Beautiful weather makes us want to take a hike, but it also makes us want to chill. Here are 6 scenic places ...
This fun Mary’s Rock hike on the Appalachian Trail includes two spectacular Shenandoah vistas, a look at an AT hut, and a fun rocky outcropping that’s perfect for lunch, a rest, or a scramble. The hike is 6.5 miles out and back over moderately challenging terrain, with about 700 feet of elevation gain as you climb and descend three times.
The view from Mary’s Rock is an often photographed and popular hiking destination in Shenandoah National Park. Most park visitors start the Mary’s Rock hike from the Panorama parking lot, just inside the Thornton Gap entrance. It’s a shorter distance—about 4 miles round trip—but it’s also a steeper and less interesting trail. If you have the time, hiking the AT from Jewell Hollow is a much better way to reach Mary’s Rock.
Jewell Hollow to Mary’s Rock Hike
Park at the Jewell Hollow Overlook at mile 36.5 of Skyline Drive and follow the road north (downhill) a short distance to a post marking the connector trail. In .1 miles you should reach a junction and turn right on the Appalachian Trail. For the rest of the hike you’ll be traveling the AT up and down over somewhat rocky terrain, with some gorgeous views to the west and north. Some of the climbs can be tiring, but none are too long or too steep.
In just under a mile of hiking you’ll reach a rocky viewpoint known as the Pinnacle. The Pinnacle is one of the highest summits in the park, more of a long ridge, with lovely views. Stand on the rocks and look to your right for gorgeous view number one.
The view north shows the ridge you’re about to climb with Mary’s Rock visible at the end. To the west is the Shenandoah Valley and the long spine of Massanutten Mountain. On a clear Autumn day the view is a breathtaking explosion of color.
At the about halfway point you’ll reach the Byrd’s Nest #3 Hut, one of the AT shelters maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). The three-sided hut has a fireplace and sleeping platform, and there is a picnic table and pit toilet nearby.
Camping at the hut is for long-term hikers who are spending at least three nights on the trail. We took a peak at the log book (since the hut was empty) and noticed some complaints about mice, but the shelter is no doubt welcome after a long day or in bad weather.
Continue past the shelter for one more climb to the spur trail up to the summit of Mary’s Rock and spectacular view number 2. If it’s a beautiful day you’ll likely share the summit with other hikers, but there is plenty of room to spread out. You can stop to enjoy the views and lunch or a rest in the open area, or have some fun climbing further up the rocks.
The views are spectacular no matter where you pause. From Mary’s Rock you can see down to the entrance at Thoroughfare Gap, north toward Pass Mountain, and west toward Massanutten and the ridges beyond.
When you’ve had your fill of the views, hike back the way you came.
Tips for Enjoying the Mary’s Rock Hike
If you hike in Fall, leaves covering the rocky path warrant a little extra caution, especially if the ground is wet. The fall colors are well worth the slower pace. In Spring, you should see Virginia wildflowers along the trail, and in Summer leaf cover will keep you shaded and turn the hills a vibrant green.
If you have extra time after your Mary’s Rock hike, or you’re interested in staying overnight, we’ve rounded up some more suggestions for enjoying Shenandoah National Park. While our article was written in fall, the same suggestions apply in spring and summer.
You’ll find some interesting legends and facts about Mary’s Rock, plus helpful sketches and an excellent list of Shenandoah hikes at the Guide to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.
For added beauty on your way to the park, here are two scenic drives that lead to the Thornton Gap park entrance (from our 2014 travels):
Have you hiked the Appalachian Trail to Mary’s Rock? We highly recommend the trip.