There are some nice views on both sides of Great North Mountain from the ridge just before arriving at Gerhard Shelter. The views of the valley from Vance's Cove can be wonderful on a clear day as well, but the main attraction is the solitude. We have never seen other hikers on this route.
Begin by turning left uphill on the blue blazed Tuscarora Trail passing a closed gate. At this point the trail is a closed forestry road (FS) that slowly climbs the side of the mountain for 0.8 miles before the blue blazed Tuscarora Trail makes a sharp right, and the FS road continues straight. Turn right on the blue blazed trail. If you start going downward on the FS road you missed the right turn.
The blue blazed trail climbs the side of Great North Mountain steeply and makes several switchbacks before reaching the ridge line in another 3.0 miles. Follow the ridge for 1.0 miles and arrive at Gerhard Shelter. The shelter is generally used by through hikers.
Turn right downhill on the white blazed Gerhard Shelter Trail that very steeply descends Great North Mountain. The footing is precarious with loose stone for the majority of the descent. In 0.5 miles pass a side trail on the left that takes you to a spring, and in another 0.2 miles emerge onto a FS road.
Turn right on the unblazed forestry road. The forestry road is normally closed to motorized traffic, unless your hiking during hunting season (bad idea!). At the end of the FS road in 0.8 miles, just past a burn, the unmarked Vance's Cove connector trail will bear right. Follow the trail for 0.5 miles where it merges with the yellow blazed Vance's Cove Trail.
Interactive Hike Map BelowPrintable
Topo Hike Map (PDF)
Hike route in Drag the map with your mouse using the icon Zoom with the controls on the left Mouse-over the icons in the map below for location shots
Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Gerhard Shelter hike:
Reviews For The Gerhard Shelter Hike (5 Most Recent)
I did this hike on 5/17 in the direction suggested in this guide and in reverse on 5/24. The first time I went to "scout" the area to see if it would be a good trip for my wife's second ever backpacking trip. I did it in "reverse" that time since the hike up the standard way was pretty tough. It's not so bad that it's not doable, but I'm hoping she'll come to enjoy hiking so I didn't want to overdo it with her. I'll review the standard route.
First, I spend a lot of time in the outdoors and approximately 10 weekends a year in GWNF or another forest/park nearby. I have never encountered as many ticks as I did on this hike, particularly on top of the ridge and especially at the shelter itself. I'm not generally bothered by bugs, but I am very concerned about Lyme Disease and this was a constant worry. I treat my dog monthly with Frontline and he was annihilated by the ticks. Both weekends I ended up pulling over 100 ticks off of him. I wear tall socks and long sleeves while hiking, so I can almost always feel the ticks on me before they bite. I probably knocked 100 off myself and four or five actually bit me. I don't know if there is something about the particular environment of this area or if it's just a particularly bad year. Whatever the case, be prepared to deal with ticks if you go here. I was using the strongest bug repellent available, which helped but did not prevent the ticks from getting all over me. There is an appropriate sign describing the danger of ticks at the shelter. OK, that's all I have to say about that. You've been warned! :)
The hike up is fairly rigorous. I'm in pretty good hiking shape but had to take several breaks on my way up. The trail, forest roads and switchbacks are easy to follow. It took me about 3 hours to reach the shelter, although I perhaps could have done it faster if I was in some kind of hurry and not carrying overnight gear in my backpack.
It is not overly scenic, but there are some nice vistas once you get to the top of the ridge, including a particularly nice view about 1/4 mile from the shelter. As with almost all ridgetop camping spots, not having access to water at the camping location can be a pain.
The trip down the mountainside to the spring is pretty long. It takes about 15-20 minutes to walk down and about double that to walk up. It's totally doable, but just be sure to set up camp up on top and then take your empties and empty backpack down the mountain to get water if you need it.
The shelter is in good condition. Judging by the log book, it gets a few visitors each week, including a fair amount of hunters during the fall/winter.
