Hiking the 71-mile Massanutten Trail

A Supplement to PATC's
Guide to Massanutten Mountain Hiking Trails
Wil Kohlbrenner, July 1, 2002

PATC's Massarock Crew completed many years of trail construction on Massanutten Mountain in 2001. The Forest Service then combined this newly constructed trail tread with other trails, creating a continuous 71-mile loop, orange-blazed, and named it the Massanutten Trail.

There is an interest in thru-hiking the Massanutten Trail, since its length suggests a week's worth of hiking for many hikers. This supplement supplies some of the information required to plan a thru-hike.

Recent changes to the trail system
The following trails were combined: (starting at the Elizabeth Furnace Picnic Area) a section of the Shawl Gap Tr, a long section of the Massanutten Mountain East Tr, a section of the Waterfall Mountain Tr, new sections of trail on Waterfall and Kerns Mountains, all of the Massanutten Mountain West Tr, all of the Signal Knob and Tuscarora Spur Trs, and a short section of the Tuscarora Bear Wallow Tr.

Both ends of the former Massanutten Mountain East Tr are now blazed white, the north end was renamed the Buzzard Rock Tr, the south end was renamed the Massanutten Connector Tr. The west side of the Waterfall Mtn Tr was unblazed and abandoned. The following names are retired: Massanutten Mountain West Tr, Massanutten Mountain East Tr, Duncan Hollow Tr, Signal Knob Tr, Tuscarora Spur Tr, and Waterfall Mtn Tr.

The Tuscarora Trail was not changed.

Signs have been erected at most intersections.

How to use this supplement
You must have PATC's Guide to Massanutten Mountain Hiking Trails, published in 2000. The 2000 hiking guide supplies descriptive information about the trails that were combined to form the Massanutten Trail. It also describes all the side trails and the road approaches, and supplies detailed information about the Lee Ranger District of the George Washington National Forest. That information is not repeated in this supplement. The Guide can be purchased at stores that cater to hikers or can be ordered from PATC or from the Forest Service.

You should have Edition 7 of PATC's Map G, Massanutten Mountain - North Half, published in May, 2002. This recently published map highlights the Massanutten Trail, including the recently completed sections of the trail. It supplies the correct trail names and blaze colors for all trails. Initially, the new map may be available only through PATC (703-242-0315, www.patc.net) and the Forest Service (540-984-4101, www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/gwj/lee).

The Massanutten Trail descriptions
This supplement supplies two descriptions of the Massanutten Trail, one going clockwise on the map, the other counterclockwise. Both descriptions start at the Signal Knob Parking area on Fort Valley Road, SR678.

These descriptions of the trail identify only the trail intersections, water sources and campsites. All other information about the trail can be found in the Guide to Massanutten Mountain (using the old trail names). Estimates of elevation change along the trail can be taken from the contour lines on map G.

Water sources
The foremost concern for backpackers is the availability of reliable water sources on the ridges and in some gaps. This supplement identifies all water sources using the terms reliable and unreliable. "Reliable" means you are likely to find water during a drought; "unreliable" means the source may dry up after only a few weeks of dry weather. Water in a reliable stream may not be running, but you can usually find water in pools along the streambed. The word "Cache" indicates a location where you might consider hiding a container of water before beginning your hike.

Note that "reliable" does not mean that the water is safe to drink without treatment. You should treat all water, including the water obtained at developed campgrounds, before drinking it or using it to wash utensils.

You can further reduce your water needs by practicing dry camping - no cooking and no campfire. You should carefully study the location of water sources, campsites, and use the contour lines on the map to determine elevation gain. This will enable you to estimate how much water to carry on each section of the trail.

Campfires
If you make a campfire, you must thoroughly extinguish it - with water. Campfires make sense only near a reliable stream in one of the three hollows. Also, drought conditions in recent years have caused the Forest Service to post temporary bans on all open flames, including campfires, and violaters have been fined. Call the Forest Service (540-984-4101 weekdays, 8 to 4:30) a few days before the start of your hike to learn of any fire restrictions. You can also ask about drought conditions, so that you will know whether to cache water.

A suggestion for making a water cache
A water cache can be left near a road crossing or at the intersection of a side trail. Walk along the Massanutten Trail from the intersect point until you find a prominent feature that you will be able to recognize again (examples: rock outcrop, multiple-trunk tree). Hide the water jug nearby, but well off the trail, perhaps dug into the leafmold behind a log or rock. Cover it with leaf litter. Count steps back to the trail, then back to the intersection, and write it all down.

