The Mary’s Rock Trail is my favorite short hike in Shenandoah National Park. This trail has everything: Beautiful views, wildflowers including mountain laurel, a well-maintained trail, a large parking area with restrooms and picnic tables, and enough challenge to provide a feeling of accomplishment without becoming a marathon.
The best way to get there, unless you are already in the park, is to take Rt. 211 to the park junction at Thornton Gap, and drive south a short distance to Panorama at mile 31.6, just north of the Mary’s Rock Tunnel. Panorama has a two-level paved parking lot, rest rooms, picnic tables, and several information signs, all worth reading.
The trail head is at the west (back) end of the upper lot and takes the Appalachian Trail from there up the hill. The trail has been widened and otherwise improved to handle extra traffic. It is a steady climb up the peak, but I would rate it as easy. It is suitable for school age children and for older hikers like me. I am 71 and have no problem with the climb. This makes it an ideal adventure for grandparents and their grandchildren.
In spring the bottom of the trail goes through patches of wildflowers and mountain laurel. Late May or early June, when the laurel is in bloom, is probably the best time to take this hike, but it is pleasant any time of year.
The trail is rocky in places, so wear hiking shoes. Also, keep an eye out for potentially dangerous critters in season. I have heard a report of copperhead snakes from a through hiker on the AT, but I have not personally encountered anything dangerous there.
The walk is very scenic, with pleasant stopping places under overhanging rocks and trees. It has views to the east over the hills through gaps in the trees on the way up and in one spot a view down to Skyline Drive. If you are lucky you may even see a rainbow.
Near the top, the trail splits. The left fork is the Appalachian Trail, which climbs a short distance to the top of the hill and curves around Mary’s Rock, but does not offer any views. The right fork is the wider trail. It goes level from the split around the rock column and ends in a beautiful circular flat space with a low wall facing west across the Great Valley to the main range of the Appalachians. The Pinnacles parking lot is visible directly below, giving you a sense of the distance you climbed.
The last time I hiked it, I had limited time and did the round trip in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Keep in mind that I am not an athlete. Normally I linger along the trail and take three to four hours, but that gives a good minimal time for an average hiker.
The round trip was 10,700 steps according to my step counter, which comes out to just over five miles. This is longer than the official distance. In general, I find the distances on the trails are under-estimated. I suspect that those distances are based on aerial maps that reduce the three-dimensional reality into a two-dimensional rendering. Overall, Mary’ Rock offers a pleasant time in the woods at any time of year. Hope to see you there.