PATC’s 90th Anniversary Hike #7: Beginning the Tuscarora Trail
Distance: 12.3 miles

Total ascents: 2800 feet
Getting there: From the capital area, take I-66 west and US 29 south to Warrenton, VA. From Warrenton, take US 211 west to the Thornton Gap entrance to Skyline Drive. Go north on Skyline Drive to the Overall Run parking area on the left, just before milepost 21.

Alternate Trailheads: The parking area at Mathews Arm Campground is available when the campground is open. Reach it by the campground road that goes west off Skyline Drive just south of milepost 22. Another parking area is at the end of VA 630, at the base of the ridge. To reach it, take US 340 south from Front Royal or north from US 211, along the west side of Shenandoah National Park; at Bentonville, go east on VA 613 for 0.6 mile, then turn right onto VA 630. From the end of that road, hike Thompson Hollow Trail to the Tuscarora Trail. Both alternative parking areas are shown on the accompanying map (see below).

Fees: For a 7-day pass, $25 per carload or $10 for those biking or hiking in; a $50 annual pass is also available.

The Trail
Miles
0.0     From parking lot, pass the Overall Run information sign and head south on the white-blazed AT.
0.4     At concrete post, turn right to begin a long descent toward Shenandoah Valley on the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail. [In the 1960s, private landowners in northern Virginia were closing off segments of the AT, leading PATC and other supporters of the trail to plan a long detour westward around the threatened section (shown by question marks on the accompanying planning map). After years of scouting, work began on this segment in 1968, even though the planners had not yet determined where some other sections of the route would lead to the Potomac. Ultimately, the 252-mile bypass proved unnecessary, as land acquisitions and federal law protected the AT corridor. Nonetheless, the Tuscarora officially opened in 1981. It continues to appeal to hikers and backpackers who prefer wilder, less traveled routes.]
1.1     At concrete post, turn right to stay on Tuscarora. The trail that goes straight leads 0.6 miles to an alternate starting point at the parking lot near the entrance station for Mathews Arm Campground. [The National Park Service built the campground just as PATC decided to start the Tuscarora in this area. Work on this first stretch of the Tuscarora was delayed a bit, as the builders waited to see where the Park Service would create trails around the campground. After Fred Blackburn completed negotiations for the path through the park and across private land to US 340 in 1967, It would take another year before volunteers would cut the trail from US 340 up to the AT.]
2.7     Continue straight past another concrete post. (Bearing left here leads to the lower end of the campground.) In 90 yards, bear left at another post to follow the trail now labeled “Tuscarora Overall Run Trail,” as it soon nears the shoulder of Overall Run’s deep ravine. [Even as work got underway, authorities were at odds over what to call the trail and how to blaze it. Pennsylvanians favored “Tuscarora” because a long part of the trail in that state would be on or adjacent to terrain features bearing that name. PATC proposed “Big Blue,” which the Park Service favored because Shenandoah National Park’s footpaths, other than the AT, were blazed that color. To this day, one still hears references to the Big Blue or “Tuscarora Big Blue.”]
3.1     Rock ledge to left offers good view into depths of Overall Run. [The trail descends steeply in this area. The many oak trees in the area may pepper the trail with acorns, requiring extra care on autumn downhills. Though the National Park Service readily agreed to creation of the trail here, it set standards that PATC volunteers were not accustomed to. Instead of a narrow footpath that followed the natural terrain, the builders had to provide a gentler grade, a wider trail, and more all-weather tread. Where the Tuscarora continued onto private lands, delays would be required to negotiate passage with the owners. In Shenandoah National Park and other government lands, construction would take more time in order to meet such standards.]
3.2     Another outcrop on left overlooks Big Falls on Overall Run, the highest in Shenandoah National Park. [At 93 feet, the falls are most impressive in winter, when coated with ice, and in spring. In a dry summer, the falls may be reduced to a trickle. For an equally impressive view, look down the valley to the right, toward Massanutten Mountain.]
3.5     Cross intermittent tributary of Overall Run, then follow its right bank downhill.
4.0     Cross Overall Run and follow its left bank.
4.4     Cross back to right bank and follow it downhill, crossing a couple more seasonal tributaries along the way.
5.0     At concrete post, Tuscarora Trail goes right and Overall Run Trail goes straight. For the circuit hike, follow Overall Run Trail. [A right turn here leads 0.2 miles to Thompson Hollow Trail; going straight onto that trail leads another 0.5 miles to the alternate trailhead at the end of VA 630. Those starting from Thompson Hollow may enjoy a relatively short up-and-back hike to visit Big Falls or a very easy 1.6-mile walk to the dipping pools on Overall Run and back to VA 630. Those doing a longer hike on the Tuscarora turn left at the split from Thompson Hollow Trail and continue another 2.8 miles to US 340. Approaching US 340, they might see holes and trenches that caught the attention of PATC’s trail scouts in the 1960s. Most date from the Civil War Battle of Milford in the autumn of 1864. In that fight, also known as the Battle of Overall’s Run, Confederate troops briefly checked the Union advance into Shenandoah Valley. Soon, northern troops under Gen. Phillip Sheridan dominated the valley and devastated sections of it. Sheridan’s campaign helped reassure Lincoln’s re-election in 1964 and kept badly needed supplies from reaching the Confederate army defending Richmond. ]
5.1     Continuing the circuit, pass a well-trod side trail leads left to a set of inviting cascades and dipping pools on lower Overall Run. [Even in arid summers, when upper stretches of the run are dry, these pools usually offer refreshment.]
5.7     Trail curls left at concrete post marking the start of Beecher Ridge Connector Trail. Shortly, cross braids of Overall Run and begin a long ascent [Note the rocky, scoured area around Overall Run here. The stream’s steep descent adds power to any flooding that occurs as the run emerges from its deep ravine onto gentler terrain.]
6.5     Go straight at post marking the end of the connector onto yellow-blazed Beecher Ridge Trail.
9.1     At the post where Beecher Ridge Trail ends, go left onto a fairly level segment of yellow-blazed Mathews Arm Trail. [A right at this junction continues the ascent onto a natural-surface road to Mathews Arm Campground. Hikers who begin from the campground parking lot will follow the forest road straight onto the paved road through the camping area to complete a 10.8-mile circuit.]
9.6     At next marker, turn right on blue-blazed Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail and retrace route uphill to the start.
12.3     End hike at Overall Run parking lot.
About this series. . .
Between 1927 and today, PATC’s founders and their successors built a 240-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, created the Tuscarora Trail, made dozens of cabins and shelters available to hikers, and took on maintenance responsibility for over 1000 miles of paths in the club’s 4-state service area. The hikes described in this series pass landmarks in PATC’s history and celebrate nine decades of remarkable evolution in our national trail network.

Larry Broadwell and William Needham co-write the series, and Brian Goudreau provides the maps. This article, the first to cover a trail aside from the AT, draws particularly from Tom Floyd’s “Diary of a Trail” on the history of the Tuscarora.