Do not use flagging tape to indicate a cache point. Flagging tape gets removed, and items hidden near flagging have been removed.

Pack out all trash. A plastic water jug can be flattened and hung from your pack. Trash can be left at some of the picnic areas, as noted in the trail descriptions.

Campsites and tentsites
Hardened campsites are scarce. There are hunter firerings along the trail, but no space for a tent. The terrain is often steeply sloped, brushy and rocky, so even Leave-No-Trace sites are scarce. You have to be flexible in terms of choosing a place to camp and when to stop to camp.

A hiking group that expects to erect more than one tent may not be able to tent near each other. The few multi-tent campsites are often taken by scout groups, especially on weekends. There is one three-sided shelter. It may be available in midweek, but the shelter and nearby tentsites are crowded on weekends.

Tentsites are being constructed along the trail where there are none. Be alert to unblazed side trails that lead to these tentsites.

Hunting - Rifle Season in late November
Be sure to read the description of Hunting on page 14 of the guide. In particular, do not hike during the Thanksgiving holiday week, the most dangerous time to be in the national forest.

Feedback
The author is interested in receiving your comments. When hiking the trail, you may make observations that would be of interest to other hikers. Take notes as you go, and send comments and observations in the form of an email to publications@patc.net.

Clockwise trail description from the Signal Knob Parking lot
(Numbers Indicate Distance from Beginning in Miles)
0 Nominal start point, at the north end of the Signal Knob Parking lot. If hiking through this point, stay on the trail, which runs parallel to the parking lot.
0.2 An unblazed trail joins from the south end of the parking lot.
0.6 Tuscarora Tr. Large campsite to the right in 70 yds. Bear left, blue and orange blazes. You are entering the Passage Creek Day Use area where camping is prohibited except in the developed campgrounds. Camping is permitted again beyond milepoint 1.1.
0.8 Fort Valley Road, SR678. (There is a hand-pump for water, available year-round, at the Elizabeth Furnace Family Camp, but you have to walk there, 0.4 mi, along the shoulder of the road, see map.) Cross SR678.
0.9 End of concrete bridge. 50 yds farther on the paved road, rightside, there are restrooms, trash receptacles and a water spigot May to October, in the picnic area. No camping. The water in Passage Creek is not recommended, since it has flowed past many miles of home and pasture drainage, and under numerous road crossings.
1.1 Switchback left at edge of old wagon road. End of the restricted camping area.
2.9 Cross old wagon road. Unreliable rock-lined spring at this intersection.
3.0 Shawl Gap. Campsite. Shawl Gap Tr straight ahead; Buzzard Rock Tr left. (Tentsites left along Buzzard Rock Tr and a large campsite on a knob in about 0.4 mi.).
5.3 Sherman Gap Tr joins from right.
5.4 Sherman Gap Tr leaves left.
8.7 Veach Gap Tr.
8.8 Little Crease Shelter. Tentsites nearby. Reliable spring. This is last reliable water for 16 mi.
9.7 Tuscarora Tr leaves left.
9.8 Large campsite.
13.2 Milford Gap Tr left only. (The west side of the old Milford Gap Tr has been abandoned due to a loss of public access to the trailhead. It should not be used.)
14.6 Indian Grave Ridge Tr.
18.1 Habron Gap Tr. Cache.
20.8 Stephens Tr. For 250 yds, the ridge is flat and wide, many potential tentsites.
21.7 Kennedy Peak Tr. No campsites or water on trail to the peak.
21.8 An unblazed loop trail, rightside, has no campsites or tentsites. Farther on, well-worn unblazed trail leaves from a sharp switchback. It goes to the base of an old microwave tower. No campsites, tentsites, or water.
22.5 Join wide roadbed, open to OHV vehicles to this point. There are a half dozen campsites along this OHV ridge road, most near the Edith Gap end.
24.1 Edith Gap, SR675.
24.9 Forest Service shed. Stephens Tr.
25.0 SR675. (For water, etc, turn right on road for 120 yds. An unblazed path to the right enters the Camp Roosevelt Picnic Area: trash receptacles year-round, restrooms and water spigots May to October.) Cross SR675. In 135 yds, large campsite rightside.
25.4 Cross reliable creek that drains Duncan Hollow. Climb bank, large campsite.
