Where can you go hiking when it’s a steamy 90 degrees in the Valley? Shenandoah National Park, of course, where temperatures are often 15-18 degrees cooler along Skyline Drive. And one of the best places to go is Mary’s Rock, a beautiful hike and overlook near the Thornton’s Gap entry station.
My husband, Aldo, and I went there with friends last weekend, and discovered it to be one of the best hikes we’d done in a while. To avoid the crowds, we made two wise choices: we got there early (by 7:00) and we started out from Jewell Hollow, a lesser known entry points along the Appalachian Trail. Despite the humidity in the valley below, the air was cool and fresh when we strapped on our backpacks and set out and the immediate great expanse of Jewell Hollow below us made the 5:00 a.m. wakeup call worth it.
We hiked along the ridge line for three miles to get to Mary’s Rock. The trail dipped and climbed pleasantly and trees arched overhead ensuring we stayed mostly in the shade. Every now and then the trees opened to provide a grand view of the valley and Luray, VA in the distance.
We passed a few other hikers along the Appalachian Trail, a few thru-hikers, but mostly day trippers like us. Mostly this section of the trail provided a lot of solitude until we got closer to Mary’s Rock, where we found several other people already enjoying one of the best views around. This is a popular trail, so if you can’t go early on a weekend, it’s best to go during the week if you like to hear the birds and hear the rustle of deer.
If you’re brave, you can climb up on one of the tallest rocks to get a 360 degree view or you can stay on the wide flat rocks that look West and soak up the sun. We clambered up to the high point to get some pictures, and then came back down to enjoy the sun before the three-mile hike back.
This is a great hike for dogs as long as they’re kept on a leash and for kids but you may want to start from Panorama to keep the hike to three miles, and ensure kids stay away from the rock edges. It’s a long way to fall.
After we returned to our car, we celebrated our glorious morning by eating lunch at Skyland just a few miles down the road. We were fortunate to be seated by one of the enormous windows overlooking the valley and enjoyed home-made crab soup, pot pies, and thick burgers. We will definitely be back many times to this wonderful area – we’ve already staked out a bunch of other trails that boast waterfalls and spectacular vistas.