Back to Fitness: Go on up to the Mountain!

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From near the summit of Turk Mountain, looking east at a cloud covered Bucks Elbow Mountain and Crozet. Photo: John Andersen.

Those of us lucky enough to live in Crozet have a fond appreciation for mountains. They are a permanent part of our landscape and absolutely a major part of the charm of this little mountain town. But have you been up to the tops of those mountains?

Admittedly, this column was inspired by last month’s article by Clover Carroll, “A Peek at the Peaks: Naming Crozet’s Mountains.” Besides being able to stare out at our surrounding mountains and properly name them, I would like to take it one step further and ask, “Have you been up on them?” 

One of the amazing things about living here is the incredible access we have to so many mountains. Living adjacent to Shenandoah National Park (SNP) and the Appalachian Trail (AT), as well as just a short drive from endless national forests, we really have no excuse not to have explored at least some of our surrounding mountain tops.

There is quite simply something different about being on a mountain summit. Aside from the satisfying feeling of getting there by your own two feet, the views and perspective you get when standing upon a summit are priceless, and I argue, they’re an important part of being truly present and aware of where you live. 

So, ready to build that local peak bucket list? Here are some of the local must-do mountain summits in and around Crozet. 

Bear Den Mountain

Located in SNP, almost exactly dead west from downtown Crozet, I put Bear Den Mountain first because it is one of the easiest mountains to recognize from Crozet—it’s the mountain with the radio towers on top! (Note, there are actually several radio towers on the top of Bucks Elbow Mountain, but these are not visible from Crozet proper because of how huge and wide Bucks Elbow Mountain is. These are visible from the Ivy hill on I-64 though). The summit of Bear Den mountain has some beautiful views of Crozet to the east, but admittedly the radio towers and the fencing surrounding them take away from these views when you are at the summit. However, it’s worth the trek so that you can look at those towers from Crozet and say, “That’s the top of Bear Den Mountain. I’ve been there!” 

The summit of Bear Den Mountain is accessible by the AT. From Rockfish Gap, drive north on Skyline Drive into SNP for 3 miles and park at McCormick Gap where the AT crosses the road. Head north on the AT approximately 1.3 miles to the summit! Alternatively, drive 5 miles on Skyline Drive from Rockfish Gap to Beagle Gap and get on the AT heading south, and hike for approximately 0.6 miles to the summit.

Little Calf Mountain

Also in SNP and the next mountain north of Bear Den on the AT, Little Calf is an unassuming bald that offers serene 270-degree views of Crozet and points south and west. Little Calf is a must do for Crozetians because it’s a very reasonable hike from the top of Jarmans Gap road, one of our best backdoor accesses to SNP. 

From Chiles Peach Orchard, take the gravel portion of Jarmans Gap Road three miles up to Jarmans Gap. There are only about three parking spots up there, but usually not all taken. From there, hike down the dirt/jeep road into SNP and approximately 0.5 miles from your car, you will hit the AT (in just another 0.1 miles you will hit Skyline Drive). Head left/south on the AT and start climbing Calf Mountain. This is a strenuous hike that will take you to the summit of Calf Mountain in another 1.7 miles, in all 2.2 miles from your car at the top of Jarmans. Calf Mountain has a rock cairn at the top, but no scenic views as you are firmly in the middle of the forest. (Note, approximately 1.5 miles from your car, you will see a sign on the AT for a spring and the Calf Mountain shelter—this a great place to go camping! There are several primitive campsites as well as a shelter for through hikers and you can even have a campfire!) Continue another 0.7 miles from the Calf Mountain summit to the summit of Little Calf Mountain where you will be greeted by beautiful views and a cool breeze. 

Alternatively, you can reach the summit of Little Calf from Skyline Drive at Beagle Gap – head north on the AT just 0.8 miles to the summit.

Blackrock Summit

One of the classic summits around! Blackrock summit is essentially a huge pile of talus rock/boulders that offers a stunning 360-degree view. When you stand atop Blackrock Summit, you truly feel far away from the human world. And you are. Blackrock Summit is nearly halfway between Crozet and Harrisonburg.

The easiest access to Blackrock Summit is to drive on Skyline Drive approximately 20 miles north from Rockfish Gap to the Blackrock Summit parking area. Take the signs to the summit, which is about a mile hike, most of it on the AT. For those looking for more miles on their feet and the total “Crozet-to-Summit” experience, start at the Charlottesville Reservoir and take the North Fork Moormons River Trail approximately 5.5 miles to Blackrock Gap—where you will intersect with the AT and Skyline Drive. Take the AT north for a strenuous uphill hike approximately 1.5 miles to Blackrock Summit. The round trip back to the reservoir makes the hike 14 miles.

Turk Mountain

Another local classic, closer to Crozet and sort of like a “mini-Blackrock,” the summit of Turk Mountain offers essentially 360-degree views, also on a talus rock field. 

The easy way to get to the summit is to drive on Skyline about 11 miles to the Turk Gap parking area. Cross over Skyline drive and hop on the AT south where in just ¼ mile you’ll turn on the Turk Mountain Trail, which takes you approximately 1 mile up to the summit. The more epic way of getting to Turk Mountain summit is to again park at the top of Jarmans Gap and head down to the AT where you will head north for approximately three miles to the Turk Mountain Trail (so it’s a 9-mile round-trip from your car). 

There are so many more summits! Humpback Mountain (above Humpback Rocks!), Three Ridges, The Priest, Spy Rock! I hope you will take the time to explore some of these on foot. I guarantee you’ll never look west at those blue ridges with the same feeling. 

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