Part of the Signal Knob area in the George Washington National Forest, Three Top Mountain with its 3.5 mile stretch along the ridge line is one of the least traveled trails in the area.
The blue blazed Tuscarora Trail has been cleared and re-blazed by a PATC volunteer group, and is in much better shape than pictured here. On the return down the orange blazed FS road, which is part of the Massanutten Trail, the hiking is almost a gentle walk.
To begin backtrack down the orange blazed FS road you just drove up passing the purple blazed Mudhole Gap Trail in 100 yards where it enters from the left, then in 0.4 miles the orange blazed Massanutten Trail will turn right off the FS road and begin its ascent up Three Top Mountain.
Follow the orange blazed trail as it ascends the mountain and in 0.5 miles reach the intersection of the blue blazed Tuscarora Trail that enters from the right. The orange blazed Massanutten Trail and blue blazed Tuscarora Trail will join and continue straight.
Turn right on the blue blazed trail as it ascends slightly to reach the ridge. For the next 3.5 miles follow the blue blazed trail and ridge line before it begins to descend the mountain to the east/right side.
At this intersection turn right to follow the orange blazed FS road (you follow it the entire way back to the parking are) . In 0.5 miles the orange blazed trail will veer off the road to the right.
You can either follow the trail and pass the reservoir on its right or continue on the FS road and pass the reservoir to the left. Either way the FS road and orange blazed Massanutten Trail will rejoin on the other side of the reservoir in 0.3 miles.
Continue on the orange blazed FS road as it follows the valley before crossing Little Passage Creek in 0.2 miles and in another 1.2 miles arrives at a closed gate. 50 yards further the parking lot is on your left.
Three Top Mountain Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Wednesday, April 12, 2017
I'd been on the Little Passage Creek hike (also nice) which shares the same parking area and fire road segment as this hike. As the description says, this feels like a less-traveled hike, especially the ridge-line segment. It is an interesting hike and I liked it overall. The first mile had me quite winded but then it levels out on the ridge. I had good views from the ridge on both sides but as foliage fills in the views won't be so good. I lost my footing on the ridge more than on any other hike I can recall, I think because it is less traveled leaves cover many holes on the trial and between rocks. I recommend a hiking pole for the ridge -- and be careful. The ridge is quite rocky in parts, especially as you near its end. After 3.5 miles of the ridge, I was glad to hike down to the smooth Forest Service road. The road has many puddles on it -- only one challenging stream crossing near the reservoir. The description gives you the option of the fire road or trail for getting around the reservoir -- if you take the trail you will avoid that stream crossing. I noticed a lizard but no other wildlife. A morel mushroom in the middle of the ridge trail, which seemed an odd place for one. Spots on the ridge have an abundance of mint plants -- I have never seen so many on any other trail. Calling about the gate at the intersection of Boyer Road and Forest Service road 66 is good advice but if you go in or near summer when weather has been fair it should be open. I went once in March and the gate was locked. I called this time and got voice mail, and just went and lucked out. You might have an alternate hike in mind in case the gate is locked.
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 19, 2016
This was a good hike for solitude. I only saw a couple of horseback riders on the fire road, otherwise complete solitude. The 3-4 miles along the spine of the mountain was fun, but can be tough on the feet at times.
Date of Hike: Sunday, April 17, 2016
It was a good hike but it took use a lot longer than 4 hrs. Our small group hikes 200-250 miles a year with hike speed of 1.0-2.1 mph. On this trail we, our speed was only 1.3 The views were ok. The trail was in good condition, apparently the result of volunteers who went to a lot of trouble to clean it up and apply fresh blaze along the trail. Thanks to those who did the work! No snakes, though I expected we would see some with the temperatures in the low 80s. On a return visit I would definitely hike the trail in a counter-clockwise direction to get the road hike out of the way first. Road and pasture hiking is not on my list of great hikes. Saw one other hiker on the mountain part of the hike. On the road, we saw 12.
