River Valley. The tower itself may be revamped to be an open lookout tower. For now it is closed.
Walk toward the tower, meeting woods and a sign indicating The Channels entrance. Follow a path through dense laurel woods. Just before descending, walk left onto more sandstone outcrops with fine views of Clinch Mountain toward Hidden Valley Lake. It is between these outcrops where The Channels lie. Walk around, look into the crevices below. Next, descend into The Channels, a network of narrow passageways running among the aforementioned sandstone outcrops. Light penetrates these passageways, alternately known as “the wind tunnels” and “the crevices.”
To get around follow the footbeds of the most well-trod channels. In some places rockfall has created roofs over the Channels. Some passages dead end. It is truly an a-maze-ing place. The crevice-sliced sandstone outcrop of The Channels covers an estimated 20 acres. In winter, the nearly sunless crevices of the Channels can retain snow. Allow yourself ample time to explore The Channels, as well as the sandstone outcrops above them.
The Brumley Mountain Trail extends 14 miles from Hayters Gap and VA 80, west to Hidden Valley Lake, a State of Virginia Wildlife Management Area, which is open to fishing and hiking.
From exit 24 on I-81, Meadowview, take VA 80 west for 13.2 miles to Hayters Gap, atop Clinch Mountain at the Washington-Russell county line. The trail and parking area are on the left hand side of the gap.