The Appalachian Trail – Beagle Gap to Turk Gap is a nice 6.4 mile section that includes a short summit hike and a visit to a AT shelter in the southern district of Shenandoah National Park.
With this section of the Appalachian Trail, we finished section-hiking the southern district of Shenandoah National Park. Now that we are finished with both the central and southern districts, we will next start working on completing the northern district so that we can ultimately cover all 105 miles of the AT through SNP. The southern district accounts for 45 miles of that total, so we are glad to have the longest section completed. I think hiking all of those miles was best realized by me when we are driving back home. It feels like it took forever to drive the distance (due to the 35 mph speed limit through the park), so knowing we walked the distance gives me a little pride. Of course, it still amazes me that some AT thru-hikers will accomplish the entire AT through SNP in about 4 days where it has taken us 5-8 days of hiking just to cover one section.
We did bring two cars to cover more ground. We parked one car at Turk Gap at mile 94.2 on Skyline Drive. We took the other car to Beagle Gap and began our hike northward from there. From the parking lot, we went through the gap of the fence on the same side of the parking lot. We started walking across the open field and up into the woods. Once we got into the woods, the trail becomes quite steep as you make your way up Calf Mountain, where you gain about 500 feet of elevation in the first mile. The woods are more open through this section, so you can take in a lot of the beauty around you if you need an excuse for a break. The AT is being re-routed through this part, so you will see some posted signs, but stay on the white-blazed AT. At mile 1.0, you will see a large cairn on the trail. If you look nearby on the ground, you will see a USGS marker that marks the summit of Calf Mountain at 2974 feet. The trail then begins to descend past this point. At mile 1.6, you will see a blue-blazed side trail that leads to the Calf Mountain Shelter. The sign says that the shelter is .3 miles away, but it is really just slightly over .2 mile away and the trail is relatively flat. We always enjoy visiting the shelters along the way and reading the entries in the shelter log books to see who has been through recently. Once you return back to the AT, continue northward. At mile 2.5, we started to hear some buzzing in the air. Within a few short steps, we came across some power lines that are cut through the mountains that were producing the unsettling sound. At mile 2.7, you will come across the South Fork Moormans River Fire Road. Cross the road and continue on the AT. The trail descends to bring you down to Moormans River, which is more like a trickling stream than a river at this point. Once you reach the stream, the trail then begins the uphill climb for most of the remainder of the trail. At mile 4.8, you will reach Skyline Drive and the Sawmill Run Overlook. Cross Skyline Drive, continue to climb, and at mile 6.4 you will reach the Turk Gap parking lot.
When reading the log book at the Calf Mountain shelter, it appears there were a few writings about a zombie apocalypse happening on the trail and some people were getting eaten and others were trying to stay ahead of it. The only mention of this I could find online was through Tarzan’s AT journal. I just picture a group of thru-hikers with zombie makeup shuffling through the forest and tagging others to spread the zombie disease. But from watching The Walking Dead, I don’t picture anyone trying to set any speed records as a zombie. Christine and I have toyed with doing a haunted hike on Halloween before, so this gives us some ideas.
I did struggle a bit with this hike. The last two weeks I had a very severe sinus infection. Topping that off with a high-pollen allergy season just made this tough for me. My lungs haven’t fully healed from all the coughing that I was doing, so walking uphill for most of this hike was taxing. By the last mile of this hike, I was just ready to be done.
This section of trail was quite a bit nicer than I expected. On the map, it basically looked like a series of rolling hills on a trail through the woods – no panoramic views or remarkable features. But once we got out there, we did find a couple nice views after all. The shelter visit was fun, mostly because the journal entries were more entertaining than usual. Trees and wildflowers were blooming abundantly, so there was plenty of color along the way. I also enjoyed the bluebird skies and the pleasant breeze.
The trail began with the climb up to the summit of Calf Mountain. It’s a summit without a view. It’s marked by a USGS marker and a conical pile of rocks. The pile reminded me a little of the giant cairns that mark the summits in Acadia National Park. Adam always poses on those Maine summits, so I asked him to do the same on Calf Mountain. Unfortunately, he made a really goofy face in the photo, so I won’t be sharing it on the blog.
Hiking down from the Calf Mountain summit, I really noticed how GREEN everything is becoming. Spring hit early and fast this year. Even though the mature hardwoods had not leafed out when we did this hike, much of the understory was already green – ferns were uncurling, dogwoods and redbuds were in full bloom and we saw wild geraniums and dwarf irises. On this section of trail, we passed several enormous trees with lots of large, low-hanging branches. They were just the kind of tree I would have climbed as a kid. I wish I knew what kind they were, but they didn’t have leaves yet and I’m not good at tree identification without leaves.
Our next stop was the Calf Mountain shelter. I ate candy and cheese. Adam almost broke my camera by getting his foot caught in the neck strap as it was sitting on the picnic table. (Aaaaaah!) I read the journal. Apparently, there are zombies afoot on the Appalachian Trail this spring – many hikers are now undead, and it sounds wise to stay on the move. (kidding, kidding) There was also a fascinating entry from a man who has completed many thru-hikes (and not just the Appalachian Trail). His entry was really uplifting and motivating. I can’t believe one of his thru-hike attempts ended after getting thrown off the AT by a tornado in Maine — yes, A TORNADO in MAINE. That doesn’t happen very often!
The second half of the hike was mostly uphill. It was never steep uphill, but we still gained several hundred feet in a pretty short distance. I felt really bad for Adam. He was struggling with the uphill after recovering from a chest/head cold. At one point, I heard him cursing and muttering behind me that he was ‘*%$# tired of *%$# uphill.’ I always feel a strange sense of guilt when people I’m hiking with are having a hard time. I almost feel like the hills are my fault. LOL I want to carry more, encourage them to take more breaks, or offer to make a run for the car and come back to get them at an earlier stop point. But Adam was tough, and pushed through the pain.
The nicest views of the hike came on the section of trail between Jarman Gap and Turk Gap. There were several open views along the ridge. It was beautiful to see the spring green creeping up the mountainside!
It feels good to be done with two sections of the AT through Shenandoah. Now we have less than twenty miles to go. Hopefully we’ll be able to knock those miles out in the next few weeks.
- Distance – 6.4 miles, including .4 miles to visit the Calf Mountain Shelter
- Elevation Change – 1300 feet
- Difficulty – 2.5. While most of the trail is uphill, the grade is typically not very steep except for the section up Calf Mountain.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was in great shape and well-traveled. There were not many rocky sections along this trail.
- Views – 2. There were a few views near the power lines, but most of the views along this section are obstructed.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 2. You do go along the south fork of Moormans River at one point, but it is largely a trickle at this point. There are a few springs along the way, but the most reliable source is probably near Calf Mountain Shelter.
- Wildlife – 3. We did see several deer along the trails and we could hear lots of woodpeckers through the trees.
- Ease to Navigate –4. Stay on the white-blazed AT and you should be fine.
- Solitude – 3. You will find more people on the way to Calf Mountain, but not many people after that.
Directions to trailhead: At mile 99.5, you will come to a large parking area. Look for the gap in the fence on the same side of the road and head up the Appalachian Trail.