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The Guest River Gorge Trail meanders along 300-million-year-old sandstone cliffs that plunge 400 feet to the pristine waters below. The deep gorge was created as the Guest River, now designated as a state scenic river, tunneled through Stone Mountain on its way toward the Clinch River.
The grade of this trail and its crushed stone surface make for a comfortable walk or bike ride downhill, and a real challenge heading uphill. Benches along the route offer more than a place to rest; they yield stunning views of crystal-clear currents that, when interrupted sporadically by boulders, turn into impressive rapids.
In addition to spectacular Guest River views to the south, the trail offers a trip through the Swede Tunnel, built in 1922. The trail also crosses three bridges that were built over small creeks to replace the trestles once traveled by rail cars hauling coal mined nearby. Be sure to look for Devil's Walking-stick, a plant native to the southeast and a member of the ginseng family. This tall and spindly plant produces white blooms during July and August.
Near the end, the trail slopes downhill toward a working rail line across the Guest River. Just before this point, you will see a connection to the Heart of Appalachia Bike Route, which stretches another 125 miles to Burke's Garden in Tazewell County, Virginia. Legend has it that Burke's Garden is so beautiful, it was originally sought after as the location for George Washington Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate, but the people of Burke's Garden refused to sell him any land and thus he built his estate in Ashville, North Carolina, instead.
Popular with cyclists, hikers, and rock climbers, this trail meanders along 300-million-year-old sandstone cliffs that plunge 400 feet to the pristine waters below. The deep gorge was created as the Guest River—now designated as a state scenic river—eroded a passage through Stone Mountain on its way toward the Clinch River.
The grade and crushed-stone surface of the out-and-back Guest River Gorge Trail make for a comfortable walk or bike ride when heading downhill but a challenge heading uphill. Benches along the route offer more than a place to rest; they also yield stunning views of crystal-clear currents that, when interrupted sporadically by boulders, turn into im-pressive rapids. Some people enjoy fishing along the trail, although accessing the water can be challenging. There is also no drinking water available along the trail, so bring some with you.
In addition to spectacular Guest River views to the south, the trail offers a trip through the Swede Tunnel, built in 1922 (and supposedly designed by Swedish engineers). The trail also crosses three bridges that were built over small creeks to replace the trestles once traveled by railcars hauling coal mined nearby. Be sure to look for devil’s-walking-stick, a plant native to the southeast and a member of the ginseng family. This tall and spindly plant produces white blooms in July and August.
Near the end, the trail slopes downhill toward a working rail line across the Guest River. Just before this point, you will see a connection to the Heart of Appalachia Bike Route, which stretches another 125 miles to Burke’s Garden in Tazewell County, Virginia. Legend has it that Burke’s Garden is so beautiful that it was originally sought after as the location for George Washington Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, but the people of Burke’s Garden refused to sell him any land and thus he built his estate in Asheville, North Carolina, instead.
The Guest River Gorge Trail is an out-and-back trail, so there is only one endpoint. From US 58 Alternate, head south on State Route 72 near Coeburn. Travel for 2.3 miles on this curvy, two-lane road. You will pass the Flatwoods Picnic Area on your right, and very soon afterward, you will reach a sign for the Guest River Gorge on your left. Turn left onto this paved road, which is Forest Road 2477, and drive for 1.4 miles until you reach the parking lot. The trailhead is marked with a kiosk at the edge of the parking area.
The trail offers impressive rock formations and a few spots to get to the river. From the parking lot (which is nicely kept having trash bins and pit toilets), you begin your downward decent to the other end that ends at the water crossing and active rail line. A beautiful end point to relax and enjoy. Make sure you’re prepared for the return trip as it is all up hill. Not an easy climb! I brought my Australian shepherd and there were a couple places for her to get in the river. Not many people!
I don't know what the previous reviewer was talking about regarding maintenance...this thing is incredibly well-kept. The entrance road and parking lot are paved with tons of parking spaces and there are pit toilets as well.
This was a beautiful Fall bike ride, with the leaves really starting to change. You don't really have to pedal the entire way down, but it really isn't too bad of a challenge if you take your time coming up. My recommendation is to stop and explore some of the side paths to the river on your way back up. The limestone cliffs are absolutely stunning - you could still see soot stains on them from steam engines! Highly recommend this trail for a couple hours out in the woods. Worth the hour drive from Abingdon.
Had a friend ride this trail last week on our recommendation. He said the parking area was seriously overgrown and that about a mile or so in, the grass growing in the middle of the trail was more than knee-high and got stuck in his pedals. This is too nice a trail to neglect;hope it is tended to soon!
Great shorter rail trail to ride. Pretty waterfalls along the way but don’t worry about looking at any of the views on the way down... you will need to take a lot of breaks on the way back up so disguise your breaks as photo ops!! Honestly, it is one of the steeper Rail Trails that I have been in that is an “In and Out” Trail but it is worth the ride. We just had to take a lot of breaks on our way back out because our 60 year old thigh muscles just weren’t in the best of shape yet!
The overview says the trail has a gentle grade, but most of the reviewers focus on its notable steepness. It sounds like it's actually one of the steepest rail-trails in the country.
As stated in previous reviews, there are plenty of benches along the way where you can stop and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. You can pretty much coast downhill all the way out, but you'll pedal every inch of the way back up. The trail is very well maintained and any washouts mentioned in previous post have been completely repaired.
