Known as the “Grand Canyon of the South,” the scenic centerpiece of Breaks Interstate Park is the steep gorge that’s cut by the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River. It’s not easy to reach the deepest gorge this side of the Mississippi River. There’s only one entrance, which is on the Virginia side of the 4,600-acre park off Route 80.
The park gets its name from the way the quarter-mile-deep, five-mile-long canyon literally provides a “break” in the sandstone of Pine Mountain. Daniel Boone is credited with discovering the area in the late 1700s, but apparently the rugged terrain and an abundance of copperheads was too much for the explorer, and he was eager to leave.
Raft the Russell Fork
Despite all of the attention that’s given to other regional rivers, the Russell Fork is actually considered the most difficult commercially rafted river on the East Coast. It’s a wild, class V+ ride of big drops, including the infamous El Horrendo, through tight chutes over vicious undercut rocks.
Hit the Trails
Breaks has 15 miles of trails, including a number of short spur trails to the park’s many scenic overlooks. Catch some of the park’s diverse rock formations on the Geological Trail. If you’re looking to cover some distance, backpack the Pine Mountain Trail, a new long trail still in development that will eventually connect the park to the Cumberland Gap. Hikers can tackle a 44-mile completed stretch of the Pine Mountain Trail that connects the Birch Knob and Highland sections.