Kessler Tunnel

Western Portal

The Kessler Tunnel (1843′ in length) was completed in 1906 and abandoned in 1975 when the Western Maryland Railroad went out of business.  It’s located in the Paw Paw Bends, and in spite of being part of the C&O Canal NHP, it is not readily available via the towpath.

Turn around...this is the wrong trestle! (Active B&O Trestle in the bends)

Now for some more Kessler Tunnel trivia: it was acquired by the NPS in 1980; it’s named after original landowner John Kessler; and the WMRR right-of-way could someday become part of the Western Maryland Rail Trail.  However–and perhaps most importantly–the tunnel is a lot harder to find than either the Indigo or Stickpile Tunnels.  For those interested in hiking to the tunnel, the journey begins at the Tunnel Hill Trail.

Trestle leading to the Kessler Tunnel

Head toward the Paw Paw Tunnel from the campground just off of Maryland Rt. 51 and take the trail to the top of Tunnel Hill.  The directional signs at the top are for the Tunnel Hill Trail, which leads to the towpath.  Instead, turn right onto Tunnel Hill Road where it intersects with the trail.  Eventually, the road will pass through a gate and head downhill toward a sharp right-hand turn.  On the right side, there will be a clearing.  Pass through this and head straight toward the river.  Toward the lower ridge overlooking the Potomac, there is a deep, impassable railroad cut.  Follow this to a steep (but passable) bank made up of shale and loose dirt, and this will lead to both the trestle and an entrance into the gap leading to the tunnel.

Be careful!

After “Googling” the Kessler Tunnel, I chanced upon a couple of really vague maps showing its approximate location in conjunction with Tunnel Hill Road.  We made the mistake of taking the road to the end, and it literally leads to the middle-of-nowhere and ends on a ridge-line overlooking the river and the B&O trestle in the second picture.  From there, it was a long, uphill hike to the top of two large hills, so be sure not to overshoot the target!  For those interested in a less-strenuous hike, Tunnel Hill Road is available from Malcolm Road off of Rt. 51.  One can literally drive to within a mile or so of the tunnel.  It’s the same idea–take Tunnel Hill Road downhill to a hard right and cut through the woods.  There’s one other thing though:  much of the land is state owned hunting grounds, and signs of hunters are everywhere.

This is a look at the tunnel from further back. On first look, it appears that anyone heading into the railroad cut is taking his life into his own hands. It's pretty much vertical down there until reaching the trestle.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds like quite the hike. Regardless it has to be quite cathartic going through the woods, exploring the land, then reaping the rewards of seeing the tunnels. Looks like your peak season for color change has passed by…..

    Y’all do such a great job explaining and sharing these wonderful tunnels and landscapes with us.. I appreciate each and every one I read.


  2. Posted by LevelWalker on October 25, 2012 at 6:44 pm


    Thanks. I’ve wanted to have a look at this tunnel for a while now. It was a good day to be wandering around in the woods looking for a needle in a haystack.


  3. Posted by BikerChick on October 25, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    It was actually at the peak of the color change, but for some reason Tom’s camera can’t handle bright sunlight and the colors got washed out in the pictures. The colors that day were vibrant and so pretty to look at. An A+ day!


  4. ah man!! I bet they were spectacular then….I know in Michigan they were so vibrant. I love the country-side y’all walk in and through, such gorgeous views. It makes a person wonder about its history and who or what has been there before us.


  5. Posted by LevelWalker on October 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm


    Don’t believe her nonsense. My cell phone is a 3.2 megapixel (woohoo!!!), and it takes brilliant pictures!


  6. One slight update. The WM didn’t go out of business. It was merged into the Chessie System, and this line was abandoned and the trains were rerouted on the ex B&O line on the WV side of the Potomac River. Trains stopped running on this line in 1975, and the rails were pulled up in 1976.


  7. Posted by LevelWalker on September 12, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Thanks. Information regarding the railroad, tunnels, etc. is pretty sporadic. I learned something new today. Thanks Tom! Some of my favorite hikes have been checking out the railroad bed and looking at the abandoned tunnels. Anyway, thanks again for a very informative comment.


  8. Posted by nick on October 30, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Great post . I was looking for an adventure . I googled abandoned tunnels in western Md your blog came up . I screen shot this post on my phone and went looking for this tunnel . I was not sure of this tail but followed the directions . We found the tunnel no prob with your instructions . What a great find . Tunnels seems very untouched by humans .


    • Posted by LevelWalker on November 5, 2017 at 8:08 am

      Nick, I agree. It’s not an easy hike, but it’s a good one. That left turn is pretty tricky. I’m glad you found it!


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