Exploring South District Hikes In Shenandoah National Park

Exploring South District Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

The National Park Service calls the South District of Shenandoah National Park the most remote area of the park. How could this be, Skyland Drive, a ribbon of road that cuts 44 miles through the South District, and at Loft Mountain has a campground and camp store, and at Dunno is the picnic area.

Located between the entrance stations of Swift Run Gap at the northern end of the district and Rockfish Gap at the southern end. The South District proportionately has more federally designated wilderness areas than the North and Central Districts of the park. Because of this, the wilderness area provides a more remote experience. 

A few weeks ago, I made my way to the South District of the park, not because I was looking for a remote experience, but had a limited amount of time to visit the park. I had two simple goals for this short trip. First, I wanted to have breakfast with a view, and my second goal, I wanted to hike a trail I had not hiked before. 

From Rockfish Gap to Jarman Gap is the narrowest section of the park. The boundary of the park is but a few 100 feet from Skyland Drive. This section of Skyland Drive was built as part of the Blue Ridge Parkway and was deeded to Shenandoah National Park in the early '60s. Take the time to read some of the histories of the Road to Nowhere, and you will learn a little bit more about this section of the South District.

I entered the South District from the Rockfish Gap entrance station and proceed north on Skyland Drive until I arrived at the parking area for the trailhead located at Beagle Gap. The parking lot is located between mile marker 100 and 99 on Skyland Drive. 

An interesting tidbit of information about this area is that Bear Dean Mountain, Little Calf Mountain, and Calf Mountain are not in Shenandoah National Park but what is called an Appalachian Trail Park which is part of the National Park Service inventory. 

Exploring South District Hikes In Shenandoah Nationa Park
The dodgeway is the gateway to start the hike into the meadow.

From the parking lot, enter the meadow through the dodgeway, and follow the Appalachian Trail across the meadow, which at one time was part of the Royal Orchard. Keep your eyes open at the top of the meadow, for a few of the Albemarle Pippin apple trees that still stand from the bygone days of the Royal Orchard. 

Exploring South District Hikes In Shenandoah National Park
 Spicebush Swallowtail.

The hike to the summit of Little Calf Mountain is easy and is well suited for families as well as seasoned hikers. No matter how short a hike may be, I always carry a map. PATC Map #11 covers the South District. Of note, in August 2012 there was a re-route of the AT on Little Calf Mountain and will not be shown in the 2012 version of map #11. This out-and-back hike is about 2 miles with only 378 feet of gain. This hike should take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1-hour hiking time to complete.

Exploring South District Hikes In Shenandoah National Park
Brewing up coffee on a Camping Gaz Turbo 270.

The peak of Little Calf Mountain sits at 2910 feet. Sometimes the meadow at the summit is cut, but this time it had not been cut and was a little overgrown. The meadow at little Calf Mountain provides views of Bear Den Mountain which I would recommend as a companion hike. On clear days it also provides views of Nelson County to the southeast and the City of Waynesboro into the valley to the southwest.   

At the summit just off of the Appalachian Trail, I find a great spot to fix breakfast and brew a cup of coffee. I used my Camping Gaz Turbo 270 Stove which is totally old school but works well with a 100gr canister on shorter trips.   

Exploring South District Hikes In Shenandoah National Park
Hiking back down the trail you are reminded that you are not hiking in SNP. 

Back at my vehicle, I reference my map and come up with a plan on the fly, for the next trail I want to hike. It looks like Turk Mountain Trail will meet my second goal of the day. Just shy of 5 miles from my current location,  I proceed north to the parking lot at Turk Gap. 

Turk Mountain Trail is a blue-blazed side trail. An out and back hike of two miles with about 378 feet elevation gain. Pick up the Appalachian Trail across Skyland Drive from the parking lot. Head south on the AT for 2 tenths of a mile and then pick up the blue-blazed off to your right. 

Exploring South District Hikes In Shenandoah National Park
Wildflowers line the trail.

This time of year Turk Mountain Trail still has its fair share of wildflowers growing on the side of the trail. About 2/3rds of the trail looked like the trail in the picture above. This changes once you start to approach the first talus field that you get to. The last third of the trail becomes very rocky, and this made the one-mile trail seem much longer than it is. 

Exploring South District Hikes In Shenandoah National Park
The view from the summit of Turk Mountain.

There are two overlooks on Turk Mountain. Just before reaching the summit, a small overlook faces east and the summit overlooks to the west. I planned to catch the eastern view on my way back down, but there were hikers already there, and due to COVID, I figured it was safer just to move on. 

While both of these hikes were short they provide what I was looking for. In the short amount of time, I had. I was surprised by what Turk Mountain Trail had to offer from wildflowers, talus fields, and summit views. 

What you need to know before you go.

During the COVID-19 pandemic don't forget to follow local or park rules. Don't forget your mask. 

Navigate over to our other related articles on hikes in The South District of Shenandoah National Park

Now It's Your Turn-

Leave a comment about hikes you have done in the South District. What is your favorite trail or loop?