Massanutten Ridge Trail
The Massanutten Ridge Trail is part of the network of trails on resort property. This hike departs from the overlook at the top of Del Webb Dr. in Massanutten Resort. The hike is extremely rocky, but offers superb views from an outcropping above the ski lifts.
Update 6/6/2016: As far as we’ve heard, no one has seen goats on this hike for quite a while, so they may no longer be there. Also… watch out for snakes along the rocky scramble. While there have been no reported sightings of goats, we have heard about multiple rattlesnake sightings. Timber rattlesnakes are generally reclusive and non-aggressive. They would prefer to stay hidden and not bite, so be respectful of their space, but don’t be unduly afraid.
If I could have a movie made about this hike it would be called “The Men Who Are Licked by Goats”. Who would have thought that there would be feral goats on the top of Massanutten?
An online hiking group I had joined, Valley Hikers, completed the Massanutten Ridge Trail Hike recently, but I was unable to attend. While we have been up to the beginning of this trail before, we hadn’t completed the entire hike before. We recently did the Kaylor Knob hike, so we thought we would also take care of the other hike from the top of the Massanutten overlook.
We parked one car at the Massanutten General Store near the ski slopes and then drove to start our hike at the overlook at the top of Del Webb Drive. At the parking lot, you are treated to views of the ski slopes and mountains around. You start the trail by climbing up a staircase to get to the level ridge. The blue-blazed trail starts with a fairly well-trodden wide path. There are spots along the way to peak through to see some views along the first .25 mile. Around the .5 mile marker, the trail becomes much rockier. You will need to constantly look where your feet are stepping or you could easily sprain an ankle. This rocky, difficult portion continues for about 1.5 miles. At mile 1.25 on the trail, you come to a nice overlook on the right side of the trail to see some views to the North. At 2.25 miles, the trail eventually joins a gravel road. You will see some blue blazes directly across the road, but there is not a trail there. Simply take a right at this junction and climb the gravel road to reach the cellphone towers at the top. The trail picks back up just to the right of the highest cellphone tower. As soon as you rejoin this trail, you will come to the best views on the trail at some rocky overlooks. At mile 3.0, you will also see a hang-gliding ramp. It is insane to think of people just running and jumping off of this. To your left, you will be able to see the ski lift drop-off for the top of the Diamond Jim and ParaDice ski trails. During the ski season, the lift area is blocked off (maybe to keep people from illegally jumping on the ski trails). There was a rope blocking it off still, but the cordoned area does not completely block access to the trail. Continuing past the hang-gliding area, the trail continues and you start your descent. At mile 3.25, the trail leads to an opportunity to walk down the ski slope. You could continue further on the actual trail, but we were unsure how close it would return us to our car. We jumped on to the slopes to take a steep descent back to our car at 4.0 miles. During this last .75 miles, you descend about 1000 feet of elevation. I highly recommend taking trekking poles to help keep your balance as you navigate the steep terrain.
The highlight of the trip definitely had to be the goats that we saw at the top of the ski slopes. As soon as they saw us, they came running toward us to lick the sweat off of us. It reminded me of a sign that we saw during our trip to Olympic National Park, warning us not to urinate in public or goats would come. They love salt and were quite eager to lick the salt off of us. So, beware if you are not into that thing, but I thought it was funny. The goats were extremely friendly and followed us around for a while at the higher elevations.
There are a couple of geocaches that you could do from this hike:
This hike was tough due to the trail conditions, but it was great to see the views and the wildlife on the trail.
I had art shows to work over the weekend, so we needed to find a short hike that was located really close to our home. The Massanutten Ridge Trail seemed to perfectly suit our needs. I thought the hike would be a piece of cake because the ridgeline has very little elevation change overall. So, I was rather surprised to find that it was a real hike with challenging terrain. The middle section had a lot of tricky footing and rock scrambling. It was a constant up-and-down, resembling a small scale roller coaster. Normally, it would be the type of terrain I really enjoy, but I was fighting off a cold all weekend. My stuffiness and fatigue made this squarely moderate hike feel a lot tougher than it typically would. There were definitely a few scrambles where I would have been happy to hang-glide right off the side of the mountain just to avoid climbing over anymore rocks!
My favorite part of the hike was the unexpected amount of wildlife we saw along the way. It started off with a cute Box Turtle walking along the trail. Then we saw numerous Eastern Fence Lizards – two were even participating in a courtship dance. There were lots of butterflies fluttering about and at the overlooks we saw plenty of vultures soaring on the thermals. But the best part was seeing the two goats living at the top of Diamond Jim. I spotted them first through an opening in the woods, and squealed “GOATS!” I couldn’t stop laughing at the way they licked. They went nuts for the salty sweat. We decided to name the goats. “Diamond” – the white goat – is shy. She follows the other goat everywhere, but does not participate in the vigorous licking. The red and white goat, we decided to name “Salt Lick”. I think the basis of that name is pretty self-evident.
All in all, the Massanutten Ridge Trail was a pleasant surprise. The views and the wildlife both far exceeded anything I expected.
- Distance – 4.0 miles as a shuttle trail or 6 miles out and back. (If you do this as an out and back, you will not be walking on the ski slopes and will likely miss the goats)
(Check out the stats from MapMyHike – for the out-and-back – added 4/4/15)
- Elevation Change – 1000 feet
- Difficulty – 4. The elevation doesn’t change a lot initially, but the terrain will make it hard work and slow going.
- Trail Conditions – 1.5. About 1.5 miles of the trail is rocky and then a very steep downhill at the end requires trekking poles to be safest.
- Views – 4. You get some different views along the way, but the best views are from near the cellphone towers and hang-gliding platform.
- Waterfalls/streams – 0.
- Wildlife – 4. There aren’t many places you get to see free-ranging goats and I think most people see them here. We also saw lizards and a turtle.
- Ease to Navigate – 3.5. There was a couple of spots where it was a little difficult to see which way the trail goes, but since you’re on the narrow ridge, it is not hard to just stay on that ridge.
- Solitude –3.5. We didn’t see anyone there, but you do typically see a lot of people on the initial trail. The people you see will generally be during the first .5 mile. Not many people continue on this trail after that.
Directions to trailhead:
From Harrisonburg, head east on US 33 for about 10 miles. Turn left at the Exxon on the left and head on SR 644, Resort Drive. Follow this road and take a left on Massanutten Drive. You will reach a guard house. Let the guard know that you are here to hike and they will give you a guest pass. After about 3 miles, take a right on Del Webb Drive. Follow Del Webb Drive for about two miles until you begin to drive up to the ridge, where there is a parking lot on the left. The trail begins up the small, wooden set of stairs leaving the parking lot.