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 gentle grade of this trail and its crushed stone surface make it ideal for a comfortable walk or bike ride. 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 Walkingstick, 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.
Parking and Trail Access
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.