|View south to Stony Man and Shenandoah Valley from Mary's Rock|
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate; reaching true summit requires short rock scramble
Access: Trailhead off Skyline Drive at Thornton Gap, Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required, trailhead usually accessible even when Skyline Drive closed due to snow
Mary's Rock is one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah National Park. The view from the summit of Mary's Rock is one of the great views of the park: along with Old Rag and Bearfence Mountain, its summit is one of the few spots in the park with true 360-degree views. Mary's Rock was also one of the first hikes that I did in Shenandoah, back in high school. The first time I hiked it, I came in from the Meadow Spring side; my more recent hike, and the one that I shall describe here, started from Panorama.
A heavy rainstorm in early December in Charlottesville meant a sizable snowstorm in the Blue Ridge. Two days after the storm, Skyline Drive was still closed, but I was curious to see the mountains in their snowy form and was eager to avoid studying for my finals, so I found a friend and drove up to Thornton Gap.
There was a good two inches of snow left at the gap when we arrived in the park. From the trailhead at the far end of the Panorama parking area, a short trail led to the Appalachian Trail, which we took south towards Mary's Rock. As soon as we got onto the the trail, we entered a winter wonderland of sorts- with wind-blown snow coating the trail, the trees the undergrowth. After passing a set of all-natural power lines, the trail began to climb gradually up the northwestern side of the mountain. This part of the trail was spectacular, probably since it was hidden from the sun: snow was everywhere and icicles hung from fallen trees and large rocks.
|Snowy forest on the Appalachian Trail|
|Huge needle ice on the AT|
The viewpoint has a very good 180-degree view to the north encompassing, in order of proximity, Pass Mountain, Neighbor Mountain to the northwest, Knob Mountain, Hogback, Mt. Marshall, and the Peak. To the west is a view of Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain, with Great North Mountain and the ridges of West Virginia in the far distance.
|View to the north|
The rocks continued past the summit, so we continued our scramble by following the peak's rocky spine. This section was lots of fun but required a bit more caution: we had to squeeze through a couple of tight spots between rocks and bushes and drop down off some rocks on our way. We eventually found ourselves back on the Appalachian Trail on the south side of the summit by descending down a fun granite wall, and made our way back to the viewpoint for a snack before heading down and back to Charlottesville.
|The granite spine of Mary's Rock|
The topography and geology around Mary's Rock is fascinating. Most of the park is dominated by Catoctin greenstone, the jagged rock found on Stony Man and Hawksbill. Along with the Pinnacle, Mary's Rock is one of the only Blue Ridge crest peaks in Shenandoah made of granite/granodiorite. The granite here is from the Pedlar Formation and is some of the oldest rock in the park: it even predates the Old Rag granite found to the east on the summits of Oventop and Old Rag.
|Mary's Rock rises steeply to the south of Thornton Gap|
|Mary's Rock view in spring|