River crossings, swimming holes and plenty of climbing make this a great summer-time run.
From the Sugar Hollow parking lot, continue on the road past the red gate, up the steep hill. A few tenths of a mile later, the road dead-ends at a singletrack trail. Continue on the (now) singletrack North Fork Moorman's River Trail
. Notice the cement post on the right side of the trail near the information board. These posts serve as trail markers in Shenandoah National Park. Trails and distances are engraved on the metal band.
There are a number of river crossings on this trail. You may or may not get your feet wet depending on the time of year and recent rainfall. Although, I'm not sure if I've ever made it past every crossing with dry feet. Your first chance for a swim is at the second crossing you come to. Snake Hole is to the left of the crossing, which is usually a rock-hop.
At about mile 1.9, the North Fork Moorman's River Trail
turns to the right, crossing Big Branch. Look for a cement post to point you in the right direction. If you miss the turn and continue up the trail, it will take you to a viewpoint of Big Branch Falls. The few times I went up there, the falls were just a trickle, but I've heard they're more exciting in the spring, so maybe I should give them another chance. If you decide to check out the falls, you'll just need to backtrack to cross the stream and continue on North Fork Moorman's River Trail
Eventually, the trail will widen, and you'll cross the river again. Around mile four, be on the lookout for a couple of old buses to the right of the trail. A little while after you see the buses, you'll come to the last river crossing on this section. As soon as you cross, turn left and begin climbing. The trail appears to go in both directions here; just make sure you turn left. There is a cement post that will point you in the right direction.
Once you reach Skyline Drive, make a sharp left to turn south on the Appalachian Trail. Continue climbing for several miles. The AT crosses Skyline Drive at one point, continues for about four miles on the west side (passing Riprap and Wildcat trails) before crossing back over to the side you started on. Now you're heading for the Turk Gap parking lot. Enjoy the gentle grades and smooth trail on this section!
Once you reach Turk Gap parking lot, do not cross Skyline Drive to continue on the AT. Instead, cross the parking lot and get on the yellow-blazed Turk Branch Trail
. It parallels Skyline Drive for a short distance before descending. Eventually, Turk Branch Trail
intersects with South Fork Moormans River Road
. The trail goes in both directions. Turn left onto South Fork Moormans River Road
. You'll soon see Blue Hole (another popular swimming hole) down a steep bank to your left. If you want to go for a swim (which I highly recommend!), take the second little side trail you come to down to the swimming hole; it's not quite as steep as the first. Otherwise, just continue on South Fork Moormans River Road
. If it's a hot summer day, you'll likely pass a steady stream of people heading from the parking area up to Blue Hole. From the swimming hole, you've got about a mile and a half and two more river crossings to go.
When I do this loop early in the morning, I often see bears.