Calf Mountain is far from the epicenter of activity in Shenandoah National Park. It is not an exciting mountain in the sense of featuring rock scrambling or outstanding natural features such as cliffs and waterfalls, but one of its summits yields panoramic views of the park’s southern end, the Piedmont to the east, the storied Shenandoah Valley to the west, and, beyond the valley, ridge after ridge of the Appalachians; on a clear day, views west extend over 60 miles well into West Virginia. That summit, although the lower of the peak’s two (its elevation is 2910’), used to be reached by an unmarked spur trail, but now a re-routing of the Appalachian Trail goes directly over that summit.
Technically, Calf Mountain is not in Shenandoah National Park. At its southern end, the park is little more than the asphalt ribbon of Skyline Drive and its shoulders. But because the peak is literally just beyond the official park boundary (it is on the east side) and the two trail approaches both begin from Skyline Drive, it is more or less considered a Shenandoah peak and is hence included on the Shenandoah page.
Calf Mountain is also an important mountain for through hikers on the Appalachian Trail, which is the trail that crosses the peak. A short distance north of the peak’s higher summit is the Calf Mountain Shelter, a three-sided stone structure available for overnight use by backpackers on multi-night outings. Such shelters have fire pits and are welcome destinations to long-distance backpackers in Shenandoah, where backcountry campfires are illegal.
Reaching the true summit of Calf Mountain requires a short hike with moderately steep sections. Note-- Some guidebooks, including the PATC guide, which is very popular with Shenandoah enthusiasts, mention the “open summit” of Calf Mountain (the accompanying PATC map also indicates viewpoints from the summit, and USGS maps show an open ridgeline from north of the summit all the way to the southern trailhead). This is wrong. It is not an open summit today, if it ever was at all. There is often open sky above the trail, but there are small trees and high brush lining the trail, and it is enough to obstruct views (you can often see the surroundings, but the views are not open enough for photographs). At the summit, there are some rock ledges which, coupled with small breaks in the trees, offer restricted views west and northwest, but there are no open views. It is the lower and southern summit that has panoramic views. If the views are all that matter, then use the southern approach for this peak, for it is much shorter.
Getting There and Route Information
Option 1: In the South District of Shenandoah National Park, park at Jarman Gap (just north of MP 97) and hike south on the AT for about 1.5 miles, gaining around 700’ of elevation, to the summit. Along the way, you will pass the marked turnoff for Calf Mountain Shelter. The south summit, the one with the views, is about 0.7 miles south of the main summit. Up there is a sign indicating the summit of “Little Calf Mountain.”
Option 2: Park at Beagle Gap, about halfway between MP 99 and MP 100, and pass through the fence to follow the AT north through a meadow and into the woods. This hike is about 0.9 mi with an elevation gain of about 500’. The south summit, the one with the views, is about 0.2 miles from the trailhead.
The park has an entrance fee of $15, payable at entrance stations. The fee covers a week of access to the park. Annual and interagency passes are available; they cost more but are good deals for frequent visitors to Shenandoah and other national parks.
During deer-hunting season (early November through early January), Skyline Drive in the South District is closed (gated) from 5 P.M. until 8 A.M. daily. This is to deter poaching.
The closest park campground is Loft Mountain, the turnoff for which is between MP 79 and MP 80. The campground is open May through October and usually fills only on holiday weekends. The 2008 fee was $17/night. Flush toilets, showers, and a small camp store are available.
Backcountry camping requires a free permit; self-registration is possible at entrance stations. The Calf Mountain Shelter does not require reservations but is only available to multi-night backpackers; if you’re just out for the night, leave the shelter for those who would appreciate it more.
Call 540-999-3500 for more information, especially about weather forecasts and road conditions. The park's website is useful for information about campgrounds and lodges, though the park lodge closest to Calf Mountain is almost 50 miles away (75-90 minutes of driving if you obey the speed limits and don’t get stuck behind a slow driver who won’t budge).