The Great North Mountain trail is part of the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail and the Great Eastern Trail. The trail follows the ridge of Great North Mountain and straddles the Virginia and West Virginia border. The trail is located in the Lee District of the George Washington National Forest. Known for steep, rocky, and narrow ridge tops with spectacular views, the Lee District is the nearest access point to the George Washington National Forest for the Washington DC metro area.
Expect plenty of rocks (but not as many as you'll find elsewhere in the Lee District), exceptional views, and a ridge line that defies the traditional character of other Virginia ridge tops. While most Virginia ridge top trails are loaded with steep "hike-a-bike" sections, the Great North Mountain trail has plenty of ups and downs but avoids the soul crushing hike-a-bikes that define other ridges in the area.
Used predominately by hikers, the trails receives regular maintenance from the volunteer power-house, Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. Thanks to their hard work, numerous blow-downs are regularly cut out of the trail tread.
While you'll spend the first hour or so on pavement, once you turn off onto your first dirt road you'll remain on dirt surface all the way back to the car. Likewise, once you begin your climb up the Laurel Run trail, you'll largely remain on singletrack all the way back to the car.
There are several bailout options on the ride. If you are running out of time think about dropping off of the ridge early. This could be down either the Stack Rock Trail (568b), Fall Ridge Trail (572), State Route 720, or the Orkney Springs trail (420).
Also don't miss the final turn off the ridge for the Hunkerson Gap trail (421) There is Not a sign on the ridge, only a stack of rocks. If you miss Hunkerson then you'll soon know something is wrong as the trail begins to become cluttered with fallen trees. DO NOT plan on picking up the trail near Church Rock since it is not yet completed.
Start at Tomahawk Pond and head North on Sate Road 610 to Orkney Springs and state route 263. At Basye you'll turn left onto State Route 717 and head north. After a few short climbs look for Forest road 1628 continue around the gate and follow the road until it turns to trail. Follow the trail and mind the private property signs to your right. The trail will turn back into a wider road where you'll come to a gate and then turn left on a much larger better maintained state road (720).
Turn left and head uphill on State Route 720 (Crooked Run Road). At the first left-hand switchback, look for a trail off to the right: Crooked Run Rd to Laurel Run Spur
. Enter the trail and follow a narrow, hand-built singletrack trail until it comes out at a gas line clearing. Head down the clearing and eventually follow the trail until you see blazes on the other side of the pipeline clearing (blazes will be on your left if you are headed downhill).
You'll now follow the edge of multiple timber sales and the road condition will improve as you continue along the base of Great North Mountain. You are on Laurel Run Spur Trail (Trail #568A)
. Follow the trail around a gate to Forest Road 252 . The road continues to roll up and down and you'll still see recent timber sales on either side of the road.
Eventually, you'll pass the bottom of the Stack Rock Trail (Trail #568B) blazed purple. Shortly after, the road will start to head downhill. It is very easy to miss the left turn for the Laurel Run Trail
climb (Trail #568). Look for a pull-off with space for cars on your left as the road curves back to the right. If you end up at another gate or the bottom of Forest road 252, then you missed your turn.
Turn left on Laurel Run Trail
and prepare to climb. In fact, prepare for maybe a little bit of walking in the steeper and looser sections of the trail. There are no intersecting turns and the trail is very easy to follow with yellow blazes guiding your way up to the top of the ridge.
Upon reaching the top of the trail, you'll intersect with the orange blazed North Mountain Trail (1009)
and the intersection of State Route 675 (Judge Rye Road). From here, you'll head south on the North Mountain Trail (1009)
and begin your journey back along the the ridge. This ridge is part of the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail and also the Great Eastern Trail.
As soon as you begin heading south on the Great North Mountain Trail (1009)
you'll encounter a fair bit of rocks and a steep climb. If you are alarmed by the rockiness of the trail rest assured that this is the rockiest section of trail on the entire ridge. After a short but challenging climb, the trail drops very steeply and quickly. Right as the trail begins to drop there are phenomenal views off to the east side of the trail (left side if you are headed south). Make sure you stop and enjoy the view from the rocky outcroppings.
After some steep up and downs (again all the steepest sections of the ridge are on this northern end) you'll come to a trail intersection. This is where most folks miss the trail. You'll pass a very clearly marked intersection for the Stack Rock Trail (Trail #568B), blazed purple. Very shortly afterwards it will appear that the trail continues straight when in fact it takes a sharp right turn to remain on orange blazed ridge trail. If you continue straight you'll start to descend quickly (dropping off the ridge) on the Falls Ridge Trail (Trail #572), blaze yellow. REMEMBER TO STAY ON THE RIDGE TRAIL.
After this intersection you'll continue on the North Mountain Trail (1009)
until you reach the towers at the top of Crooked Run rd. Cross the road and climb up to the towers.
Once at the towers you'll pick up the continuation of the trail behind the towers and continue south to Hunkerson Gap Trail (421)
. Look carefully for the Hunkerson Gap Trail (421)
intersection. There is no wooden sign only a rock pile and your GPS or map skills to guide you.