Turk Mountain is one of the most enjoyable hikes in Shenandoah National Park, but is often overlooked by weekend hikers because of its distance from Washington DC. The summit of Turk Mountain is an expansive rock outcropping offering tremendous views towards the mountains to the north, and towards the Shenandoah Valley to the west. A rock outcropping 1/10th of a mile below the summit also offers rock scrambling and excellent views to the east.
While the Southern Shenandoah Mountains are not as tall as their Northern neighbors, there are plenty of large rock outcroppings, rock slides, and open vistas to enjoy. I would argue that Turk Mountain is the best hike in the southern section of the park (from Rockfish Gap to the Swift Run Gap). It can be hiked via a moderate-length trail, with respectable elevation gain (4.8 miles round trip and 1,000 feet of elevation gain). The areas around the summit provide an opportunity for rock scrambling, and a person could spend 20-30 minutes just exploring these rocks and taking in different viewpoints. Overall, Turk Mountain provides a classic Appalachian viewpoint with scenic vistas for miles displayed over majestic white rocks.
Large white rocks make up the summit of Turk Mountain
From Charlottesville, take I-64 eighteen miles west to exit 99. Head North to the Rockfish Gap entrance to Skyline Drive. To get to the trailheads to Turk Mountain, you will drive about 10 miles to the North.
From Washington DC follow I-66 West and exit onto US 29 at Gainesville, then take US 29 all the way down past Culpepper to route 230 West, until you hit Route 33, which you take West for 8 miles until you reach Skyline Drive at the Swift Run Gap Entrance. Take Skyline Drive south for about 30 miles South.
There are two main trails to the summit. One is a 90 minute round trip hike, the other a quick 20 minute jaunt to the top. For both hikes, you can enjoy the rocky cliff 1/10th of a mile below the summit, that will give you beautiful views facing east. (The summit view faces west towards the Shenandoah Valley).
Turk Gap Parking
For the short trail, park at the Turk Gap Parking area at milepost 94.2 (elev. 2610 feet). From the parking area, take the AT Southbound for about 200 yards and then take the Turk Mountain trail for another 0.9 miles to the summit. The start of the Turk Mountain trail is about a 200 foot drop, followed by a roughly 600 foot climb to the summit in less than 3/4 of a mile.
Total round-trip mileage: 2 miles
Total elevation gain: ~600 feet
Sawmill Run Overlook
For the long trail, park at the Sawmill Run Overlook at milepost 95.3 (Elevation 2,195 feet). Walk up Skyline Drive for about 20 yards and take the Appalachian Trail Northbound for 1.5 miles. After 1.5 miles, you will reach the Turk Mountain Trail. From there, the same directions as the short trail apply.
Total round-trip mileage: 4.8 miles
Total elevation gain: ~1000 feet
View from the summit
Shenandoah National Park cost $30 for an annual pass. If you do not live in the DC area, you can pay the $15 fee to enter Skyline Drive ($10 from December-February). You can climb Turk Mountain all year, however the park, or sections of the park, may be closed if road conditions are poor. Check with the park at 540-999-3500.
Campsites are not always open during the winter and spring. Backcountry Camping Permits are required and are available free from park headquarters, visitor centers, and entrance stations. Appalachian Trail hikers may self-register for permits on the AT near Rockfish Gap (south) and Chester Gap (north). Campfires are not permitted (except at pre-constructed fireplaces at backcountry huts and day-use shelters). Groups may not exceed 10 people. For more info consult the park website.
For long distance backpackers, Blackrock Hut is available (backcountry permit required) about 7 or 8 miles to the north of the summit on a short but steep side trail from the AT. There are some undeveloped camping sites near the shelter. The shelter itself sleeps about 12 on a first-come, first-served basis.