Date of Hike: Thursday, January 21, 2016
Second time on this hike and I liked it much better in the winter. Even though the leaves are all down, the views are not spectacular, so don't expect more than one or two decent vistas. The best part of this hike is the solitude. The FS road part is actually really nice, too, as it follows a stream and it's a peaceful walk. When you reach the reservoir, take the orange trail for a bit, then turn left going downhill to walk over the short connector trail by the reservoir back to the FS road (then go right). One easy stream crossing with rocks placed to assist you across. Nice hike, with many campsites around the reservoir and along the road out.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 30, 2014
Hiked this one on a warm muggy day, so that took a little away from it. That being said, the 3.5 mile stretch along the ridge line, with rock outcroppings and a few scenic views made this hike fun. We hiked it counter-clockwise as we wanted to put all the 'road walking' at the front rather than at the end. The ridge part of the trail is well marked, but, as is typical with the Tuscarora Trail, not real well maintained. Expect high grass, stickers, and occasional trail blocking large trees to climb over. That being said, the trail along the ridge whimsically meanders across, over, and between the rock outcroppings typical of mountain ridges in this area. A good doable hike for an afternoon of fun. While we saw the occasional bear scat on the trail, no bears were in evidence at the time we hiked this. In fact, while the rocky terrain made us constantly on the alert for snakes, we did not encounter any.
Date of Hike: Sunday, May 18, 2014
A nice, very easy hike… but it would amazing in the late fall to early spring as I couldn't see much from the ridge. I found many, many ticks on me and my dog (small and large), as the trail is not used often so it's overgrown in places. I only saw two people the whole hike and they were fishing the creek off the FS road at the end of the hike - and it was a PERFECT day to hike! So if you like solitude, this is ideal. A few notes: 1) As you drive down to the parking area on the orange blazed FS road, there's a also parking area up a small hill off to the left and it's very close to the trail head. It's a little longer than the 1.8 miles to get to the parking area described. It's up to you! 2) Be careful as you climb the first part - the blue trail you need to take will be a sharp right turn right (at a tree with three blue blazes) as you see the orange/blue blazed trees. If you come to a fork (orange to the left and blue to the right) with a sign for the Tuscarora trail, you've gone too far. I made this mistake and started descending on the other side of the mountain. 3) The last couple miles are along the FS road, but it's a nice walk that follows the creek and has one crossing. I would like to return on a sunny winter day - the views would be beautiful.
Date of Hike: Monday, September 5, 2011
Hiked this one clockwise. Enjoyed the steep hike up to the ridge which was strenuous but still fun. The hike along the ridge was awesome, there were some tricky spots but all in all it was very nice and not very slick despite all the rain. I am certain there are views here but the clouds concealed them. Hiking off the ridge down to Strasburg Reservoir was pretty tame and the views along the dam (side trip) was worth the trip. The final stretch along the road to parking was the only drawback for me as I am never a fan of road walking. All in all it was really nice and shocked it was rarely used but seemed to show signs of recent maintenance and if you ask me, it was a nice hike I would be happy to do again.
I am surprised the trail does not stay along the ridge up to Signal Knob.
By:william and crystal funk
Date of Hike: Tuesday, July 7, 2009
summer 09 crystal me and colby 8 years old parked close to powells old cabins took trail up to top took right or north went around lake and back it was maby 6 miles and further than i had thought,so worried about that boy getting hurt.i saw a hundred piles of bear poop pretty lame hike.
Date of Hike: Thursday, December 27, 2007
Hiked this right after Christmas 07 with three teens and a labrador. We had a nice time and only encountered one person the whole day - a mountain biker on the Forest Service road.
Directions were good although there is a parking area closer to the trail intersection with the Forest Service road that you drive in on.
The initial climb from the roadway to the ridge is a bit steep but fortunately pretty short. We missed the turn off from orange blazes to blue and had to back track a bit after we started to decend on the other side. Be careful as soon as you see that both blue and orange marks on the same tree. It's a sharp right. The ridge line is still deep in leaves which makes footing slippery and slows travel speed a bit.
I enjoyed this walk - especially the views of the winding Shenandoah River. Don't recommend it for anytime the leaves are on the trees though as there are really no decent clearing/ view points and a summer hike is going to be behind a solid wall leaves.
A good walk for a winter day. A good dog trip too.
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 23, 2007
Nice hike, nothing spectacular, it was just nice to be outside today. After the first ascent it is clear sailing. Perfect hike for a hot day, half the day you are along a ridge so you can take advantage of a breeze from almost any direction. All the ratings are right on, except for the camping. I might rate that one higher based on other hikes posted on this site. There are a half dozen around the lake area. Also if you are interested in car camping, there are quite a few sites on the drive in.