|Sawmill Run Overlook: Calf Mountain, Scott Mountain, and Big Levels|
The Turk Branch Loop is an enjoyable and scenic loop hike that combines a good amount of exercise with a few views, two streams, and a lot of forest. I did this hike during mid-spring and found it to be delightful because of the blooming wildflowers, but this hike might be less interesting in mid-winter or summer. The best view of this hike comes not from the trail itself but from the point where the trail crosses Skyline Drive at Sawmill Run Overlook. The trail is one of the many loops possible in the South District of the park and traverses a very lightly traveled area. Hiking Upward recommends doing this loop together with the trail to the summit of Turk Mountain. This would probably be a good combination, as the views from the top of Turk Mountain are superb and certainly more expansive that at any point on the Turk Branch Loop alone.
I headed out early on a Saturday morning to do this hike. I had originally hoped to wake up, eat breakfast, get gas, and then head to the Moormans River Overlook to watch the sunrise before hiking, but I managed to oversleep my alarm by a full hour and woke up just 45 minutes before the sunrise. Still hoping to catch the sunrise, I managed to get out of bed and into my car in five minutes and made my way to Beagle Gap Overlook, the first east-facing overlook on Skyline Drive, just three minutes before the sunrise.
The slopes of Calf Mountain were refreshingly green and the wispy fog covered much of the Piedmont. The sky glowed pink in the seconds before the sun peeked out from behind the ridge of Calf Mountain, bringing warmth and rays of light to the mountains. In the far distance, I could see the gap between Wolfpit and Carter Mountains, and the bowl in which Charlottesville lies.
|Sunrise at Beagle Gap Overlook|
|Dogwood blooming along the South Fork Moormans Fire Road|
The Turk Branch Trail immediately began to climb, following its namesake stream uphill. In the first half mile after leaving the South Fork Moormans River, the trail passed by numerous small cascades on the Turk Branch, including one crossing at which there was a small waterfall flowing into a small pool. While trying to photograph this waterfall, I had a minor accident and slid into the Turk Branch- although I got soaked, I was thankful that my fall was into a small stream rather than off of a cliff!
|The Turk Branch|
|Turk Branch Trail|
After following the trail downhill for 1.7 miles from Turk Gap, I reached Sawmill Run Overlook. The overlook was about a hundred feet south of the point where the AT crossed the Drive, but I chose to make my way over to the overlook anyway for the spectacular view down Sawmill Run. From the overlook, Calf Mountain, a corner of Bear Den Mountain, Scott Mountain, Afton Mountain, and Big Levels near Waynesboro were visible. A beautiful dogwood tree bloomed right below the overlook itself. Green had finally reached the mountaintops here.
Past Sawmill Run Overlook, the trail began a small ascent onto a small knob on the ridgeline of the Blue Ridge crest. Over the remaining two miles back to Jarman Gap, there were numerous views through the trees and one decent view where the trees parted enough for a good view of Calf Mountain with Humpback Mountain poking out behind it.
|View on the Appalachian Trail|
|Phlox along the trail|