Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
1,250.00 ft (381.00 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
7.00 mi (11.27 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Slot canyons on the East Coast? Yes! There really are slot canyons tucked way into the corner of southwest Virginia in the 4,836-acre Channels State Forest. It’s a maze of sandstone slot canyons that you can get lost in while trying to figure out how they got here on top of a mountain. The slots are between 20 to 40 feet deep. Some short sections of the slots are narrow enough to force you to shimmy sideways to get through. Others are wide. In some areas you have to duck. This is a compact but fun area to explore.

The top of Middle Knob is the home of Virginia’s slot canyon. Geologists believe a 400-million-year-old “sandstone cap” covered the top of Middle Knob. During the last ice age, the permafrost and ice wedges formed in the capstone’s cracks and fractured it into the large slots we see today. Subsequent water erosion in the soft sandstone formed their smooth walls. 

These slot canyons are very different from the linear red sandstone slot canyons of the desert Southwest. These are green from moss. The ice’s action formed them into a maze of crisscrossed fissures in the rock, very different from the linear water eroded canyons out west. They’re still a lot of fun to explore.

The Brumley Mountain Trail to the top of Middle Knob is only about 3 miles to the short cutoff trail to The Channels, a 721-acre preserve that protects The Channel slot canyons from developmentBesides the slots at the top of Middle Knob, there are great views of the surrounding areas. The Brumley Mountain Trail is a 14-mile long trail that follows the Clinch Mountain ridge tops from Hayter Gap (the start of this hike) to Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area. 

This is a relatively new hiking area. Prior to 2004, the area was privately owned. The Nature Conservancy bought the area and negotiated a land use agreement that transferred it to the state. creating the Channels State Forest and the small Channels Nature Area Preserve in 2008. The original public hiking access was a much harder 11-mile round trip hike with about 2,600 feet of elevation gain over the rough Channels Trail. In 2012, the non-profit group Mountain Heritage opened the 14-mile Brumley Trail from Hayter Gap to Hidden Valley Lake. This provides much easier access to The Channels from the trailhead at Hayter Gap. For a trail map of the area, click here.

There aren’t a lot of nearby public campgrounds, especially in winter. When the few forest service campgrounds are closed for the winter season, Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area can be used in a pinch for camping. Check out the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for current rules and required permits. It is about a 40-minute drive to Hayter Gap from Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area. This provides an indication of the nature of the mountain roads in this area since it is less than 14 miles away as the crow flies. 

This is a moderate hike due to the length and steady climb on the way up. This hike is roughly 6.4-miles out-and-back to the top of Middle Knob’s fire tower, and that does not count any exploring in the canyons. The canyons are about 100 yards from the fire tower at the top of Middle Knob. 

Hayter Gap is the start of this hike. VA 80 provides good access, though it is a winding narrow road through the steep rugged mountains of south west Virginia. There is parking for 10 to 12 cars in the small lot (36.864640, -81.946982). Since there is private land up the road, ensure you don’t block the road. This is a popular trail for locals, and it is getting more discovered by the rest of us, so solitude isn’t guaranteed. 

From the trailhead information sign, follow the private gravel road for 0.7 miles to where the private road goes right and the trail takes an old rough forest road slightly left. This is Brumley Mountain Trail. It is well-signed here. This rough dirt road provides access to a private inholding and occasionally has vehicle traffic. Please respect private property rights and stay on the trail. 

After about another 0.4 miles you will see the private cabin on the right. Continue, respecting property rights, and shortly you will see a junction of old abandoned dirt roads. Go straight and pass through the well-signed gate. The road is now foot traffic only, and back on public land. It gets a bit rougher, and steeper, but you can still tell it was an old road. The tread is good, and it is wide enough to walk as a group. Continue for about 1.9 miles to the trail junction where the cut off trail to the top of Middle Knob, its fire tower, and the Channel Slot Canyons takes off to the left. Do not continue straight or you will end up at Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Area after a long 11 miles. 

In less than a quarter mile from the junction you will round the corner and see an old fire tower. After a short series of high step rocks you will be on the top of Middle Knob with its views, abandoned and decrepit shack, fire tower, and the entrance to the Channels. The fire tower was a long-range fire tower, and therefore a very high tower. It is now closed to the public. On the far side, past the fire tower, is the narrow path to the entrance of the Channels. Short sections of this path are a bit steep, but overall they are pretty easy. 

When you enter the Channel, take a few seconds and look at your surroundings. The area is small, but you can get a bit turned around inside this maze. Enjoy. It is truly unique for East Coast trails. In the heat of summer it is said to be much cooler down under the rocks. In winter the wind is shielded, but it can still be quite cold. Return the way you came.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Pleasant hike to a unique geologic location with slot canyons.

Cons

On pleasant hiking days can be crowded. Limited trailhead parking.

Trailhead Elevation

3,035.00 ft (925.07 m)

Highest point

4,173.00 ft (1,271.93 m)

Net Elevation Gain

1,137.00 ft (346.56 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Geologically significant
Big vistas

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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