Turk Mountain Overlook to Rockfish Gap

View from Turk Mountain Overlook
View from Turk Mountain Overlook

MILE 93.7, TURK MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,720 feet. The sketch shows the view toward the left. Turk Mountain is capped by Erwin quartzite; you can see cliffs and talus slopes that slice across it near the top. The high ridge diagonally to your right is Rocks Mountain.

MILE 94.1, TURK GAP. Elevation 2,610 feet. A.T. crossing. Distances on the A.T.: North (on the east side of the Drive) it's 1.9 miles to the Drive crossing at Mile 92.4. South (on the west side) it's 1.6 miles to Sawmill Run Overlook, Mile 95.3. There's a parking area on the east side of the Drive, just south of the A.T. crossing.

An old road crossed the mountain here; it's now a yellow-blazed horse trail. On the west it's the Turk Gap trail, which descends 1.6 miles to the Park boundary. On the east it's the Turk Branch trail, which descends 2.1 miles to the south branch of Moormans River, where it joins the fire road that descends from Jarman Gap, Mile 96.8. For experienced hikers.

HIKE: Turk Mountain Summit. Round trip 2.2 miles; total climb about 690 feet; time required 2:15. Pleasant, mostly shady, fairly easy. Follow the A.T. south (across the Drive from the parking area). Go 0.1 mile to the marker post, and turn right. The trail descends into the saddle between Turk Mountain and the main ridge, then climbs easily to the summit, from which there's an outstanding view to west at top of rock talus slope.

Geology: From Mile 94.5 south to Milepost 95 are intermittent exposures of phyllite of the lower Hampton formation. In a fresh break its color varies from silvery gray to very pale tan—some of it banded, some with veins of pebbly quartzite. The weathered surfaces are mostly stained with iron.

MILE 95.3, SAWMILL RUN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,200 feet. A.T. crossing. From here you look right down the main branch of Sawmill Run. Except for that, the view is similar to what you see from Sawmill Ridge Overlook, Mile 95.9. Looking far to the left you can see a prominent roadcut; above and to the right of it are the two crests of Calf Mountain.

The A.T. crosses the Drive at the north end of the overlook. Distances on the A.T. North (on the west side of the Drive) it's 1.6 miles to Turk Gap, Mile 94.1. South (on the east side) it's 2.0 miles to Jarman Gap, Mile 96.8.

View from Sawmill Ridge Overlook
View from Sawmill Ridge Overlook

MILE 95.9, SAWMILL RIDGE OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,21 5 feet. There's a good view from the middle of the overlook (see sketch). The Blue Ridge Parkway runs among the distant mountains on the horizon, beyond Scott Mountain. Most of the city of Waynesboro is hidden behind Ramsey Mountain. Sawmill Ridge continues to the right (beyond the edge of the sketch) to join Turk Mountain, which rises higher to the right before descending abruptly into a shallow cut.

Geology: In the roadcut across the Drive are deposits of the Weverton formation: sandstone (fine-grained, medium-gray in a fresh break); quartzite (coarse, nearly white grains in a tan cement); and phyllite (pale lustrous gray in a fresh break, and a thin piece is soft enough to break between your fingers.) Much of the weathered rock surface has been stained brown with iron.

MILE 96.1, FIRE ROAD, west side. This road descends about 1.7 miles to the Park boundary on Sawmill Run at the foot of Ramsey Mountain, where it joins Virginia secondary road No. 611.

MILE 96.8, JARMAN GAP. Elevation 2,175 feet. Fire roads. A.T. access. Hikes.

History: Michael Woods settled here in the 1720's, and the area was known as Woods Gap. The buffalo trail that Woods had followed into the mountains was later replaced by the Three Notched Road, which for a time was the principal crossing of the Blue Ridge. About 1800 Thomas Jarman bought a tract of mountain land that included Woods Gap. Since then it has been called Jarman Gap.

This was originally the southern end of Shenandoah National Park, and the road to the south was part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Park was later extended to Rockfish Gap, 8.3 miles by road to the south, and the road is now part of Skyline Drive.

On the east side are two unpaved roads. One goes downhill to the left, and follows the south fork of Moormans River to the Charlottesville Reservoir. The road that goes uphill to the right reaches the Park boundary in about 300 yards. It follows the route of the old Three Notched Road into the hollow of Lickinghole Creek.

A.T. access is via either of the fire roads on the east side. To go north, take the left-hand road about 250 yards and turn left onto the A.T. From there it's 1.8 miles to Sawmill Run Overlook, Mile 95.3. To go south on the A.T. see the Beagle Gap hike, below.

