Saturday, May 27, 2017

GWNF's Tower Hill Mountain Trail

Any list of trails in the George Washington National Forest would have to include the Tower Hill Mountain Trail near the top among the most obscure.  Located in the Warm Springs Ranger District, the THMT climbs Tower Hill Mountain, located between Shenandoah Mountain and Warm Springs Mountain.

USGS topo maps show the THMT originally climbing Tower Hill Mountain and continuing north on the ridge for the entire length of the mountain - over 10 miles.  But the current Trails Illustrated map shows it currently listed at only 1.3 miles long.  I was in the area, and figured that by hiking it I would be able to determine why the trail is so much shorter today than it had been in the past.

The trailhead is on Rt. 624, Westminster Road, south of Ft. Lewis and north of Bath Alum on Rt 39. There is space for a couple of cars off the side of the road and signs telling drivers they are approaching the trailhead, along with a mileage sign at the actual trailhead.  Here is a map of the trail:

The trail climbs steeply from the start, traversing a forest of Tulip Poplar, Sassafras and White Pine. The undercover contains a lot of invasive Garlic Mustard and some Stinging Nettle.  The trail is well blazed with blue blazes, which is helpful as there are a couple of spots where the trail is tough to follow without the blazes.  Over the first 0.4 miles, the trail climbs at a stiff 21% grade before bending to the right and leveling off.  At 0.7 miles the trail climbs again, going from a 6% grade to a 24% grade before reaching the ridge at 0.9 miles.  The trail then moves northeast until it ends at the national forest boundary.  The trail originally continued over private property, and although "no trespassing" signs appeared to have been ripped off of the trees, I chose to respect the boundary and turned around.

I returned the same way I came.  There were no views during the entire hike.  The TSGS map indicates that a spot called "Chimney Rocks" is at the south end of the ridge, a short bushwhack from where the trail reaches the ridge. Google Earth doesn't show anything other than tree cover on this part of the mountain, however, and I saw nothing indicating a trail going that direction.
National Forest boundary at the end of this trail.
My maps show that the national forest owns the land just below the ridge line on the west side of Tower Hill Mountain and a trail could easily be constructed, which could return to the ridge top and meet up with the old trail when the national forest boundaries include the ridge again.  But even if the Forest Service was agreeable to new trails on our national forest (and they are not), it would be questionable why we would want one here.  There does not seem to be anything worth hiking to, such as a rocky outcrop providing a view or a waterfall. I'd leave this one as it is.

The benefits of this trail include fitness (it is a steep climb to the ridge), wooded landscape, and seclusion (it is doubtful you will encounter another hiker in this remote area).  But the trail is short, has no views or highlights, and will be terribly overgrown in the summer with plants that include Stinging Nettle.  I do not plan to return.