Scenic Stumphouse Tunnel offers refreshing temps close to bike trails and waterfalls.
It’s only 250 steps from the front to the back of Stumphouse Tunnel, a 19th-century-era project to punch a railway through the Blue Ridge Mountains a few miles outside of Walhalla, South Carolina.
And while the unfinished tunnel—one of three in the area—is short, the naturally cool space quickly refreshes the senses and captures the imagination, as do the presence of nearby Issaqueena Falls and a hearty network of hiking and biking trails.
“You’ve got to love the versatility of it, first of all, between the mountain views, the tunnel, the falls, and the hiking and mountain-biking trails,” says Ken Sloan, president and CEO of VisitOconeeSC.com, who is also an avid mountain biker. “And that ambient 48-degree temperature means the tunnel is a great place to be year-round, but especially in the summer.”
For $5 cash (per vehicle), negotiate the switchbacks along the short blacktop road into the park. From the parking lot, it’s a short, steep walk to the tunnel’s entrance, stopping to read the historic marker along the way and capture a selfie.
There, you’ll learn the tunnel is the handiwork of about 1,500 Irish immigrants who came at the behest of South Carolina lawmakers in the 1850s as part of the 200-mile Blue Ridge Railroad of South Carolina project connecting Anderson, South Carolina, with Knoxville, Tennessee.
The hand-cut yaw dwarfs a full-grown adult but, in reality, is just wide and tall enough to fit a train. From there, it extends about 1,600 feet into the darkness before abruptly tapering to a dead-end, a silent reminder of South Carolina’s decision to pull the plug on the project just before the Civil War.
“The tunnel came at a time before Walhalla was Walhalla,” Sloan says. “Thousands of Irish immigrants came to build it, and many died in the process. Their graves still dot the woods around there.”
In 2007, when a private developer made a move to turn the property into a gated community, the people of Walhalla and other conservation groups rallied to keep it public, Sloan notes.
“The impact of the tunnel has been amazing,” he says. “In my personal opinion, the tunnel and mountain-bike trails put Walhalla back on the map.”
Now, it’s a place to reflect, to listen, and enjoy the natural beauty of the site, replete with tiny streams, ponds, and an abundance of fauna. Bring along a flashlight and enjoy the tunnel’s rough-hewn features. Or just stand in silence, enjoying the sound of seeping water dripping onto the hardened tunnel floor before testing the acoustics with a long “Helloooooo . . . .”
Take another short hike and you’re overlooking the 100-foot cascade of Issaqueena Falls (there’s a parking lot there, too, if you’d rather drive from the tunnel), suddenly feeling good about the decision to make the hour-long drive from Greenville. Mountain bikers have a station to fill and repair tires before hitting the hiking and biking trails inside Stumphouse Park.
The entire area is a Walhalla city park, so there are trash cans, gravel parking areas, and a restroom. Families can picnic at any number of tables, and for those in the mood for a burger or hot dog, there are firepits, too.
Stumphouse Tunnel Rd., Walhalla, 864.638.4343, visitoconeesc.com/stumphouse-park
While in Walhalla
If you’re not in the mood to pack a picnic lunch, the city of Walhalla—about 5.5 miles from Stumphouse Tunnel and Issaqueena Falls—packs a decent culinary punch for a place that registers fewer than 5,000 residents.
Lining Main Street are a variety of options. Indulge a post-hike sweet tooth at ShugaBears Sweets and Treats, hit up Bantam Chef of Walhalla for a cheeseburger plate, or slide into Steph’s Steaks for a Philly cheesesteak.
And don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the view—not only is Walhalla (a Norse word meaning “hall of the fallen” that is sometimes more euphemistically interpreted to mean “garden of the gods”) a place to take in any number of views waiting just up the road, the hamlet is home to a variety of beautiful mansions and stately homes bordering Main Street.