Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Cathedral Rocks, Tower Hill Mountain, Warm Springs District, George Washington National Forest

Last May, as part of my never-ending quest to hike as many GWNF trails as I can, I completed the Tower Hill Mountain Trail. The Tower Hill Mountain Trail climbs its eponymous mountain and ends at private property.  It used to continue for over 10 miles across the long ridge of Tower Hill Mountain, but the forest service now recognizes only the southernmost 1.2 miles as public trail. After hiking the trail, I wrote about it on this blog, asking, ‘Is this all there is? Why does this trail still exist?’

Bath County locals know why.  A little off of the established trail is an overlook on top of a cliff known as Cathedral Rocks. The view is what makes this trail worthwhile, even though the trail doesn’t exactly take you to the overlook.  With the instructions in this description, you can find your way to the view, though I recommend that you bring a GPS receiver and enter in the coordinates for Cathedral Rocks, listed below.  I do not recommend this hike to families hiking with young children because of the cliff overlook.

I developed the following directions for a trail description to be found on the Hiking Upward website. 

Mile 0.0 – Parking is on a wide spot on the southbound side of Westminster Road.  Both road approaches have a sign warning you that the trailhead is just ahead, which makes it much easier to find the trail. There is a trail sign just off the road where the trail starts. 



Mile 0.3 – The blue blazed trail climbs steeply right at the start, then crosses several old roadbeds before making a wide switchback.  Although the trail levels out, don’t mistake this for the top of the mountain.  Continue after the switchback on a wide trail.

Mile 0.8 – Near the mountain summit, the trail may get a little harder to follow, depending on the time of year.  The trees are frequently blazed, however, so keep an eye for another blue blaze.  At the top, the trail curves to the right and virtually every tree sports at least one blaze.  The trail at the top goes in a northeast/southwest direction. When the climb has leveled off, instead of following the established trail north, take an unblazed social trail south towards the view.  (If you wish to continue north on the blazed trail, you will continue another half mile before reaching the forest boundary.)
It is a steep dropoff from Cathedral Rocks.

Mile 1.0 – The trail weaves among the trees for approximately 0.2 mile.  You should stay generally to the left side of the ridge top, dropping slightly in elevation.  Keep an eye out for a grove of pine trees ahead and to your left.  If you use a GPS receiver, the coordinates for the viewpoint are N38° 05.430' W79° 41.747'.

Mile 1.2 – Return to the trail, taking care to look for the part of the trail with many blue blazes.  (At worst, you will overshoot it slightly and find yourself on the trail a little northeast of where it ascends to the summit.) 
View across the Dry Run valley SW towards Piney Mountain

Mile 2.1 – Follow the trail back down the mountain to your vehicle.  


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