25.6 Large campsite, creek behind it.
27.9 A small sign on a tree leftside marks a path to a large campsite near creek.
28.2 Two crossings of reliable creek.
28.3 Gap Creek Tr. Large campsite left, across creek, 50 yds on unblazed trail.
31.0 Scothorn Gap Tr. (Straight ahead on Scothorn: unreliable spring at 120 yds, three large campsites at 500, 600 and 630 yds. Many tentsites.) Turn left, descend into steep-sided drainage system of Big Run, reliable. Cross the drainage to the west side, then recross to east side.
32.9 Cross Big Run to west side. This is last reliable water for 15 miles. Campsite.
33.1 Massanutten Connector Tr straight ahead. Turn right, very steep ascent.
33.7 Ridge, turn left. Watch for bears when blueberries are ripe.
34.3 Crisman Hollow Road, FR274. Cache. Cross road. Campsite in 100 yds. Swing right onto broad, flat sandy ridge of Kerns Mountain. Many potential tentsites. The ridge narrows and becomes very rocky as you go north and camping becomes impossible. The trail alternates between short sections on the narrow ridge and longer sections along the slope on either side of the ridge. There are short, steep sections (sometimes switchbacked), to get between the ridge and the sideslope sections. Year-round overlooks on the highest points.
39.1 Jawbone Gap. Jawbone Gap Tr rightside. White-blazed spur trail straight ahead ascends for 200 yds to Jawbone Overlook. Turn left, descend on steep wagon road. There are two unreliable springs in upslope along the switchbacked road.
39.5 Bear right off the wagon road onto a sidehill path, very rocky in places.
40.7 Moreland Gap Road, SR730. Cache. Cross the road.
41.1 Unreliable stream, which has passed through a culvert under FR374, crosses trail. Tentsites on the downslope side of trail. Watch for unblazed paths.
41.6 FR374. Cache. Cross the road, ascend on rocky sidehill tread.
42.5 Turn right along rocky ridge.
45.4 Firering (only) in a low wooded area. Unblazed access trails, right to FR374, left to private property.
47.4 Overlook on the nose of Short Mountain.
48.1 Old wagon road crosses trail. Tentsites along wagon road to right.
48.3 FR374. Cache. Turn left, descend on FR374.
48.7 SR675. Edinburg Gap. Pit toilet near back end of the ATV parking area, rightside. There is a reliable piped spring at a pulloff, 0.5 mi down the east side of the mountain on SR675. NOTE: SR675 has two narrow travel lanes, no shoulders, two blind curves, and the locals travel the road at 45 mph with no expectation of seeing a pedestrian. Cross SR675, join Peters Mill Run Tr, an ATV/OHV road.
49.3 Bear left off the road onto a narrow path.
49.5 Unreliable piped spring with sign.
50.9 Bear Trap Tr.
53.6 7-Bar None Tr. (Unreliable water in Peters Mill Run 0.4 mi down this steep trail.) Large campsite. An unblazed trail leftside leads to private property.
55.0 Lupton Tr. (Unreliable water in Peters Mill Run 0.4 mi down this steep trail.)
56.9 Woodstock Tower Rd, SR758. Cache. (1.1 mile side trip to a reliable piped spring below the Little Fort Picnic Area: using map G and Guide, follow Wagon Road Tr to the campground, turn left on campground road, pass campsites 9 and 10 to a road right. Turn right, walk to end of parking for the picnic area, continue for 75 yds bearing left across grass, cross a wooden bridge over Peters Mill Run, walk 50 yds farther on a path to a low concrete block structure. The pipe comes out the far side.) Cross SR758.
60.4 Mine Gap Tr.
61.6 Tuscarora Tr merges from left and runs concurrent for 35 yds.
62.1 FR66. Powells Fort Camp, south entrance road leftside, gated. Powells Fort Camp is closed and camping is not allowed in the camp area between the south and north entrance roads. Also, camping is not recommended along this driveable part of FR66.
62.5 Mudhole Gap Tr. North entrance road to Powells Fort Camp leftside.
62.6 Reliable piped spring leftside. Continue past the gate onto a service road (to the TV tower on Signal Knob). Campsite 280 yds later in a meadow rightside, and tentsites under pines near creek.
63.7 Cross Little Passage Creek, reliable.
64.5 The blazed trail bears left off the road. Ahead, the trail and the road straddle the Strasburg Reservoir, reliable. No campsites on the blazed trail. You can stay on the road, or take the blazed trail and cross back to the road across the top of the dam. Three campsites and many tentsites along the road going north of the dam.
