Monday, May 18, 2020

Blueberry Trail/Mud Pond Gap Trail Loop, GWNF

This posting is part of my effort to document trails in the North River District of the George Washington National Forest that don't have much in the way of online descriptions.  If you are interested in hiking trails in this area, I recommend obtaining the book, "Shenandoah Mountain Trails: A Guide to Trails on Shenandoah Mountain in Rockingham and Augusta Counties, Virginia." The book is written by Timothy Hupp of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and can be ordered from the Club's online bookstore.  (Recently re-opened during the pandemic.)

The Blueberry Trail (#544A) and Mud Pond Gap Trail (#544) are located between U.S. 33 and the Hone Quarry area of the GWNF, west of Harrisonburg.  These trails can be hiked as a 4.2 mile loop when combined with the Union Springs Road.  The two trails meet at the eastern end of the Meadow Knob Trail (#428).  Access is from Union Springs Road, FS 225, which is a big attraction for Jeeps and high clearance vehicles because it is very rough further to the west.  It is also narrow in spots, so it can be a somewhat hair raising ride to this trailhead.  

The loop can also be accessed from the Hone Quarry area, via the Cliff Trail #429 and the Meadow Knob Trail #428.  It is about 4.2 miles each way from the Hone Quarry Road to this loop, via these trails, making for a much longer hike.

There are parking areas where each trail meets the Union Springs Road.  I parked at the first lot driving in from the east, which is the Mud Pond Gap trailhead.  The lot can hold 3-4 vehicles, though the odds of seeing another vehicle is probably pretty low.  

Mile 0.0 - The trailhead is marked by a signpost designating this as the Oak Knob Road, FR 225D.  The entire length of the trail is an old woods road, which Trails Illustrated Map #791 states is always gated shut to the public, though you should not block it in case USFS personnel need to use the road.

Mile 0.2 - Almost immediately, the yellow blazed trail crosses a stream that was flowing when I hiked this in early May.  At Mile 0.2, a second, larger stream passes over the trail.  After this, start a climb that continues for the rest of the trail's length.

The trail climbs through a pine forest before opening up when it passed several open fields likely maintained as wildlife attractants.  Twice, these fields were marked with posts that appeared to once have signs, but the signs were gone.

Mile 1.0 - At the 1 mile mark is a large, flat boulder that has been turned into a mountain bike ramp; likely the major attraction on the trail for that demographic. The trail remains wide and grassy through this area.

Mile 1.6 -  The trail splits as it meets the Blueberry and Meadow Knob Trails, with a triangle-shaped wooded area in the middle.  On the other side of the triangle you can find Mud Pond.  Turn right here to take Blueberry Trail.  This is the high point of the hike; you will descend over most of the Blueberry Trail.

Mile 1.7 - Blueberry Trail starts out as an old woods road before entering a large open area and leaving as a trail.  Stay somewhat to the left in the field and find the trail on the other side. Over most of its remaining length, the trail is wonderfully grass covered.

Mile 3.5 -  Blueberry Trail ends at a permanent gate just before the Union Springs Road.   There is space for several vehicles to park here.  Turn right onto Union Springs Road to return to your vehicle.

Mile 4.2 - After 0.7 miles, you will come to your original parking area and your vehicle.  Use care on Union Springs Road, as you will likely encounter vehicles - especially if hiking on the weekend.

There aren't any vistas on this loop, and this hike is not the first one I would recommend in this area - there are others that are more interesting, especially those coming out of Hone Quarry just to the south.  But this loop offers great solitude and is an easy hike.  I'd definitely consider returning.

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