From Tunnel Hill Trail to the Top of Paw Paw Tunnel

I've noticed this before, but I've never given it much thought!

I’ve noticed this before, but I’ve never given it much thought!

Candee and I were talking the other day about how many times we’ve been through the Paw Paw Tunnel, and neither of us had much of a guess.  I’m not a math major, so I would probably have to take off a shoe to even count the times we’ve done the Tunnel Hill Trail.  This section of the canal and its environs is beautiful, and I never get tired of it.  Nevertheless, this hike was basically the same-old stuff, and it was obvious that nothing interesting was going to jump out in front of us.  As usual, I was wrong.

We went up the front side of Tunnel Hill and took a side trip to Kessler Tunnel, but as we headed down the other side toward Tunnel Hollow, we ran into a couple of hikers and started talking.  They said that they wandered off of Tunnel Hill Trail and walked a good ways on a well-maintained path before figuring out they were off track.  I was puzzled by this (and Candee was excited!), so we kept our eyes open for the trail as we headed down the hill.

Looking across Tunnel Hollow

Looking across Tunnel Hollow

As we hiked along one of the last switchbacks before coming to the towpath in Tunnel Hollow, we saw it–a “well-maintained path” heading back toward the tunnel.  The trail had a few ups-and-downs as it held to the edge of the hill above the recent rock slide, and eventually it led to a a great view of the boardwalk and a neat downhill vantage point of the downstream portal of the Paw Paw Tunnel.  From there it wound uphill and to the right, leading to a great view of the hollow from directly above the tunnel.

Tunnel Hollow from a higher vantage point

Tunnel Hollow from a higher vantage point

It’s pretty obvious that Tunnel Hill Trail leads from one end of the Paw Paw Tunnel to the other, but at no point does it go directly over it.  With this in mind, I’ve always wondered if there was a way toward the bore holes that were used for blasting rock in the tunnel below.  It’s a hidden piece of C&O Canal history, and this trail happens to lead there!  From above the tunnel, it is also a short hop to the waterfall that helps to feed the canal below.

In his Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal, Thomas Hahn mentions a humorous bit of folklore involving the bore holes.  Apparently, an Irishman and his mule were arguing, and the man gave the animal a swift kick that led to it falling 400′ down the hole.  The mule lived, and the Irishman was forced to lower bales of hay and water to the animal until the canal workers tunneled through.  That sounds even crazier than my last post about Bigfoot on the AT!

This appears to be an old spring along the trail.

This appears to be an old spring along the trail.

Due to waning daylight, we called off our trek at the park boundary.  The trail appears to head toward Malcolm Road, but that’s fodder for another hike.  I’m definitely interested in a walk through the woods directly above the Paw Paw Tunnel.  This is a hidden gem that we found while taking a seemingly mundane hike, but, then again, there’s no such thing as a mundane hike.  There’s a lot to see on the top of that hill.

Why isn't there a sign for this great trail?

The trail is narrow but easily traversed. 

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Gorgeous views and what a great day for a hike eh! The spring looks like it was man made as the rocks are all perfectly stacked. I wonder what’s behind the wall? I’m one of those curious types thinking maybe something is hidden? I happen to like the Bigfoot story! :0)

    Reply

    • Posted by LevelWalker on November 23, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      That trail was kind of a mystery. I’m not sure of the details behind the (apparent) spring. I was very surprised to see signs of past life there at all. The bore holes are of particular interest in that they were a major factor in the building of the tunnel. In general, there’s a whole lot more to the park than one sees from walking or biking on the towpath. Recently, Jamie (a very frequent contributor to the site) delved into the C&O’s state of being in between the canal’s closure and its becoming a national park. I wonder how much was forgotten or “disappeared” completely in that era. Who knows when the “spring” (I can’t say for sure that’s what it is/was)was constructed? It’s amazing that it hasn’t slid over the hill!

      Reply

  2. Posted by Jamie on November 25, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Hahn gives an account of tracing the line of the tunnel on the top of the ridge. It’s unlikely that the woods are still as open as he described, but he does give a few pointers about what can be found up there. The use of map and compass, which he suggests, seems like a good way to go about it. I think it would be exciting to locate the old stone survey markers he mentions.

    I very much enjoyed your account. Hope to hear about more discoveries from above the tunnel!

    Reply

    • Posted by LevelWalker on November 25, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      I will definitely head back up there. I never thought about using a compass. There is what looks like a sinkhole not far back from the portal. I can’t say for sure if it’s related, but wandering off a few feet in any direction would make finding the markers pretty difficult. It is definitely a worthwhile future journey.

      Reply

  3. […]  This photo taken from cocanal.com […]

    Reply

    • Posted by LevelWalker on December 19, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      Hey, if someone uses one of our pictures for a desktop background, etc., mission accomplished. That’s why we do the site!

      Reply

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