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Posted In: Hiking

Channels Preserve a stunning, rare Virginia locale

January 31, 2012 10:00am

The subject of this post isn’t exactly local — it’s five hours away, in fact — but I had to share because the place is just too amazing not to.

In December I wrote a column for The Times-Dispatch introducing a new monthly series for 2012. The goal is to travel the state highlighting rare or unique plants, animals, ecosystems, geologic formations, etc. — places and species that most Virginians don’t know exist or are only vaguely aware of. Yesterday, I traveled to Channels State Forest and Natural Area Preserve (the NAP is surrounded by the SF) in southwestern Virginia for the January entry.

From the Department of Conservation and Recreation website: The Department of Conservation and Recreation and Department of Forestry dedicated this state natural area preserve in April of 2008. The Channels, the 53rd state natural area preserve, is an area of significant high elevation forest, rock outcrop and cliff communities. The name of this area is derived from a series of quite large and impressive sandstone boulders and eroded crevices that occur on a portion of this natural area preserve. The 721-acre Channels Natural Area Preserve is part of a 4,836 acre State Forest that was purchased by the Virginia Department of Forestry from The Nature Conservancy in March 2008.

You don't want to fall between these rocks

Channels fit the series criteria perfectly. According to Claiborne Woodall, the DCR steward for the NAPs in that area, it’s the only geologic formation like it in Virginia – a sandstone cap on top of a mountain (Hayters Knob) where the rock has been fractured and eroded over time to form deep crevices inside it. It might be a stretch to call them slot canyons, at least as that term is used in places like Utah, but it’s not that far off. If you fall between the rocks, in some places you’ll fall 40-50 feet, that is if you don’t get wedged in between the rock walls. When you’re down at the base of the rocks, you can hike around, but the twists and turns are so many and so similar that it’s easy to become disoriented. Bread crumbs would have been useful.



Channels is truly an incredible place, one I had no idea existed in Virginia (Washington County, near a tiny town called Hayters Gap). My column on the trip will run either Friday or Sunday in the T-D. In the meantime, enjoy these pics.

The name of the place becomes obvious here








And here


Old shack at the top of Hayters Knob (elev. 4,208 feet)

About Andy Thompson

I was the Outdoors Columnist at the Times-Dispatch from 2007 to 2013, writing twice a week about mountain biking, fishing, hunting, paddling and much more. I live a 1/4 mile from the James River, close enough to see bald eagles soaring over my house on their way to find a meal. Pretty cool, eh?