PATC’s 90th Anniversary Hike #9:Tuscarora Trail North in West Virginia
Distance: 11.3 mile circuit hike from Wilson Cove to Mill Mountain and returning over Paddy Mountain and the Old Mail Path Trail

Total ascents: 3000 feet
Getting there:From the capital area, take I-66 west to I-81 and go south for 6 miles to exit 296, US 48/55. Turn right at ramp and go west crossing Virginia, West Virginia line in 15 miles and merging with WV 259 to enter Wardensville, WV. In 0.8 miles go left on North Mountain Road (Carpenters Avenue) and right in one mile on Waite’s Run Road. Proceed 6 miles on Waite’s Run Road into George Washington National Forest. Park just over the bridge that spans Waite’s Run.

Significance: In one of the most ironic twists in PATC history, Congress passed the National Trails Act in 1968, just after the Tuscarora Trail had been initiated as a bypass for the Appalachian Trail. The original impetus for the trail had been concern for right-of-way issues where the AT crossed private property in northern Virginia; the law made the bypass unnecessary. The Tuscarora Trail thus became a trail system extension with a repurposed objective: to offer wilderness hiking opportunities in the rugged western highlands. This was the first section completed with the new objective, forging west to Great North Mountain and then north along some existing trails through George Washington National Forest.

Fees: None.

The Trail
0.0     From the parking area cross south, back over Waite’s Run bridge toward Wardensville [The Tuscarora Trail continues north up the fire road that is perpendicular to the access road and proceeds along the section called the County Line Trail that marks the border between Page County, WV and Shenandoah County, VA. It was maintained by the University of Maryland Terrapin Trail Club who erected the first Tuscarora Trail shelter in 1970 and dedicated it to Paul Gerhard, one of the club members who had been killed in a climbing accident.]
0.1     Go left on Pond Run Trail, following blue blazes as it ascends steeply over a berm then descends and continues up the west bank of Pond Run, a tributary stream to Waite’s Run.
0.5     Cross Pond Run for the first of seven times over the next mile
1.5     Cross Pond Run for the final time and shortly come to several large, dead hemlock trees that tower over the trail [Hemlocks were a dominant canopy tree in this region for centuries. The emergence of the woolly adelgid at the end of the last century killed them by consuming tree nutrients at a fatal rate. Many are now covered with saprophytic fungi appropriately named Hemlock polypores that subsist on the dead trunks.]
2.5     Reach the first of several wooden walks constructed about fifteen years ago to cross over the boggy habitat that persists in this area.
2.6     Turn left to continue on the Tuscarora Trail at the intersection with the yellow blazed Halfmoon Trail that goes right to Halfmoon Lookout about one mile distant [During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, towers were erected at elevated locations throughout the national forests to provide for observation of incipient fires; the remnants of one of these towers remains at Halfmoon Lookout, where there is an excellent view of Long and Mill Mountains.]
2.9     After a long climb up an old access road go straight on a rocky trail as the road turns sharply right.
3.6     Turn sharply right as the Wilson Cove valley is visible below and Paddy Mountain looms in the distance straight ahead.
4.1    Go left to continue on the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail as the orange-blazed Mill Mountain Trail goes straight ahead. Big Schloss, which means castle in German, is 4.2 miles distant. [A second fire tower was located directly ahead one mile at the highest elevation of Mill Mountain Trail at 3293 feet.]
4.6     Continue straight on Tuscarora Trail as the yellow-blazed Little Stoney Creek Trail goes right and an unmarked trail that was once the Peer Trail back to Wilson’s Cove goes left along Waite’s Run. Sugar Knob Cabin is 50 meters to the right [Sugar Knob Cabin was the way station for rangers assigned to two towers in the Great North Mountain area, one near White Rocks Cliff and the other at Halfmoon Lookout. PATC acquired the cabin in 1939 and restored it for use as an overnight venue by hikers.]
4.8     Reach the summit at Sugar Knob and shortly pass a mountain pond on the right.
5.6     Go straight to remain on the Tuscarora Trail at the intersection where the orange-blazed Racer Camp Hollow Trail goes left and the purple-blazed Little Sluice Mountain Trail goes right. [The original forests of Great North Mountain were largely obliterated in the 19th century by lumbering and by the area’s many voracious charcoal-fueled iron furnaces. The Weeks Act of 1911 empowered the federal government to purchase land; GWNF, originally Shenandoah National Forest, was established in 1918. Waite’s Run watershed saw a second round of managed lumbering in the mid-20th century that established the forest access roads, some of which are now part of the Tuscarora.]
7.0     Pass a small cairn on the right that marks the side trail to White Rocks Cliff. [The view from there over Little North Mountain is well worth the quarter-mile walk. The Tuscarora Trail blazers planned the route to access such grandeurs of these mountains.]
7.5     Go left at the T intersection on pink-blazed Old Mail Path Trail as the Tuscarora Trail goes right and east toward Fetzer Gap and Shenandoah Valley [Old Mail Path Trail is of historical significance. It is the route by which 19th century packhorses carried mail from Woodstock just west of Massanutten Mountain to Wardensville in West Virginia.]
8.7     Reach intersection with an old logging road that is part of Racer Camp Hollow Trail. A left here would lead back to the Tuscarora Trail at milepoint 5.6, above. Go right about 10 yards and then left to follow a footpath along the left side of a meadow, then into the woods.
9.5     Cross several Waite’s Run tributaries that drain the Wilson Cove dale.
9.8     Go left on Wilson Cove Trail at the end of Old Mail Path Trail. The fire road to the right follows an old logging road that rings the Wilson Cove Valley and circles back to milepoint 8.7, above.
10.0     Pass access gate that is closed from January to September to protect wildlife.
10.2     Continue right on fire road as a private property access trail intersects on the left.
11.3     Complete the circuit at the parking area by Waite’s Run bridge
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 draws particularly from Tom Floyd’s “Diary of a Trail” on the history of the Tuscarora.