This beautiful 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. You’ll tackle 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, near the Thornton Gap entrance. That route is about 4 miles round trip, but it follows a steeper and less interesting trail. If you have the time, hike the AT from Jewell Hollow for a more beautiful journey to Mary’s Rock.
Jewell Hollow to Pinnacle Viewpoint
The first section of the Mary’s Rock hike begins at the Jewell Hollow Overlook. A mile of sometimes steep hiking leads to the first spectacular vista from a rocky viewpoint called the Pinnacle. Here you will see a long ridge leading to Mary’s Rock, our final destination.
Park in the lower or upper lot at the Jewell Hollow Overlook, at mile 36.5 of Skyline Drive. Walk north (downhill) along the side of the road a short distance to a connector trail. Stay off the road and be careful of cars, and keep watch for a post that marks the connector.
Hike uphill .1 miles on the connector, then turn right onto the Appalachian Trail. For the rest of the hike, you’ll travel the AT up and down over somewhat rocky terrain. Some of the climbs can be tiring, but none are too long or too steep. In about 1 mile you will reach a spot to enjoy sweeping mountain views to the west and north.
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.
Pinnacle to Mary’s Rock on the AT
When you are ready, continue your hike on the Appalachian Trail. The trail can be steep and rocky at times, so watch your footing. At the about halfway point you’ll reach the Byrd’s Nest #3 Hut. This is one of the rustic 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 a 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 peek at the logbook since the hut was empty. There were a few complaints about mice, but the shelter is no doubt welcome after a long day on the trail, or in bad weather.
Continue past the shelter for one more climb to the spur trail up to the summit of Mary’s Rock. The spectacular views here are the payoff for your effort. If it’s a beautiful day you’ll likely share the summit with other hikers, but there is plenty of room to spread out.
Stop to enjoy the views from the open dirt area or climb further up the rocks for more drama.
The views are spectacular no matter where you stand. From Mary’s Rock, you can see down to the entrance at Thornton Gap. Looking north you’ll see Pass Mountain, and to the west are Massanutten and the ridges beyond.
When you’ve had your fill of the views, hike back the way you came.
Tips for Enjoying Your Visit to Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is open year-round, except when snow and ice make Skyline Drive dangerous. If you complete the Mary’s Rock hike in Autumn, leaves on the rocky path warrant a little extra caution. The rich colors of fall foliage are well worth the slower pace. The rocky trail and overlook can also be very slippery when wet.
In Spring and summer, look for Virginia wildflowers along the trail. Summer leaf cover keeps most of this hike shady and turns the hills a vibrant green.
Explore more of the park and find more great hikes with our guides:
- Shenandoah National Park Day Trip Planner: Things to Do in the Central District
- 5 Ways to Enjoy Fall Foliage in Shenandoah National Park
- Rose River Loop Hike: Chasing Waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park Virginia
- Stony Man Trail Hikes to Beautiful Shenandoah Views
- Big Devils Stairs Hike to a View in Shenandoah National Park Virginia
You’ll find some interesting legends and facts about Mary’s Rock, plus helpful sketches in this Guide to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.
This article was published in 2016 and updated in 2018 and 2020.