This trail is a definite favorite. Downhill requires little to no peddling so you can concentrate more on the breathtaking scenic views. Coming back uphill is a different story. The grade makes for a challenging workout that will leave your legs feeling like jelly, but you will be glad you did it. Well marked signs help you clock off the miles, and benches give you a resting spot if needed. Enjoy!
Sign at trailhead clearly indicated No Horses.
Nice wide trail with plenty of pretty things to look at. Very well-marked. We biked it mid-August 2014 & saw two separate box turtles on the trail, plus witnessed a black racer chase and catch a leopard frog for lunch right at the side of the trail. Lots of gorgeous Joe-pye weed for the butterflies.
We were pulling two kids, ages 7 and 4, in Trek pedal-bike trailers attached to our mountain bikes and everyone REALLY REALLY enjoyed the coasting ride down. We made it to Mile Marker 4 and then turned around to begin the march back uphill. It is steeper than it looks with no flat relief on the way back up...next time we will turn around at Marker 3 for sure! We did about 60/40 walking and riding back uphill...one of us is in decent shape and the other is not in shape at all, if that helps...your mileage may vary. :)
There were a couple (literally two) places where there were ruts from downhill water drainage heading for the river; these spots were rutted across the trail and we needed to use caution and go slow to avoid wiping out. The great majority of the trail, though, is hard-packed gravel with a bit of loose gravel on top, almost as easy to ride on as concrete.
We got caught in a downpour at Mile 3 on the way back and had a grand old time playing in the rain. The parking lot is well-maintained, a generous size, and has bear-proof garbage bins. Thankfully did not have to check out the latrine. Train bridge at start of trail was very cool...so were the two wooden bridges in the first 2 miles or so. A few pretty waterfalls to see, and unfortunately some trash.
We just rode this trail, which is easy to find if you follow the directions on this website. Ignore the google map that comes up or you'll end up completely lost. The trail is beautiful and follows the river down to a dead end where it appears to be cut by an active rail. It's pretty much downhill all the way down and be prepared to pedal uphill the entire 5.8 miles back up. There are some beautiful waterfalls along the way and some bridges with great views as well. Truly a hidden gem of a trail. I hope they extend the trail further.
Well worth the trip! The trail is well maintained. I enjoyed every part of this trail.
I drove up to Coeburn earlier this spring with my dog and walked the trail. It was beautiful. Shady and wide enough to walk with a friend or two without having to be single-file. The parking was nice and the road to the trail was easy for horse trailers. Two weeks after I scoped it out on foot, I took my horses up there and went for a nice ride. However, on the way back, the park ranger stopped us and said it is not a horse trail, even though there were not any "no horse" signs. I rode past several walkers/bikers on the way back and according to one of them, "there used to be a big sign that said no horses." However, that didn't do me any good since the sign had apparently not been there for quite some time. It's still a beautiful trail and I'd recommend it for walking, biking and taking the dog, but it's not open for horses no matter what the website says. That's a shame, too, because it's so very lightly used and would be a beautiful place for riding.
I did this trail on a lovely May day at 9 am in the still cool morning. The directions to the trail head are excellent. The tunnel and the bridge come up quickly. I did not have to pedal at all for the 5.8 miles down. At the end there is a bridge leading to the live RR track. A bit before this is a sign saying the bike trail goes down a muddy side path which also leads to the live RR tracks but I did not go down it. On the trail back up it went well in gears 2 and 2 and I rested at each of the 5 mile signs on the many benches along the trail. When I met again two girls whom I had passed on the way down they said they had run into a bear at close quarters coming up from the river. The cliffs are terrific and in some places overhang the trail. Interesting waterfalls on some of the side streams. Bob
Well off the beaten path, but once you get there, a beautiful day in the woods. Start at the well marked parking lot off VA72 near Coeburn, and head down the trail. You will be coasting or lightly pedaling most of the 5 miles down the gorge. Go slow and enjoy the view. The tunnel adds a bit of fun. There is nothing but a railroad at the bottom, so turn around and come back up. Now you will be in a lower gear up the gradual climb. Not paved, but a good flat surface for hybrid bikes. A good family outing. No services along the way, so bring lots of water and a snack.
"Decided to explore the Guest River Gorge Trail in the Jefferson National Forest and was thrilled! This trail has pristine natural beauty, rugged high rock cliffs, neat railroad bridges (one tunnel) and virtually no sign of civilization. Railfans will be rewarded with access to the Clinchfield Railroad, now CSX mainline by simply standing on last decked bridge at end of trail. For hard-core mtn bikers, there is a single track system at left side end of trail, only for the strongest (not me)! NFS has built very nice access road, parking lot and pit toilet rest rooms at beginning of trail. The return trip up is tough, but the journey is worth it!
"The Guest River Gorge trail is a great place to visit on mountain bike or on foot. It is a rural forested area where the only thing you'll hear is the whitewater on the rocks, and an occasional CSX train at the end of the trail/gorge hauling coal on the former Clinchfield Railroad. This is also where the Guest River empties into the Clinch River. The trail is a bit steeper then other rail-trails but still much easier then other mountain biking. The scenery more then makes up for the extra pedaling. The trail is easily reached: from I-81 south take the 2nd Abington exit to US 19 north. Stay on 19 for around 13 miles and then take US 58A west to Coeburn (around 25 miles). Take the Dungannon exit (1st Coeburn exit)at state rt.72. Travel 4 miles and the entrance (paved Forest Service road)is on the left. A web site describing the trail in more detail along with some history is at:www.wisecounty.org/gorge.htm "
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