65.1 Blazed trail rejoins the service road, continuing north.
65.4 Tuscarora Trail crosses. Large campsite 40 yds right on Tuscarora, then 200 yds north on an unblazed path. Last reliable water here in creek for next 7 miles.
66.6 Signal Knob Overlook. Turn east on level path. Campsites and tentsites before rejoining service road near tower. Busy on weekends. Pass the TV tower.
67.7 Meneka Peak Tr. (Campsite on right 310 yds south on Meneka Peak Tr.) Large campsite on Massanutten Tr in 145 yds. Another, smaller, 185 yds farther.
68.9 Fort Valley Overlook.
69.6 Buzzard Rock Overlook.
70.7 Sharp turn left in a ravine with a piped spring, unreliable.
71.1 A wooden bridge at the north end of the Signal Knob parking area. If hiking thru, stay on blazed trail, which runs parallel to parking lot. 
Counterclockwise trail description from the Signal Knob Parking lot
Miles
0 Hike north from a wooden bridge at the north end of the parking lot.
0.4 Sharp turn right in a ravine with a piped spring, unreliable.
1.5 Buzzard Rock Overlook.
2.2 Fort Valley Overlook.
3.2 Small campsite, rightside. Large campsite, 185 yds farther.
3.4 Meneka Peak Tr. (Campsite on right 310 yds south on Meneka Peak Tr.)
4.4 Pass TV Tower, bear right off the gravel service road onto a level path. Campsites and tentsites. Busy on weekends.
4.5 Signal Knob Overlook. Descend along the tower service road.
5.7 Tuscarora Tr crosses. Little Passage Creek leftside, reliable. Large campsite 40 yds left on Tuscarora, then 200 yds north on an unblazed path.
6.0 Trail bears right off the road. No campsites along the blazed trail. Ahead, the road and the trail straddle the Strasburg Reservoir, reliable. Three campsites and many tentsites along the road before the dam.
6.6 Blazed trail rejoins the tower service road, continuing south.
7.4 Cross Little Passage Creek, reliable.
8.3 Campsite in a meadow leftside, and tentsites under pines near creek.
8.5 Locked gate. (Camping not recommended along this driveable part of FR66.) Reliable piped spring rightside. Last reliable water for about 8 miles.
8.6 Powells Fort Camp north entrance rightside, gated. Camp area is closed and camping is not allowed between the north and south entrance roads. Mudhole Gap Tr.
9.0 South entrance to Powells Fort Camp rightside, gated. Bear right off FR66.
9.5 Tuscarora Tr merges from the right and runs concurrent for 35 yds.
10.7 Mine Gap Tr.
14.2 Woodstock Tower Rd, SR758. Cache. (Reliable piped spring below the Little Fort Picnic Area, 1.1 mi. Using map G and guide, follow Wagon Road Tr to the campground, turn left on campground road, pass campsites 9 and 10 to a road right. Turn right, walk to the end of parking for the picnic area, continue for 75 yds bearing left across grass, cross a wooden bridge over Peters Mill Run, walk 50 yds farther on a path to a low concrete block structure. The pipe comes out the far side.) Cross SR758.
16.1 Lupton Tr. (Unreliable water in Peters Mill Run 0.4 mi down this steep trail.)
17.5 7-Bar None Tr. Large campsite. (Unreliable water in Peters Mill Run 0.4 mi down this steep trail.) Unblazed trail right leads to private property.
20.2 Bear Trap Tr.
21.6 Unreliable piped spring with sign.
21.8 Join Peters Mill Run Tr (ATV and OHV) on a wide roadbed.
22.4 SR675. Edinburg Gap. Pit toilet at far end of the ATV parking area. There is a reliable piped spring at a pulloff, 0.5 mi down the east side of the mountain on SR675. NOTE: SR675 has no shoulders, two blind curves, and the locals travel the road at 45 mph with no expectation of seeing a pedestrian. Cross SR675, bear right, follow blazes up FR374.
22.8 Turn right off FR374 onto a woods trail. Cache.
23.0 Old wagon road crosses trail. Tentsites along wagon road to left.
23.7 Overlook on the nose of Short Mountain.
25.7 Hunter firering in a low wooded area - no tent space. Unblazed trails, left to FR374, right to private property.
28.6 Overlook. Swing left off ridge onto narrow, steep sidehill tread.
29.5 FR374. Cache. Cross road. Logging road alternates with narrow path.
30.0 An unreliable stream (which passed through a culvert under FR374) crosses trail. Tentsites on the downslope side of the trail. Watch for unblazed paths.
30.4 Moreland Gap Road, SR730. Cache. Cross road.