All of my spring/summer backpacking trips are also hunting scouting trips, so that was my primary focus. Unfortunately, I did not see much in the way of deer sign other than a few tracks and droppings near Paddy Run. I only saw one grouse. I heard many coyotes howling just after dark each night, which might help explain the lack of deer. However, I do plan to return for muzzleloader season if only to enjoy the mountain after the ticks are mostly gone.
I spent some time on Sunday fishing in Paddy Run. The only other people I saw were fishing, so I assume there are trout in that creek, but I only caught one fingerling that I had to throw back. I tested a variety of little grub lures. I saw a few crayfish so I tried a little crayfish lure. I caught a little frog and used it as a lure. Still, nothing. Maybe I missed the run/stocking. Still, a weekend spent hiking in the elements and fishing in a beautiful creek sure beats sitting behind a screen like I am right now!
TLDR there are better hikes out there, but this one is pretty fun and great exercise. I won't ever return during tick season, but look forward to hiking the trail again after a frost this fall in search of deer.
Thanks to all who came before me, maintain the trail, maintain the shelter, and left no trace!
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 09, 2012
I hiked this two days ago on Saturday with my wife, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend. Our trusty mountain dog, Boone, also came along.
We had no problem getting to Wardensville but once we got to Great North Mountain we couldn't really tell where to park. We ended up going further down the road then we needed to and then hiked the loop in reverse by accident. We realized it about 2 miles in but decided to keep going. At one point we misread the map and missed the turn on to Vance's Cove trail as well, which ultimately increased our total distance to about 13 miles.
It was a beautiful day to go hiking but honestly, this was not one of our favorites. We chose this hike because it offered seclusion though, and we certainly got that. We passed 2 mountain bikers early on in the hike but for the rest of the day we had the trail to ourselves.
So yeah, it was a nice day but not much to look at other than service roads for the majority of the hike. The steep trail near Gerhard Shelter was challenging but fun, and the Shelter itself offered a fun respite in the middle of our journey. The views from the ridge, well, they left something to be desired. The ridge walk itself was not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be either, but that may have had something to do with the constant tick removal we were doing at that point.
That's also worth mentioning, the ticks are terrible right now (early June). We found dozens on ourselves during this hike. Clearly, it goes with the territory of being outside, but sometimes it just gets old.
While we didn't love the hike, it was nice to have the trail to ourselves and be out in the sun and fresh air. Hope you enjoy it more than we did!
Date of Hike: Saturday, March 17, 2012
What a great day for a great hike. This was a very pleasant walk in the woods. Some great views some very long walks down a fire road and always fun to see a well maintained shelter. I pretty much had the entire hike to myself besides a few fishermen in the last 20 min of the hike. Very easy to do hike not to many blazes on the trees but the trail is very easy to follow. Did see a very big bears butt as it ran away from me trying to catch a picture. I would recommend wearing a hat during this hike about 50 percent of the hike is in a field also bring sun block I have a little red to me today. I Did this in 5 hrs with 120 pictures taken. Would love to do again in a few weeks when more leaves and flowers are out in full.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, March 07, 2012
This is a pretty hike that rewards you for the early miles of uphill exertion with wide views to the east and west and a very well-maintained shelter for a rest stop. The switchbacked section was sometimes obscured by a layer of leaves, but otherwise the trail was very easy to follow, even the unmarked connector trail towards the end of the loop. We were definitely glad to have done the loop clockwise, as suggested, as the trail just below the shelter is extremely steep and would have been unpleasant to climb up we were also happy to cool our feet in the pretty stream that follows the road for the final few miles. Besides the elevation change early on, this hike is lacking a bit of challenge and variety, but I found those both to be forgivable.
Date of Hike: Saturday, January 14, 2012
Date/Time: Sat the 14th of Jan 12, from 1215-1445.
