What is the Tuscarora Trail?

Tuscarora Trail in Pennsylvania

Through forests of oak-hickory, pine and mountain laurel, the north-south Tuscarora Trail wends its way along mountain ridges and valleys through four states as a loop off the Appalachian Trail.

The 250-mile trail connects with the Appalachian Trail near Front Royal, Va. and Carlisle, Pa. This trail eventually will become a component of the Great Eastern Trail which will extend from Alabama to the Finger Lakes in New York state.

History of the Tuscarora Trail

The Tuscarora Trail got its start in 1963 when persons in the Appalachian Trail Conference (today, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy), the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, and the Keystone Trails Association (KTA) in Pennsylvania made plans for an alternative route to the AT. This project responded to two major concerns:

  • Growing development around the AT, particularly in Northern Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania
  • The lack of a protected corridor for the Appalachian Trail
Tuscarora Trail

When the AT received federal protection in 1968 under the National Scenic Trails Act, the PATC and KTA decided to maintain the Tuscarora Trail as a side and connecting trail.

KTA named the northern half of the trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland the Tuscarora Trail. PATC called the southern half—in Virginia and West Virginia—the Big Blue for the blaze color used by PATC for side trails.

In the 1980s, after several years of gypsy moth defoliation, drought and other factors, there was heavy tree mortality along the ridges of mountainous south-central Pennsylvania. The loss of tree canopy exposed the Tuscarora Trail to full sun, resulting in explosive growth of blackberry, greenbriar, poson ivy and other undergrowth. The change in the forest, coupled with a loss of trail maintainers, caused much of the Tuscarora Trail to grow closed.

In the early 1990s, the North Chapter of PATC was asked to help a KTA maintainer to open a particularly bad section of the trail south of Pennsylvania Route 16. After several years of work the section was reopened in excellent condition.

TuscaroraTrail patch

PATC’s District Trail Managers Charlie Irvin and Jack Danner spearheaded the effort to fully reopen the Tuscarora Trail. They were instrumental in locating the old trail route, getting support from active maintainers and finding new overseers for un-maintained trail sections. After several years and many work trips, the trail was passable in October 1994 and officially reopened in late summer of 1995. For their extraordinary efforts, Charlie Irvin and Jack Danner received the American Hiking Society Volunteer of the Year award for Pennsylvania in 1994.

In 1997, the 110-mile Tuscarora and the 142-mile Big Blue trail were unified as a single trail—the Tuscarora Trail—maintained by PATC. The trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland, which had orange blazes, was re-blazed in blue.

Today, the trail is undergoing intense renewal and redevelopment. The Tuscarora Trail provides a premier extended hiking experience with a real sense of wilderness.