The Traces Trail is a short, easy stroll through the woods. Located near Mathews Arm Campground in Shenandoah National Park, this hike is perfectly suited for families with young children and novice hikers.
We decided to do a couple of short hikes on a Sunday afternoon. Since we had just been pounded with rain the last few days, we were worried that hiking would be a little muddy, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
We had read about the Traces Trail in the North District of Shenandoah National Park in a hiking guide we had at home. The write-up in the book seemed to make this out to be a wonderful hiking trail where you would see glimpses of life from a bygone era and hints of mountainous views. You do get to see a few stone walls along the way and a glimpse or two of views through thick tree growth, but the overall hike doesn’t have much of a payoff.
I would recommend this hike if you just want to enjoy a nice walk through the woods, but there is not a lot to see here.
You start the hike from the eastern side of the parking lot (the post is painted with Traces Trail on it). You’ll pass a few concrete posts that mark where the trail intersects with other trails, but just stay on the Traces Trail throughout.
One interesting thing on the trail is you will eventually come to a sign in front of a fenced-in area. The area is being fenced to determine if white-tailed deer are damaging local flora. The fences are high enough that deer can not jump them. We didn’t see much difference from the fenced-in area and where we were, so it will be interesting to see if the research leads to any findings.
There really aren’t too many things to say about this trail. It was short and pleasant, but had little in the way of scenery or unique features. On the day we walked this trail, a big storm system was just leaving the area, so the weather was cool and very breezy. I actually remember the sound of the wind rustling in the trees more than I remember anything about the trail. It was a beautiful day to be outdoors.
As Adam mentioned, there were some historical artifacts along the trail. We saw crumbling stone walls, overgrown old roads and remnant apple trees mixed in with newer growth. The cultural history of the park is interesting and still somewhat controversial. Many people aren’t aware that Shenandoah’s land was essentially stolen from the mountain people who had lived there long before the idea for this national park was born. The park was authorized in 1926. From that point on, government officials systematically (and often forcefully) removed families from their land. The mountain people were portrayed in the media as ignorant and uneducated. Newspaper articles made it sound like the government was doing these people a favor by relocating them to settlements outside the park. If you read the history and letters from the original park residents, you’ll see that these people were not country bumpkins who needed the government’s care. They were mostly hardworking families who loved the land they had long called home.
- Distance – 1.7 miles loop
- Elevation Change – Maybe a couple hundred feet
- Difficulty – 1. Other than two short climbs near the beginning of the trail, this hike is relatively level.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is well-maintained and easy to walk.
- Views –1. You get a few glimpses of a view through the trees, but mostly this is just a pleasant walk through the woods.
- Waterfalls/streams –0. Non-existent.
- Wildlife – 1 A few birds and squirrels.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. There are a few junctions along this trail, but if you keep following the markers for the Traces Trail, you can’t go wrong.
- Solitude – 2. This trail’s easy terrain, short distance and location next to Mathews Arm Campground make this a popular trail, especially for families.
Directions to trailhead:
Follow Skyline Drive to the Mathews Arm Campground at mile marker 22. Park at the amphitheater and follow the blue-blazed Traces Trail that departs from the east end of the parking lot.