Once built as a possible bypass for the Appalachian Trail during its turbulent land acquisition period, the 250 mile Tuscarora Trail has become the PATC’s main project over the last few years with new shelters, new guidebooks, and maps. The trail begins near Matthews Arm in Shenandoah National Park and runs over ridges, valleys, through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, ending just north of Carlisle at the Appalachian Trail.
I had the opportunity to do an approx. sixty mile section of trail from Rte. 50 just west of Winchester, VA, to just shy of the Massanutten Range at Shenandoah Community Park.
If a hiker plans to do the Tuscarora Trail, there are a few things you need to consider.
First, this is NOT the Appalachian Trail. Marked by blue blazes (and sometimes white for side trails) there are no blazes every few hundred yards like the AT. Many of the blue blazes are worn or nonexistent. The trail can be tricky to find in fields and crossings because of the lack of foot travel or the absence of blazes. One must be comfortable with the idea you could get off trail and how to navigate a way back to it (a fact I found out on the hike). Having the guide book for the Tuscarora is a must. Also, you must carry the maps.
|The PATC sells maps and guidebooks for the Tuscarora Trail|
A compass and / or GPS is also not a bad idea. I had a gentleman tell me just follow the guidebook. Unfortunately I found as I traveled southbound that the directions south did not always match those given for northbound trekkers. I advise you travel the trail northbound if possible. If you do go south and the trail is not working out, refer to the northbound directions and your maps for guidance. In the Jemima section I ended up off trail and on a road. Thanks to trail angels, they helped take me to the next road crossing where I could pick up the trail again.
The Tuscarora Trail also contains some challenges with regards to water and hiking the trail. Be prepared to tote water lengthy distances, especially if the season turns dry. I happened to go in a wet season and found the springs running. At Hawk Campground, the water came out of the water pump a rusty brown.
|Hawk Run Falls. When the trail is rerouted next year, it will no longer go by this or Hawk Campground|
But there may be times you will not have an uncontaminated water source for 15 plus miles. Also, hiking is tough going in many areas. There are many rocky areas that will test your feet. If you go with feet not used to the rigors of rocky travel, be prepared for blister care. Take enough socks to change out. Air out your feet. And have duct tape ready.
The trail also goes through tall grassy areas heavy with ticks. Carry insect repellent, use permethrin on your clothing and check for ticks.
The Tuscarora Trail crosses a good deal of private land. The trail is there only by the graciousness of landowners. Be respectful of private property. When on the road walks, take care to watch for traffic. On one busy road for me in the Shenandoah Valley, cars were whizzing by at fifty-five and there was no shoulder. Be careful.
|Road walk in the Shenandoah Valley|
As mentioned, the PATC is working hard to make this a great trail. New shelters are being built, and they look fabulous.
|The new Barclays Run Shelter 2012|
Volunteers are doing their best to see that the trail is maintained, though parts are better maintained than others. There will also likely be a new reroute next year in Virginia when the trail will remain along the ridgeline, bypassing Lucas Woods, the “Jemima” section, Hawk Run and Hawk Campground. Check the PATC website for details of this rerouting.
There is great views and great wilderness on the Tuscarora.