Christmas lights are on most every house and street corner in America during the holidays. But, you’ve never really experienced a real “Christmas Lighting” until you visit “Lighting of the Tunnel” at Natural Tunnel State Park in Scott County, Virginia.
Here you will find a 450’ tunnel, described by Walter Jennings Bryan as “the Eighth Wonder of the World,” lighted with huge spotlights and thousands of twinkling Christmas lights. Lighting of the Tunnel begins the Friday of Thanksgiving and runs Friday and Saturday and the week before Christmas.
A short chairlift ride from the Swiss-mountain-like gondola takes you to the bottom of the tunnel, where you will follow the lighted path to the mouth of the tunnel. Friday and Saturday nights, you can enjoy traditional Christmas performed by local artists, grab a cup of hot chocolate and sit around the campfire roasting marshmallows. Santa is also there Friday and Saturday to greet the children and listen to their Christmas wishes.
A little off the beaten path, make your way to the Carter Cabin where you will experience an authentic 1700s Christmas. Sit around the large stone fireplace and hear local reenactors describe Christmas during the time of Daniel Boone and the country’s first pioneers.
To experience Christmas in “Small Town America,” visit Scott County the first weekend in December, where you can catch not only Lighting of the Tunnel but both the Gate City and Nickelsville Christmas parades.
Beginning late Saturday afternoon, downtown Gate City is filled with the Christmas spirit. Local artists provide Christmas tunes and horse-drawn carriage rides are available. The evening parade includes festive floats and local high school bands fill the tow with the sights and sounds of the holiday season.
Nickelsville’s Christmas festivities begin Sunday at noon with a luncheon from Meals of Love and also features vendors and children’s activities at Keith Memorial Park. The parade starts at 3 p.m. down the town’s main thoroughfare, with traffic stopped in both directions to accommodate the town’s annual event.
To get a head-start on the Christmas spirit, the weekend before Thanksgiving is also a great time to visit Scott County. For 75 years, the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce and CSX Railroad have sponsored the Santa Train, which makes several stops in Scott County.
The origin of the Santa Train dates back to the 1940s when members of the then Kingsport Merchant’s Association devised a way to thank the hundreds of customers in Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia for traveling to Kingsport to shop. Members of the Merchant’s Association and CSX rode the train 110 miles to Pikeville, Kentucky and on the way back handed out small Christmas presents to patrons lining the railroad tracks.
The Santa Train runs a little different today, but is still a signal to the official start of the Christmas season in Eastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia and Kingsport. The train continues the traditional 110-mile route, but now delivers in the neighborhood of 20 tons of toys, clothes, food annually donated to the Santa Train.
Scott County’s small town of Dungannon is one of the locations where the Santa Train and Santa stop to parcel out gifts to local residents. Following the distribution of gifts, Dungannon holds its annual Mountain Memories Christmas event that includes children’s activities, food, vendors, community parade and a chance for children to visit with Santa.
Make one of Natural Tunnel’s or Appalachian Mountain’s cabins your home base for the weekend. The Estillville Bed and Breakfast and Boone’s Boone Cabins are also excellent choices and are located in the Gate City area. Sugar Maple Inn in Nickelsville provides the perfect vantage spot to watch the Nickelsville Christmas Parade.
While in the area, check out our local restaurants like the Kane Street Barbecue, El Ranchitol, Campus Drive In and/or The Maple Tree Book Store and Coffee House. Nickelsville’s Teddy’s restaurants is one of the great small town eateries in America. Grab a burger, fries and a shake and make sure to visit Teddy’s “Wall of Fame” where you can see photos of his visitors from around the world.
For more information or help planning your trip to Scott County, Virginia, please call 276-386-6521.