Difficultly: The stated difficultly is 4. I am uncertain if it merits a 3 or 4, maybe halfway in-between. The overall distance does make it long, but the ascent is not overly high or steep. There are some loose stones/rocks under foot as you make your way up though. Although they rate in discreet integers, I think a 3.5 is in order if you're looking at picking a trail. Also, I am of mid-fitness level sporting about 15 extra pounds, and with no pack was back at the car in 2.5hrs. Much of the ridge and fire roads are jog-able, as is part of the ascent (most if your in a little better shape than I am).
Streams: The spring described in the directions is a small stream (maybe there was a recent rain as another post stated the spring/stream was practically non-existent). On the return on the fire road, a mile or so is along a large stream I noted a guy fishing in. There were also a couple places here and there where water was flowing across the trail/road. I don't think you'd have too serious of issues doing this one after a large rain, although you would definitely get your feet a bit wet in a couple of places.
Views: I agree with the stated rating (4). Admittedly, I keep on the move to keep my heart rate up, so I am not too focused on smelling the roses, that being noted, I would place this one at a 3, instead of a four, except that the trail does go along the ridge for a good mile, more if you walk some from the trail, and views can be had on both sides of the mountain as you go along the ridge for a nice distance. This does give a nice experience, but then to balance my comments, the views weren't over the top. It is worth doing, please don't take my points as negative, simply trying to round out my opinion.
Solitude: I met three others as I went along. There were 5-6 other cars in the parking area (not too big of a spot). I think the rating of 5 is accurate. I have done Wildcat Mountain, and you could stop to bury a body and smoke a cigarette and not see anyone (rated a 6), so a 5 seems about right having seen three others.
Camping: I've never camped on one of these hikes so I don't have an experiential benchmark. I did note in other comments that some have camped this one, and at the shelter it appeared you definitely could, and with the spring/stream not far it would be an ok place. Perhaps a bit cold up on top in the wintertime (of course that's what fires are for, lol, and there is a spot for one at the shelter).
Foliage/Fauna: I saw no animals. I did hear some rustling leaves from a scurrying something, so maybe a hidden rabbit or two. I haven't had any poison ivy. I noted no ticks. I would expect ticks in season given the grasses growing along part of the ridge.
Weather: Thereabouts low 30s on the day of. It may have been in the high 20s up high, as my beanie cap seemed stiff in parts, I think from frozen sweat. I also noted ice on some streams and frozen over puddles that didn't seem tempted to thaw. I noted no hidden patches of ice on trail rocks (as tends to occur under leaves sometimes) that would make for 'awesome' footing. There was remnants of a snow dusting on the ridgeline.
Other: The trail markings as per the instructions seemed sound, as did the given instructions in general. I will comment on the trail head. The blue blazes are really light at the parking spot. There are many, many prominent green blazes. When you park at the parking area, just off the road, there is a fire road that heads off past a gate, this is where the trail starts (the trail is the fire road). Also, the blue trail that leads off this initial trail/road can be located by two green blazes circling a tree, not too mention that the fire road begins to descend as per the instructions. At the shelter, the white trail would be at your 10 o'clock position if you were in the shelter and looking out (I didn't note a blaze on the trail until going down the trail a bit).
There are houses on the road that the parking area is at. The nearest being maybe 3/4 of a mile, give or take, in the direction that you come in on. I would guess a phone could be had here in an emergency. I had spotty ATT cell service on the hike.
At the shelter I talked to a gal for a second. There is evidently a trail leading from the shelter to an outhouse. I didn't see it but I believe one does exist. This is not on the white trail leading down.
I really enjoyed this hike and felt good afterwards. I noted other comments about the decent from the shelter being hard on knees. The trail down isn't ladder-like, but if you have some knee issues you will feel it given friends I have hiked with. I wasn't overwhelmed on the ascent as it is not as far up or steep as say Old Rag. I didn't get lost either, which is always a plus. Parking might be lacking in the warmer months on weekends. There is a gas station and restaurant on the main road coming thru town before you turn on the backroads leading to the parking spot (call it 5-7mi to gas from the trail).