HIKE: Jarman Gap. Circuit 0.5 mile; total climb about 135 feet; time required 0:25. A pleasant, easy hike through the woods.

Take the left-hand fire road, which curves right and descends rather steeply to a stand of tall tulip poplars. The bank on the right is rich in ferns: Christmas ferns, ebony spleenwort, polypody, and rattlesnake fern. (There's some poison ivy, too.) At the A.T. junction, 250 yards from the start, turn right, uphill, through a grove of big trees—up to three feet in diameter—some of them oaks but mostly tulip poplars. Where the trail turns sharp right, there's a pretty little spring on the left, which may be dry in summer. (Don't drink the water without boiling it.)

Continue to the second fire road, a quarter of a mile from the first one. The A.T. continues on the other side of the road. Turn right. It's only a hundred yards more to your starting point.

HIKE: Beagle Gap. One way 2.7 miles; total climb about 825 feet; time required 2:25. This is a fairly easy hike across the semi-open crest of Calf Mountain, with views from the cleared pasture land. It's a one-way hike, which requires that you leave a car in Beagle Gap, Mile 99.5, or have someone meet you there.

On the east side of the Drive take the right-hand fire road, which goes uphill 200 yards to the A.T. Turn right onto the A.T. and, after a few tenths of a mile, pass under the power line (see below). About a mile from the start of your hike, pass the Calf Mountain A.T. Hut and spring. Continue to the summit of Calf Mountain (elevation 2,975 feet), 1.7 miles from Jarman Gap. From a point a few feet short of the summit, look back the way you came for a fine view of Bucks Elbow Mountain (with radio towers on top) and, farther left, the Moorman River valley.

The trail continues along the ridge crest, with white blazes painted on the rocks. It passes to the left of the second summit of Calf Mountain, and descends to the Drive in Beagle Gap.

MILE 97.4, POWER LINE CROSSING. Heavy, multiple wires, on big steel towers. There's parking space in the grass on the west side of the Drive. Under the wires is a bank about ten feet high, which is sometimes clear and sometimes overgrown. When it's clear there's a striking view from the top, down a cleared swath many miles long. A double line of steel towers, strung together by long catenaries of wire, marches down over the ridges and into the hollow of Sawmill Run, out through the mouth of the hollow, past Ramsey Mountain on the left and the foot of Sawmill Ridge on the right, into the Valley. Under some atmospheric conditions the wires make a sizzling sound, like something frying over a low fire, and it seems to come from all around you.

MILE 97.6, GEOLOGY. There's parking in the grass on the west side of the Drive. In the roadcut on the east side is an exposure of sedimentary rocks (laid down in the interval between two ancient lava flows) of the Catoctin formation: coarse sandstone with some small quartz pebbles, and some soft, crumbly phyllite. A good part of the rock surface is covered with poison ivy.

MILE 98.9, CALF MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,480 feet. As you approach the overlook the road appears to go right out into the sky. This is a long overlook with a 300-degree wrap-around view. To see all of it you should park your car and walk from one end of the overlook to the other.

View from Calf Mountain Overlook (No. 1)
View from Calf Mountain Overlook (No. 1)

The overlook has been cut out, so both the sketches on this page are good for years to come. From the south end of the overlook you can see a smoky smokestack in Waynesboro. Farther right, on a more distant ridge, Interstate 64 descends into the valley. Calf Mountain rises up behind the overlook.

View from Calf Mountain Overlook (No. 2)
View from Calf Mountain Overlook (No. 2)

MILE 99.5, BEAGLE GAP. Elevation 2,530 feet. A.T. crossing. Hikes. Parking is on the east side of the Drive. The Drive passes between Bear Den Mountain on the west side and Calf Mountain on the east. The fence on each side of the Drive is at the Park boundary. The A.T. crosses the Drive here.

Distances on the A.T.: North (on the east side of the Drive) it's 2.7 miles to Jarman Gap, Mile 96.8 South (on the west side) it's 1.8 miles to McCormick Gap, Mile 102.1.

HIKE: Calf Mountain Summit. Round trip 2.1 miles; total climb about 495 feet; time required 1:45. An easy hike through partly open former pasture. Take the A.T. on the east side of the Drive. It ascends along the right flank of the first crest, and continues along the semi-open saddle, where it's marked by white blazes on the rocks. The high point of the trail, on the second crest of Calf Mountain (elevation 2,975 feet) is your destination. From there you have a fine view straight ahead of the summit of Bucks Elbow Mountain, with the radio installations on top. If you follow the trail a few yards more, you can see farther to the left, with a view of the whole length of the Moorman River valley.

