PATC’s 90th Anniversary Hike #8: Tuscarora Trail across Massanutten Mountain
Distance: 13.6 miles

Total ascents: 2000 feet
Getting there: From the capital area, take I-66 west to exit 6, US 340 at Front Royal, Virginia. Go left on US 340 south 1 mile and then turn right (west) on US 55 just after crossing the bridge over the north fork of the Shenandoah River. In 6 miles, turn left on Route 678, Fort Valley Road at Waterlick. In 2.5 miles, turn left into Elizabeth Furnace parking area, just after passing Signal Knob parking on the right, and park in the first lot after coming down the ramp from Route 678. Passage Creek is just ahead through the woods..

Significance: After negotiations with George Washington National Forest (GWNF) in 1967, it was agreed to extend the Tuscarora Trail, then known as the Big Blue, through Massanutten Mountain westward to continue the AT bypass route from Shenandoah National Park (SNP). With the precision and coordination of a complex military exercise, three PATC work crews were fielded; the entire 24 mile Tuscarora Trail over Massanutten was cleared and blazed on a single day, 15 March 1969. This hike follows the path of the crew that worked from Elizabeth Furnace, over Green Mountain, to Powell’s Fort at that base of the western ridge.

Fees: None.

The Trail
Miles
0.0 From parking lot, the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail and the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail approach from the south across the bridge and go north, crossing Route 678, where the hike begins, heading uphill. [Before or after the hike, follow the Tuscarora Trail south for 0.1 mile to the ruins of the Elizabeth Furnace, one of several iron furnaces that operated in the area in the mid-19th century. All took advantage of local iron ore, limestone, and trees that could be turned into charcoal for the production of pig iron. PATC’s trail blazers had the Tuscarora pass here so that hikers would have access to this historical site.]

0.3 At T-intersection, go left on blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail/Bear Wallow Trail as the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail goes right to Signal Knob. [The original plan was for the trail to pass over Signal Knob due to its scenic vista and historical significance; it was used as a lookout post for Confederate forces from 1862 until it was overrun by a small Union contingent during Sheridan’s Valley Campaign of 1864. However, due to the need to use the vehicular bridge to cross Passage Creek, the Tuscarora route was moved south on the extant Bear Wallow Trail]

0.5 Pass a deep pit on the right side of the trail [This pit was dug by the workers from Elizabeth Furnace to extract iron ore as a raw material. The gully at the south end is likely the remnants of a primitive mule path used to carry ore down the hill].

1.1 Cross a small rill and immediately reach white-blazed trail on the left that leads to the Mudhole Gap Trail. This is the return route for the circuit hike, which goes straight here, makes a 10 mile counterclockwise loop, and reconnects by coming up the white blazed connector.

1.4 Sharp right turn to begin the long ascent of Green Mountain [Even though the PATC trail crew was following the Bear Wallow Trail which had been an established trail in GWNF for some years, there was considerable work to be done. In January of 1969, a massive snow storm, called the Storm of the Century by the Washington Post, struck the area. The resultant snow, ice and high winds caused substantial trail damage and myriad blowdowns and branches]

2.0 The pink-blazed Sidewinder Trail joins from the left. This is an alternate crossover trail to the Mudhole Gap Trail.

2.9 False summit of Green Mountain as the trail reaches a short plateau and then descends.

3.6 Turn sharply left at the base of the Green Mountain summit to traverse along a rocky access route that affords scenic vistas of fort valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains of SNP in the distance.

3.9 Reach Green Mountain summit and intersect with white-blazed Maneka Peak Trail on the right which crosses over to Massanutten Trail to Signal Knob.

4.0 Sharp left and then right as the trail descends to Fort Valley.

4.7 Cross Little Passage Creek and immediately reach 4-way intersection with Massanutten Trail which descends from Signal Knob to the right. Go left on orange-blazed Massanutten Trail as blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail continues straight to traverse Three-top Mountain. [This is the path followed by the original Tuscarora Trail in 1969 as the crew followed the forest road south. The trail was moved to Three-top Mountain in the 1990s]

4.9 Fork right to stay on Massanutten Trail as forest road goes straight to the Strasburg reservoir.

5.2 Strasburg Reservoir is visible through the trees on the left. The damming of Little Passage Creek provides potable water to the city of Strasburg.

5.4 Cross Little Passage Creek below the Strasburg Reservoir dam

5.5 Intersect with forest road and bear right to continue south on orange-blazed Massanutten Trail.

6.4 Cross Little Passage Creek.

7.4 Pass access gate that restricts vehicular traffic northward toward Strasburg Reservoir and Signal Knob.

7.5 Pass small parking lot on the left where purple blazes mark the start of the Mudhole Gap Trail. Continue straight on Massanutten Trail

7.8 At access road to Powell’s Fort Camp, turn sharp right toward parking area and open field on unblazed access path [The PATC crew moving west from Elizabeth Furnace stopped here as they ran into the crew moving east over the Massanutten West Ridge. The two crews were shuttled back to Elizabeth Furnace to celebrate the end of a long and successful day, having blazed and cleared 24 miles of trail in a single day]

8.0 Cross two small wooden foot bridges and enter the remains of Powell’s Fort Camp [Powell’s Fort Organization Camp was built by the United States Forest Service to accommodate 96 campers and 16 staff members and was used to provide a wilderness experience to underprivileged youth. It was abandoned in the 1990s]

8.2 Go around gate at the bottom of the access road to Fort Powell and cross the forest road to the parking area. Follow the purple-blazed Mudhole Gap trail to the right, past a sign for that trail.

8.3 Begin a series of crossings of Little Passage Creek (total of 5) for the next half mile.

9.0 Fork left at ‘Y’ intersection to continue on purple blazed Mudhole Gap Trail.

9.2 Reach a large open area which marks the beginning of a forest access road on which Mudhole Gap Trail continues.

11.3 Sidewinder Trail intersects on the left; continue straight.

12.3 Turn left on white-blazed connector trail that intersects on the left.

12.5 Turn right on blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail to retrace steps back to Elizabeth Furnace

13.3 Turn right to follow Tuscarora Trail as orange-blazed Massanutten Trail joins from the left.

13.6 Cross route 678 to Elizabeth Furnace Parking area to complete the circuit.
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.