Wednesday, August 28, 2013

George Washington National Forest: Massanutten Storybook Trail (Blog Hike #440)

Trail: Massanutten Storybook Trail
Hike Location: George Washington National Forest
Geographic Location: east of Luray, VA
Length: 0.7 miles
Difficulty: 0/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2013
Overview: A flat out-and-back on paved trail to a fantastic mountaintop overlook.

Directions to the trailhead: In northern Virginia, take I-81 to US 211 (exit 264).  Exit and go east on US 211.  Drive US 211 4.4 miles to the top of Massanutten Mountain and its intersection with Crisman Hollow Road.  Turn left on Crisman Hollow Road.  The trailhead for the Massanutten Storybook Trail is 1.5 miles ahead on the right.  There is roadside parking sufficient to hold 5 to 7 cars.

The hike: Every great storybook starts “once upon a time.” In the case of Massanutten’s storybook, that time came long before any human roamed the earth.  True to its name, the Massanutten Storybook Trail uses interpretive signs to tell the story of Massanutten Mountain’s formation.  Even better, this trail ends at one of the best mountain views in northern Virginia.  You will enjoy this walk yourself, but make sure you bring your kids on this short, flat, paved trail.  In addition to the geology lesson, kids will love jumping around on the rocks near the overlook provided they do not get too close to the edge.
Bridge at trailhead
            The trail departs the right side of the parking area by crossing a wide expensive-looking wooden bridge.  At the south side of the bridge, the trail turns to blacktop, and the geology lesson begins.  The first interpretive sign talks about the time before the Appalachian Mountains rose when this land lied underwater.  Later signs take you on a tour through time as they describe the mountains rising from the sea and the forces of erosion that still act today.
Rock outcrop beside trail
            Large rock outcrops make more frequent appearances as you continue along the trail.  The soil up here is very thin, allowing only stunted pines and deciduous trees to grow.  Just past 0.3 miles, you reach another wooden bridge that looks very similar to the first one. 
This second bridge ends at the overlook platform.  Looking eastward, the dense trees of the national forest lie directly under you, the town of Luray sits in the middleground, and Shenandoah National Park’s Blue Ridge Mountain stands in the background.  The mountain to the left is Strickler Knob; it is actually another arm of Massanutten Mountain.  Railings protect the overlook itself, but the nearby rocks have no such protection.  Take care if you or your kids venture out onto the rocks.
View east from overlook
The Massanutten Storybook Trail ends at the overlook, and there are no other trails exiting this point.   Thus, the only option is to turn around and retrace your steps back to the parking area to complete the hike.  While you are in the area, the closed Massanutten Visitor Center on US 211 atop Massanutten Mountain offers two additional short hiking opportunities.  The 0.5 mile one-way Massanutten Wildflower Trail provides a nice walk with 200 feet of elevation loss that leads to a closed picnic area, while the paved 0.25 mile Massanutten Discovery Trail provides a short nature trail experience similar to this hike but without the overlook.  Whatever you choose, make the most of your time atop Massanutten Mountain.

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