Day Hikes around Beagle Gap || Shenandoah National Park

Editor's note: This article was originally published in May 2017 and was updated in January 2023 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Near-perfect conditions will be how I remember this day in early April. The view was clear down to the Shenandoah Valley, and you could see back to Charlottesville, Virginia. This was a daughter and Dad day hike and she had asked to keep it shorter than the Doyle River Loop we did back in October.

My plan was to enter the park from the South District and drive north around 5-7 miles, this would put us at Beagle Gap. From there we would be able to complete two short day hikes. We would be able to return to our vehicle, drop off or pick up gear that we might need between hikes, and also use the port-a-pots if needed. So, Beagle Gap ends up being a perfect trailhead location that gets us on the trail and not spending a lot of time driving up the Parkway to get to a trailhead.

Beagle Gap sits between Bear Den Mountain and Little Calf Mountain. What's cool about this area is that both sides of Skyline Drive are meadows. The meadow area is what is left of the Royal Orchard.

Lower Meadow Bear Den Mountain at Bagle Gap
The lower meadow of Bear Den Mountain overlooks the town of Waynesboro Virginia.

Our first leg of our day hike would take us up to the top of Bear Den Mountain via the Appalachian Trail. This area of the trail is not in Shenandoah National Park but in the Appalachian Trail Park. At the top of Bear Den Mountain is the location of two radio antenna farms.  

Illegal Camp Fire Site Bear Den Mountain
Illegal campfire.

On our way up to the top of Bear Den Mountain was a side trail that took us to some rocks. As you can see in the picture above someone made an illegal campfire. They did a good job of covering up the spot... But as you can see, the small tree did sustain some damage. This was a very bad spot for a campfire due to all the pine needles. Last year the Rocky Mount Fire took place on 16 April 2016 and was the 2nd largest fire in the park's 90-year history, which burned 10,326 acres. I am sure that fire was caused by humans.

Family Picnic Site of what use to be the Royal Orchard
Family picnic site of the family that had owned the Royal Orchard.

Back in the mid-'90s, you could see down in the valley from this location, but the trees have grown over the years and have blocked the view. This spot is just off the Appalachian Trail and the radio towers are located behind me in this picture. There are about four old tractor seats at this location, which makes it a great place to take a lunch break. The owners of what was the Royal Orchard used to come to this spot for family picnics and to watch fireworks.

Steel Table at the Royal Orchard site Bear Den Mountain
Time to make lunch.

I don't know how many times you are going to find a half-inch steel table in the mountains, but we found one here and we used it as a table to make our lunch. My daughter likes backpacking meals and she has a fun time helping to prepare our meals.

Royal Orchard apple tree Shenandoah National Park
Appletree bloom

The old apple trees from the Royal Orchard are just starting to bloom on our visit. I think today we forget that people lived and farmed in what is now Shenandoah National Park. The landscape has reclaimed most of these homes and farms but if you keep an eye out you can find what still remains of them.

The second leg of our hike takes us up to Little Calf Mountain. Just before getting to this point, we met our first thru-hiker of the season. He had started out on his thru-hike on 10 February and had just entered the South District of the park. If you have a new PATC map of this section. the trail on the map does not match what is on the ground. This is not a big issue but just something to keep in mind. This also goes with some of the tracklogs and other online maps. Again not a big problem.

Little Calf Mountain Shenandoah National Park
Summit of Little Calf Mountain.

At the summit of Little Calf Mountain, there is another meadow and this too is a great place for lunch and a view back to Bear Den Mountain. From Little Calf Mountain, I wanted to make our way to Calf Mountain Shelter because I knew there was a spring there, and I wanted to use my Sawyer Mini filter to get some mountain spring water. Always filter water from any water source in the park. 

Spring at Little Calf Mountain Shelter Shenandoah National Park
Marking the way to the spring at Little Calf Mountain Shelter.

The spring is in better shape than the sign... Depending on the time of the year and rainfall you will reach water running across the trail. This is not the spring, but surface water. The spring has a white PVC pipe at the source.

Pictured below is a benchmark that marks the boundary of the Appalachian Trail Park. I think by the end of the day we still hiked as far as we did in October... 

Appalachian Trail survey marker Appalachian Trail Park
AT Survey Marker.

Whether you just hike Bear Den Mountain or Little Calf Mountain, both provide short family hikes that give you a great place to stop and have lunch

Trail Notes-

Activity: Day Hiking.
Route/Place: Appalachian Trail/ Beagle Gap Area.
Activity Type: Day Hiking.
Trail Difficulty: Bear Den Mountain - Easy & Kid Friendly.
                            Little Calf Mountain -Easy & Kid Friendly.
Trail Conditions: The trail is very well maintained. Marked with trail signs and white blazes.
Waterfalls/Steams: None.
Trip Results: Successful.
Road Conditions: Road suitable for all vehicles- Access fee.

What you need to know before you go.

Navigate over to our other related articles on hikes in Shenandoah National Park.

Now It's Your Turn-

Leave a comment about your hike around Beagle Gap. Or share your favorite hike in Shenandoah National Park. 


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