Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Maple Springs Trail, GWNF North River District

The Maple Springs Trail is the most convenient mountain trail to Harrisonburg, Virginia.  Nevertheless, after the first mile, it is very seldom hiked.  Which is a shame, because a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club volunteer recently spent 80 hours rehabilitating a trail that had become overgrown.  I hiked it with that volunteer and with several others from the Southern Shenandoah Valley Chapter (SSVC) of the PATC.

It is important to note that the SSVC recently entered into an agreement with the North River District of the George Washington/Jefferson National Forest to maintain many of the trails west of Staunton and Harrisonburg in that District. As a result of this agreement, work that the SSVC had been doing for several years will be tallied and submitted to the Forest Service.  I have agreed to take on several of the trails in that district.  They aren't the most convenient trails to my home, but many of them desperately need the work.  So I signed up to be responsible for several of my favorites.

To get to the Maple Springs Trail, drive west on U.S. 33 from downtown Harrisonburg.  Approximately 11 miles west of downtown is a road on the left to Rawley Springs.  Take that road, being careful to watch for traffic coming in the other direction (sight distances are not great here), and follow it all the way to the back of the neighborhood.  You will see some nice, kind of funky, houses along the drive.  There is a parking lot in the back that holds about eight vehicles.
Parking lot, complete with a guy tracking his bear dogs.
At 5.1 miles each way, the Maple Springs Trail is one of the longer hiking trails in the North River District.  (The Shenandoah Mountain Trail and trails in Hone Quarry and to the summit of Reddish Knob are longer.)
Rocks next to parking lot.
Adjoining the parking lot is a small cliff face that is reportedly popular among local climbers, though we did not see anyone.  Start the hike by going past the gate preventing vehicles from going further on the road. You are immediately treated to a beautiful view of Gum Run looking upstream. 

 Right after that, the trail crosses Gum Run for the first of many crossings.  The trail along Gum Run is the prettiest part of this hike, particularly in mid-October!

The trail follows Gum Branch for the first 1.7 miles, crossing it multiple times.  The trail can be rocky at times, and obviously, can be treacherous during times of high water. Follow the yellow blazes, freshly applied in the Summer of 2019.

For the first two miles, the elevation gain is relatively gradual.  After the trail leaves the stream bed, it starts to climb.  Over the next 3.2 miles, the trail gains nearly 2000 feet in elevation.  The trail gets steep on occasion - it isn't for hikers who are out of shape.  It averages a hefty 19% grade between miles 2.2 and 3.2.

There really aren't any views on this hike, at least while the leaves are out.  It climbs 5.1 miles before reaching a woods road, after an elevation gain of 2378 feet.  We turned around at that point.  What it gives you is some pretty stream crossings, a good workout, and much solitude.  Your chances of seeing someone else on this trail are remote.  If this appeals, check it out - the trail is in great shape.