Massanutten Trail Copernicus Ridge

With all the trails available to hike, including the famous white-blazed Appalachian Trail dominating in popularity, there’s something unique about the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail. I rarely see other hikers, compared to the more popular trails. The Massanutten Trail is a George Washington National Forest loop trail system. It is a rugged 71-mile trail that encircles Fort Valley in Shenandoah County.

Today I hiked Copernicus Ridge. When you turn onto Forest Road 374 from State Route 675, the forest road bears right, and to the left is the gravel road to the parking lot. I parked on the first pull-off and just passed the gate on the left. I could have parked in one of the pull-offs further up the road. There is a small pull-off directly across from where the trail veers off the road and into the woods. The trail in this section is shared with the road. It’s very easy to miss the turn-off from the road for the trail, so paying attention to the trail markers is important.

This section of the trail leads to several outcrops with views of Edinburg Gap, Fort Valley, and Waonaze Peak. The only other hiker I would see was early on as I was heading up; she and her dogs were on their way back down. This trail is great for hiking with dogs, but must be leashed. I, too, brought one of my dogs, Hattie, who enjoyed doing the sniffs.

The terrain is mostly rock-strewn and well-drained. I read that water is scarce once up on the ridge. I would not see any water sources today. The trail is well-marked and maintained. It’s a fairly narrow and rocky trail with gradual gain in elevation. Besides the views from the ridge, the best part of the trail for me was the section that skirts around just below the outcropping, creating a ledge walk. One side is rock, and the other side is a drop-off. Hiking this in the fall was beneficial as the leaves were off the trees, providing a better view north up the valley.

I stayed on the ridge by myself for about an hour, enjoying the views and sun before turning back. I could have extended my hike further west, going over Short Mountain, then taking the trail left, returning to Forest Road 374, but I had no idea what that trail would have been like. So, I kept it simple with a 4.18-mile out-and-back hike.

Some of the more popular hikes along the Massanutten trail are Signal Knob on the northern end, Edinburg Gap on the west side, and Camp Roosevelt at the south end. All of which are on my to-do list.

The distance includes the walk from the gate to the start of the trail, where it leaves the roadway, then back (car to car).

Length 4.18 mi.
Start 10:08 am
Summit 11:20 am
Finished 1:46 pm
Elevation gain 866 ft.