Turk Mountain

Turk Mountain
Shenandoah National Park (Southern)
Skyline Drive milepost 94.1
Distance: 2.2 miles
Type: Out and back
Views: Shenandoah Valley
Dogs: Leashed Dogs are welcome
Trailhead: Across the road from the Turk Gap Parking Area at milepost 94.1
Notes: A steady, short climb to a rocky summit with beautiful views. Entrance fees to SNP apply.

Turk Mountain summitGetting there:
From Charlottesville, VA the quickest way to get to Turk Mountain is taking 64 West. Take exit 99 towards Afton and follow signs to enter the Shenandoah National Park at the South entrance (Rockfish Gap Entrance Station). Drive for about 10 miles north on the Skyline Drive to the Turk Gap Parking Area. The trailhead is across the Drive from the Parking Area.

Difficulty and length:
This is a nice short hike, at just 2.2 miles in total. Only 1.1 miles to the summit – you can do it! There are some steep inclines, which makes this hike a little difficult, but I would rate it as moderate due to the short length. I’m 24 weeks pregnant (read: taking lots of breaks) and this hike took me about one hour and thirty minutes.

Details:
This is a short hike with fabulous views in South Shenandoah National Park (SNP). When you arrive at the Turk Gap Parking Area (see ‘getting there’ above), cross the Skyline Drive and find the trail marker. The hike starts on the Appalachian Trail (AT), look for the iconic white blazes to be sure you are on the correct trail. After following along the AT for about five to ten minutes, you will see the trail splits. A side trail with blue blazes veers off to the right and the AT continues on the left. Read the trail marker and take the blue blaze trail to Turk Mountain summit.

The trail will lead slightly downhill for a bit before a steeper climb to the summit, but at this point you only have .9 of a mile to go!  As you get closer to the top, you will walk over an area that looks like the mountain spit a pile of rocks out. Upon researching after our hike, I found that this is called a talus slope of Erwin quartzite. Spend some time checking out the rocks while you take a breather before the last climb to the summit. We reached the summit about 45 minutes into the hike and it was absolutely worth the climb. We enjoyed the intense color from the leaves left on the trees during our entire trek. When you see the trail marker below you are at the summit, maybe 30 feet left to go on your journey if you are seeking great views.

After you see the trail marker above, there are some rocks to climb over for your views. Stay low and use your hands to maneuver over the rocks. Be careful to keep your balance and not slip. Watch out for children and dogs here if they are with you on your hike. Once you reach the rocks up near the summit, enjoy your reward. A beautiful view of the Shenandoah Valley.


Tip: When hiking in the fall, be careful as fallen leaves often cover the trail, tree roots, and rocks. It can be slippery and very easy to roll an ankle.

My experience:
My first time hiking Turk Mountain was on a chilly, beautiful October day in Virginia. It was 38 degrees when we left my car (i.e. very cold), but with the uphill climb, we soon shed some layers. I was 24 weeks pregnant and hiked with my sister, Caitlin, who was recovering from a cold. Basically, I’m trying to make the point that if a pregnant and sick person can do this hike, so can you! It is quite a bit of uphill, but due to the short distance to the summit, the tough parts go by quickly and are completely feasible. I’ll share more tips and insights on hiking while pregnant in a future post, but for now…back to the hike.

There is nothing like hiking in Virginia in October. Fall here is so beautiful, it’s hard to describe. You really have to see it for yourself. The leaves change the most beautiful hues of yellow, orange, and red. If you venture out on a sunny day, the trip anywhere on the Skyline Drive in the fall is truly magical. This hiking day was just like that; sunny, blue skies, a nice, brisk breeze, and incredible color. The beauty can be little distracting while you are driving, so be careful and don’t forget to drive slowly, and watch out for wildlife and other hikers as you make your way to a parking area for your fall hike.

Hiking with sisters is the best. Caitlin and I laughed and told stories during the entire hike. We encouraged each other and joked on each other when the hike got tough and one of us would lag behind. And there was no judgment on the number of times I had to pee (being pregnant and all). Family and nature make a good combination.

Fall view:
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White Rock Falls

White Rock Falls
Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 18.5
Distance: 4.6 miles
Type: Loop
Views: Waterfall and vista
Dogs: Leashed dogs allowed
Trailhead: Across the road from the parking area at mile 18.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Notes: Mostly shaded, stream crossing, waterfalls, and a hike up to some nice views.

White Rock CreekGetting there:
There are two good driving options to arrive at White Rock Falls parking area from Charlottesville, VA. The first option is to leave town and head west on 64. Take the 250 E exit on top of Afton Mountain and turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, you will find the parking area on your right a little while after passing the Humpback Rock picnic area. This route will take about 45 minutes to an hour from Charlottesville. An alternative route is perfect if you are already in Nelson County enjoying a brew from Blue Mountain Brewery or Devil’s Backbone. You can easily get to this hike from 151 by turning onto 664 when you see the Ski Barn and Devil’s Backbone. Keep on 664 until it intersects with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hang a left onto the Blue Ridge Parkway (south) and reach the hike in a few miles. From Charlottesville, this route will take about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Either route works well; park in the parking area at milepost 18.5.

Difficulty and length:
This is a moderate hike with some difficult sections. There is a steep climb (i.e. switchbacks) after seeing the streams and falls. The 4.6 miles takes me about 3 hours to complete (including picture stops and a lunch stop).

Details:
Once you park in the parking area at milepost 18.5, take a moment to look at the information kiosk posted there. Cross the Blue Ridge Parkway and start your hike at the White Rock Falls trail marker (see picture above). Follow the yellow-blazed trail along White Rock Creek. You will cross the creek a little over a mile out from the beginning of the hike. This portion of the hike is fairly easy, shaded, and slightly downhill.

After spending some time in the water and the pools, cross the creek and begin hiking up switchbacks to a nice overlook. It may take you about 1 to 1.5 hours to get to this spot from the beginning of the hike. But this depends on how long you stop for pictures and playing in the water. Sit for awhile and soak in the views.


Continuing on, you will cross a few wooden bridges (more like small planks and boards). Eventually, you will come out of the trees and arrive at the Blue Ridge Parkway. You will want to cross the Parkway and turn left walking down the side of the road for a bit until you reach the pullover and parking area for Slacks Overlook. Once you are in this parking area/pullover spot, look for the Blue Blaze Slacks trail to continue on your hike (right corner of the lot if you are looking out at the views).

Tip: Watch out for mountain bikers on the Slacks section of the trail.

Continue hiking and take a right on the orange trail towards White Rock Gap Intersection (this is where your car is parked). You will be at your car in about half a mile.

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Note: If you want to extend your hike, you can take a left when you reach the orange trail and it will lead to Sherando Lake. Lake Sherando is a wonderful place to take a dip or do some camping.

My experience:
I did this hike over the summer with my friend, Kitty. We started at around 9am on a hot June day in Virginia. Great idea, right? Let’s just say we were sweating a little by the time we finished.

Overall, this is a fun hike. Lots of shade at the beginning and some fun around the water. I’d love to go back in the spring and see what the creek and falls are like after snow melt and some rain. Definitely be prepared for those switchbacks. It was getting quite hot by the time we reached those on our hike; we were a dry-heaving, sweaty mess when we reached the top. We had some trouble finding the trail when we crossed the road, part of the way through our loop. We didn’t realize we had to walk down the Parkway for a bit to the overlook/pullover. Keep this in mind when you try this hike.

I always have a blast with Kitty and this hike was no exception. Our conversation and giggles got us through the tough uphill climb on this hike. Or maybe the laughing made it harder to breathe? Either way, I love a day spent on a trail with friends.