The Tuscarora Trail has been on my bucket list for a few years, but I wasn’t expecting to hike it this year, and certainly not under these circumstances. But after I had to cancel my Continental Divide Trail thru-hike earlier this year, I knew I would need to find something else to do. And though it’s not the grand capstone to my triple crown that I expected, the Tuscarora Trail will be a third of sorts: my third Appalachian Trail-adjacent thru-hike.
The Tuscarora Trail
The Tuscarora Trail is a 250 mile alternate to the Appalachian Trail. Starting at the junction of the Appalachian Trail and the Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail in Shenandoah National Park, the trail heads northwest through Virginia across the Shenandoah Valley, then northeast as it travels through the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians of West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, reconnecting with the Appalachian Trail in central Pennsylvania on Blue Mountain, near the Darlington Shelter and the town of Duncannon.
The Tuscarora trail was established in the 1960s as an alternate alignment of the AT when it was feared that development would cause the closure of the AT along its present route through northern Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania. Fortunately, that closure never happened, thanks to the National Scenic Trails Act of 1968, which protected the Appalachian Trail’s right-of-way.
Why the Tuscarora Trail?
After I finished the AT in 2016, I developed a plan which, up to this year, I’d been able to keep: a major long-distance trail every other year, with a shorter long-distance trail on alternate years. Between 2016’s Appalachian Trail and 2018’s Pacific Crest Trail was the Long Trail in 2017, with the Benton MacKaye Trail following in 2019. The Continental Divide Trail was supposed to be this year, but the COVID-19 disease forced a cancellation.
In one version of my plan, the Tuscarora could have been 2021’s off-year hike. I also considered using the Tuscarora as a prep hike and gear shakedown hike so that I would be in trail shape prior to starting the CDT.
In any case, I needed something to do this summer, and as hikes go, the Tuscarora checks a lot of boxes.
It’s relatively local for me, so it will not require extensive travel to get to or from the trail.
It’s AT-adjacent, and in that regard forms a fitting trio with the Long Trail (which shares 105 miles with the AT) and the Benton MacKaye Trail (which starts at the AT’s southern terminus, and crosses the AT several times, ending near the AT as it leaves the Smokies.
With the coronavirus still a concern, the Tuscarora is almost ideal because I can significantly limit the amount of time I spend in town. The trail does not require getting a ride into town into town: it goes directly through two towns, and is less than a mile away from two other towns or post offices. (In fact, I’d briefly considered doing resupply entirely via mail drop to post offices.)
And, with the trail starting and ending at the AT, it conveniently forms a loop. Adding the AT in between adds 180 miles, bringing the entire “Tuscalachian Loop” to about 430 miles.