31.6 Join old road and begin four switchbacks, two unreliable springs in upslope.
32.0 Jawbone Gap. Jawbone Gap Tr straight ahead. White-blazed spur trail left goes north for 200 yds to Jawbone Overlook. Turn right. The trail alternates between short sections on the narrow, rocky ridge and longer sections along the steep slopes on either side of the ridge. No opportunities to camp. The ridge becomes wide and sandy at the south end with many potential tentsites. One campsite 100 yds before reaching FR274.
36.8 Crisman Hollow Road, FR274. Cache. Cross road, gradual ascent to ridge.
37.0 Bear left along the ridge. Watch for bears when blueberries are ripe.
37.4 Turn right, very steep descent on the former Waterfall Mtn Tr.
38.0 Massanutten Connector Tr rightside. Bear left to enter the steep-sided drainage area of Big Run, reliable.
38.2 Campsite near run. In 55 yds, cross the run. No campsites north of here in the Big Run drainage area. Cross Big Run twice more.
40.1 Scothorn Gap Tr. (Left on Scothorn: unreliable spring in 120 yds, three large campsites at 500, 600, and 630 yds. Many other tentsites in deep shade.)
42.8 Gap Creek Tr. Large campsite right, across reliable creek, 50 yds.
42.9 Two crossings of creek.
43.2 A small sign on a tree rightside marks a path to a large campsite near creek.
45.5 Large campsite rightside, creek behind it.
45.7 Large campsite rightside at turn off the old road onto narrower trail. Cross reliable creek. From October to May, this is last reliable water for 16.2 miles.
46.0 Large campsite leftside where old road crosses.
46.1 SR675. (For water, etc, turn left on road for 120 yds. An unblazed path to the right enters the Camp Roosevelt Picnic Area: trash receptacles year-round, restrooms and water spigots, May to October.) Last reliable water for 16 miles. Cross SR675, ascend on gravel driveway.
46.2 Forest Service storage shed. Stephens Tr straight ahead. Turn right.
47.0 Edith Gap, SR675. Cache. Continue north on roadbed open to OHV vehicles. Six campsites near the road, four in the first 300 yds.
48.6 Bear left onto a narrow trail. Ahead, a well-worn unblazed trail that leaves from a sharp switchback goes to the base of an old microwave tower. No campsites, tentsites, or water.
49.3 An unblazed loop trail, leftside, has no campsites or tentsites.
49.4 Kennedy Peak Tr. No campsites, tentsites, or water on Kennedy Peak Tr.
50.3 Stephens Tr. For 250 yds before this intersection, the ridge is flat and wide with many potential tentsites.
53.0 Habron Gap Tr. Cache.
56.5 Indian Grave Ridge Tr.
57.9 Milford Gap Trail. (The west side of the old Milford Gap Tr has been abandoned due to a loss of public access to the trailhead. It should not be used.)
61.3 Large campsite rightside.
61.4 Tuscarora Tr joins from the right.
62.3 Little Crease Shelter. Tentsites nearby. Reliable spring. Busy on weekends.
62.4 Veach Gap Tr.
65.7 Sherman Gap Tr joins from the right.
65.8 Sherman Gap Tr leaves to the left.
68.1 Shawl Gap. Shawl Gap Tr rightside. Buzzard Rock Tr straight ahead. Campsite here. (Tentsites along the Buzzard Rock Tr and a large campsite on a knob in 0.4 mi.)
68.2 Cross old wagon road. An unreliable rock-lined spring at this intersection.
70.0 Switchback right at edge of old wagon road. You are entering the Passage Creek Day Use area where camping is prohibited except in the developed campgrounds. Camping is permitted again beyond milepoint 70.5.
70.2 Concrete bridge that spans Passage Creek. (50 yds left on the paved road there is reliable water, pit toilets and trash receptacles, May to October, in the picnic area, no camping.) The water in Passage Creek in not recommended, since it has flowed past many miles of home and pasture drainage, and under numerous road crossings.
70.3 Fort Valley Road, SR678. (There is a hand-pump for water, available year-round, at the Elizabeth Furnace Family Camp, 0.4 mi south along the shoulder of the road, see map.) Cross SR678.
70.5 Tuscarora Tr turns left, Massanutten Tr turns right. (Campsite in 70 yds along Tuscarora.) Ahead on Massanutten Trail, there are tentsites possible in open woods leftside.
70.9 Unblazed trail right to the south end of the Signal Knob Parking area. The Massanutten Trail continues along the west side of the parking area.
71.1 North end of the Signal Knob Parking area.