HIKE: Bear Den Mountain. Round trip 1.2 miles; total climb about 355 feet; time required 1:05. Take the A.T. on the west side of the Drive, and climb through mostly open fields to the summit (elevation 2,885 feet). The towers serve numerous communication systems. There are views on both sides of the ridge.

MILE 99.8, BEAGLE GAP OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,495 feet. There's a narrow view down Greenwood Hollow into the Piedmont. The divided highway you see is Interstate 64, headed for Charlottesville. Note that there's a fence here, about 50 feet from the edge of the pavement. Everything beyond it is private property.

MILE 101.2, PRIVATE ROAD, west side. This road goes half a mile to the Police Radio Station on the summit of Bear Den Mountain.

MILE 102.1, McCORMICK GAP. Elevation 2,440 feet. A.T. crossing. There is limited parking on the east side of the Drive. Distances on the A.T.: North (on the west side of the Drive) it's 1.8 miles to Beagle Gap, Mile 99.5. South (on the east side) it's 3.0 miles to Skyline Drive at Mile 105.2 near Rockfish Gap. From McCormick Gap to Rockfish Gap, the A.T. lies on an easement over private land. If you're going south on the A.T., it's best to stay on or near the trail.

MILE 102.4, MCCORMICK GAP OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,455 feet. If the overlook has been recently cleared you have a good view of the Shenandoah Valley, with the city of Waynesboro toward the left. To your right is Bear Den Mountain, with the Virginia Police radio installation on top. Lower, farther left, is the grassy clearing in Beagle Gap; still farther left is Calf Mountain, with Calf Mountain Overlook on its left flank. Continuing to the left, you have a view straight up the hollow of Sawmill Run, with the main Blue Ridge on its right. On the left side of the hollow, Sawmill Ridge runs up to Turk Mountain.

MILE 104.6, ROCKFISH GAP ENTRANCE STATION. Elevation 2,070 feet. You can get information here, and help if you need it. The station may be unmanned at night and in the winter.

MILE 105.1, PARK BOUNDARY. South of this point you're on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

MILE 105.2, APPALACHIAN TRAIL. Elevation 1,900 feet. The A.T. goes steeply up the bank on the east side. To the north (on the east side) it's 3.0 miles to McCormick Gap, Mile 102.1 .To the south the A.T. follows the road, crossing Interstate 64 and U.S. 250 on the overpasses.

MILE 105.4, ROCKFISH GAP. Elevation 1,900 feet. Interstate 64 and U.S. 250 interchange. The Blue Ridge Parkway continues to the south from here. South of the overpasses and just west of the Parkway are motels, restaurants, and a gas station. Waynesboro, west on U.S. 250 at the foot of the mountain, offers food, lodging, and a hospital.

There is a tourist information center in Rockfish Gap. It's open during the summer travel season, and has information on food, lodging, and tourist attractions in the area. To find it, if you're going south: cross both overpasses and turn right. Look for a large sign beside the road that says "Rockfish Gap Regional Visitor Center." An arrow points to the Center, on the lower level of one of the motel buildings.

History: At first only a buffalo path crossed the mountain here. Later a dirt road was built to carry produce from the Shenandoah Valley to the head of navigation on the Rockfish River. It joined the Three Notched Road (which crossed the mountain in Jarman Gap) near the town of Wayland Crossing. The Blue Ridge Tunnel runs under Rockfish Gap, just outside the Park, and takes the C & O Railroad through the mountain about 500 feet below the surface. The tunnel was engineered by Colonel Claude Crozet, who had crossed the Alps with Napoleon. In 1870 the town of Wayland Crossing was renamed Crozet in his honor. Crozet is visible from the Drive: going north, as you round the curve at Mile 100.4, Crozet is the town at the foot of the mountain, ahead and to the right.

Rockfish Gap was the site of Mountain Top Tavern, one of the most famous taverns in the state. Many important conferences were held here. In 1818 a convention of 28 prominent citizens of Virginia, including Chief Justice Marshall and ex-presidents Madison, Monroe, and Jefferson, met here at Mountain Top Tavern to decide whether the University of Virginia should be in Staunton, Lexington, or Charlottesville.

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© Copyright 1997 Antony Heatwole, All rights reserved