Trail Trials: Signal Knob
The Signal Knob Trail is a 10-mile out-and-back path that runs outside of Front Royal, Virginia, in the George Washington National Forest. With a peak of 2,106 feet, this site was used by Union and Confederate Signal Corps during the Civil War, and was a lookout point during the Battle of Cedar Creek in August 1864. Today, the trail is used by hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. Hiking the trail will take you anywhere from 4-6 hours to complete.
I followed the Orange Trail on this hike, which originates at the right side of the parking lot. The trail starts off innocently enough for the first quarter-mile, but for the next 2.5 miles after that, it's a brutal uphill climb. At the 1.5 mile mark, I reached the Buzzard Rock Overlook (which is a separate hiking location across the ravine). Another half-mile up the trail is the Fort Valley Overlook. The trail levels off around mile marker 3 and continues along the ridge line of Massanutten Mountain to the Signal Knob summit.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it at all...this trail was absolutely terrible. There are a few reasons why I say this. First, the trail was poorly constructed. It's more of a goat trail than anything else. It is wide enough for a single-file line, which makes it difficult when you're passing by anyone, and the trail itself is composed of jagged rocks, making it really hard on your feet and ankles. Besides the hash marks, there is nothing to indicate the existence of a path. Second, the trail is poorly maintained. It looks like the trail hasn't been cleaned in years. I'm not talking litter, I'm talking about decomposing brush, fallen branches, loose rocks, and eroding edges along the path. Not only do these things give the trail a bad look, it's dangerous, too. Finally, the summit leaves much to be desired. On the way up, I kept thinking to myself 'Why is this place called Signal Knob?' When I reached the top, I realized 'Oh...it's because there's a FREAKING TV TOWER RIGHT NEXT TO THE LOOKOUT POINT!!!' Not only was I being blasted by radio waves, the view (which is a couple hundred yards further down the path) is less than spectacular. The lookout is partially covered by brush (even in winter) and all I could see into the valley were townhouses and highways. Sure, I was up more than 2,000 feet, but there was nothing particularly exciting to look at.
I've never really given a negative review before, but this trail deserves it. There is nothing special about this place. What makes it worse is that I had to walk 10 miles to figure that out. The only thing that brought happiness to my day was when a couple other hikers and I found a baby chipmunk along the path (who I named Chip). He had fallen out of his burrow and we made sure he was put back safely. Other than that, this was seven hours of my life wasted--four hours to hike and three hours of round-trip travel. This hike is a sham. An embarrassment of a trail laced with mediocrity in every step. Signal Knob was not worth my time nor effort. Trail Rating: 2/10