Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Little Calf Mountain

View southeast from Little Calf Mountain
1 mile round trip, 380 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy

Little Calf Mountain is a very short hike at the southern end of the park to a decent view. It is the companion hike to Bear Den Mountain. While I believe that all of the hikes in Shenandoah are worthwhile, this is not a trail that I would recommend strongly to first time visitors, as it does not have some of immediate visual appeal of some other hikes. This hike is listed as being 2 miles round trip with over 500 feet elevation gain in the online version of the Guide to Shenandoah National Park. That is incorrect. In the first edition of his guide, Henry Heatwole described a hike from Beagle Gap to the summit of Calf Mountain itself that was 2 miles round trip. However, there are no longer views from the summit of Calf Mountain, so in the online edition, the hike is only described to the summit of Little Calf Mountain, which still has views.

I did this hike on a muggy weekday afternoon in August, towards the end of my summer in Charlottesville. I found a friend who I had just started hiking with the prior week and headed to the park on I-64. We headed north five miles on Skyline Drive to the parking area at Beagle Gap, at mile 99, which was empty.

The park is incredibly narrow here: in fact, it's barely wider than Skyline Drive! So as soon as we got onto the Appalachian Trail heading north from Beagle Gap, we left the park, passing through a gate and into a wide, grassy field. After cutting through the field, the trail entered a young forest and began to climb gently. After a little over a quarter mile from the trailhead, we came to an unsigned spur trail heading to the left. Although it was not well marked, it was fairly noticeable and there was a blaze on a rock at the intersection. This fairly level trail cut through brush and forest and in 0.2 miles reached the summit of Little Calf Mountain.

The summit was rounded and grassy. We enjoyed the breeze on the rather humid day and the hazy views. Unfortunately, I can't give you a very detailed description of the view because the haze that day was quite heavy. We could see Bear Den and Scott Mountain to the south and part of Rockfish Valley as well, and I would imagine that Waynesboro, Cellar Mountain, and perhaps Humpback are visible on a clear day, but we couldn't see that far.

On the return, we took a wider fire road back. The grass-covered road wound north for a little while before rejoining the Appalachian Trail, which we followed back to Beagle Gap. Stormy clouds rolled in as we got ready to head out and a brief rain spell occurred on our way back to Rockfish Gap.

Beagle Gap

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