Tuscarora Trail – Waites Run to US 50

By Jason B.

Tuscarora Trail
View from Eagle Rock

I decided to take advantage of the great May weather to hike a section of the Tuscarora Trail.  I had heard of the Tuscarora Trail but really didn’t know much about it.  It was built in the 1960s as a potential alternate to the AT north of Shenandoah National Park.  It is a 250 mile trail that begins in Shenandoah National Park and reconnects with the AT on Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania.

I was hiking with a couple of friends; Curious George and Music Man, and we decided to start at Waites Run in Section 17 and hike north about 30 miles to where the trail crosses US 50 which encompassed Section 16 and part of Section 15.

After dropping a car at US Route 48, we drove my car to Waites Run Road and hit the trail with the Gerhard Shelter, around 4 miles from the start, as the destination for our first night.  The trail starts on an old road but soon becomes a rocky single track that climbs steadily for the first 3.5 miles and gains 1600 feet.  The last bit is an easy decent through grassy trail down to the shelter.  The trail on top of the ridge is neat with what appeared to be apple trees, and nice views through the trees on both sides of the ridge.

Tuscarora Trail
Trail conditions day 1
Tuscarora Trail
More day 1 trail

The Gerhard Shelter was well kept and clean.  It is on the smaller side for a shelter with room for 4-8 if squeezed in tightly.  There is a nice fire pit with some benches, several nice tent sites, and a bear pole.  There is supposed to be water about 0.6 miles downhill from the shelter but we did not confirm that the spring was running.  We brought enough water to get us back to the car we left at US Route 48.  This would prove to be a good move because there would be no water sources on Day 2 until we got to the Pinnacles Shelter.

Tuscarora Trail
Cool mossy trail section day 1
Tuscarora Trail
Gerhard Shelter

Day 2 was a long day – 17 miles to the Pinnacle Shelter.  Overall it wasn’t to bad.  The day began with a 4 mile decent to US Route 48.  The trail was nice through here with views through the trees that had begun to green up.  There were a few campsites along the trail through here – one at 3 miles from the shelter with a nice grassy area and good view and a second larger campsite at approx. 3.75 miles.

Tuscarora Trail
Day 2 on the way down to US 48

At the car, we dropped off trash and refilled with water, we each had a little over 3 liters for the next 13 mile section.

The next 13 miles had a little bit of everything – nice smooth trail, rocky trail, and brand new just built trail. The entire section was fairly exposed.  There may be more of a canopy as the trees fully green out but for our trip we received a lot of sun. It was nice but required sunscreen to keep from getting burned

The Section from US 48 to Eagle Rock was very well marked and the trail tread varied from smooth to rocky.  We saw a few people on the trail in this section as Eagle Rock is a popular day hiking route with great views.   We stayed for a few minutes at Eagle Rock to eat a snack and enjoy the sites.

Tuscarora Trail
Cool tree on the rerouted section after Eagle Rock

The next section from Eagle Rock to the Pinnacle Shelter was interesting.  The PATC did a trail reroute that removed a long road walk from this section of the trail. It is shown as a future reroute on the map. It is obvious when you enter the new section.  There is a long switchback past a section of large powerlines.  You climb to the top of a ridge and then follow this ridge for several miles until you reconnect with the old Tuscarora Trail where the reroute meets the Lucas Woods trail.  The reroute is new so the tread of the trail is pretty much non-existent.  We were walking on rocks, through bushes and so forth.  Fortunately, the section is well blazed and they were easy to follow.  However, I do think that this section would be difficult to follow later in the summer once everything has bloomed.  There is a lot of vegetation that I think would obscure the blazes.

The trail was easy to follow from the intersection with the Lucas Woods trail.  We continued climbing to some cool rocks and the Pinnacle Campground before descending down to the Pinnacle shelter about half a mile from the rock formation and the Pinnacle Campground.

Tuscarora Trail
Pinnacle Shelter

The Pinnacle Shelter is nice. The interior is large, and there is a large deck area with plenty of room to spread out.  There is also a covered picnic table and large firepit as well as a bear pole.  There are very few tent sites at the shelter.  I was able to set up a small one man tent near the covered picnic shelter but there were not really any other good spots.

There is a nice stream about a quarter mile north of the shelter along the trail. We had planned well, and our water ran out just as we came to the shelter, so the stream was a welcome site.  The day had been hot and the stream water was super cold and refreshing.  The stream grows from just a trickle to become a larger stream that eventually comes to a large waterfall about a mile north of the shelter along the trail.

Day 3 was supposed to be an easy 8 miles out to the car.  Ha – little did we know that there would be around 3 miles of a boulder field masquerading as a trail, and another 2 plus miles where the trail was barely visible through the poison ivy and other bushes covering the trail. Overall the trail descended 1500 plus feet, but that is too simple; there were many ups and downs crawling over rocks that varied in size from bowling balls to doghouse, and none of them were stable.  Fortunately we made it through mostly unscathed but certainly mentally fatigued. There is an ATV trail that is close to the Tuscarora in the boulder field that may be an alternative but the Tuscarora eventually turns away from the ATV trail.

Tuscarora Trail
Mountain Laurel beginning to bloom

From the boulders the trail was heavily vegetated and in one particular section there were numerous blow downs that slowed us down. The trail seems to meander near an old forest service road for the next couple of miles and it seems to cross the road with little to no rhyme or reason.

Tuscarora Trail
Barclay Shelter

Eventually we made it to the Barclays Run Shelter.  The shelter itself seems very nice and looks fairly new.  There are several bird nests in the shelter and apparently a mouse met its demise somehow.  There is a spring near the shelter that forms two small pools. There is a milk jug scoop in the shelter to help scoop water from the pools.  There are also several nice tent pads in the area.  Overall it seemed like a neat area, but it seemed a little damp, and I wonder if it is buggy.  I didn’t stay long enough to find out.

Tuscarora Trail
Definitely a sense of humor – privy is named Willie Makeit
Tuscarora Trail
dead mouse on Barclay Shelter porch

From the shelter it is only a mile or so along the trail to US 50.  The trail is in good shape and goes by a cool looking meadow before coming down to a larger stream crossing.  As you can see from the picture there is no way to cross without wading.  The water was cold but felt nice and I took the opportunity to wash my legs, arms and face while crossing. Once we got to 50, Curious George’s wife picked us up and shuttled us back to our cars.

Tuscarora Trail
Creek Crossing before making it to US50

Overall this was a great trip.  The Tuscarora Trail through this area reminds me of older trails that don’t get a lot of use.  Most of the trail was well marked and easy to follow.  But this isn’t the AT; it is much more wild.  Water was definitely in short supply except at the Pinnacle Shelter and the stream we crossed near US 50.  There were also very few campsites along the trail with the exception of the ones I mentioned in the review.  Most of the foliage had leaves and there were even a few stands of mountain laurel blooming.  Because most of this hike is along ridges, if I were to do this hike again, I would try to go earlier in the season so that there was less foliage and more views. It appeared that the area was heavily hunted.  We passed numerous ladder stands and blinds along the way.  I would probably not hike this area in the fall during hunting season.

Big thanks to REI and the PATC for the new trail signs and to the PATC for maintaining the trail and shelters along this route. They are the reason why there is still a trail for us to hike on 60 years after it was built.