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Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia, lies the Blue Ridge Tunnel, designed by French engineer Claudius Crozet. It was built to allow the passage of the Blue Ridge Railroad through the mountains to reach the Shenandoah Valley.
Construction of the tunnel began in 1850 using only hand drills, pickaxes, and black powder. The work, done mostly by Irish laborers and African-American slaves, was completed in 1858. Stretching nearly a mile long, it was the longest tunnel in the country at the time. Today, it is a designated National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It was abandoned for a parallel tunnel that could accommodate larger trains in 1944, and CSX donated it to Nelson County in 2007.
The tunnel is located in a wide gap in the mountains called Rockfish Gap with the community of Afton on its eastern side and the city of Waynesboro near its western end. A crushed stone trail leads to the tunnel from both towns. Note that the grade on the Afton end is pretty flat but on the Waynesboro end, gets steep, with an average grade of 6.5% and a maximum grade of 19%!
Despite the light visible at the end of the tunnel, visitors should also come prepared with a flashlight or headlamp as the tunnel is not lit. It's a 15-20 minute walk from one end of the tunnel to the other.
There are trailheads at either end of the trail. In Afton, parking can be found at 215 Afton Depot Lane. On the west end, the trail parking is located at 483 Three Notched Highway, Waynesboro. Remember that the hike from the west end is more challenging due to the steeper grades on that end.
Since the trail is quite popular, trail managers recommend visiting during the week in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds. And please respect the private property around the area and only park in designated spots.
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