Stony Man and Little Stony Man
This hike is an easy, 2.9 mile walk along (mostly) the Appalachian Trail to the summit of Shenandoah’s second highest peak. The two main vantage points along the way provide nice views of Skyline Drive and Skyland Resort below.
We chose this hike for a quick evening trip to the park. Before I get started on the trail description, let me share what an amazing night we had for wildlife watching. We saw eleven bears (four of them were young cubs), a couple pairs of twin fawns, many large bucks and a beautiful barred owl. No matter how many times we visit Shenandoah, the park always has something new to offer in form of scenery or wildlife.
Now, onto the hike! We started out at the Little Stony Man Cliffs parking area, a few miles north of Skyland Resort. The route is all uphill with 750 feet of elevation gain. For that bit of climbing, you get to enjoy the views from Little Stony Man Cliffs, which (in my opinion) are far prettier than the Stony Man summit. I love the way Skyline Drive looks winding through the woods from the cliffs’ vantage point. In autumn, the afternoon light sets the foliage ablaze at this spot. If the sky is clear, you get a beautiful view of the Page Valley. The lake you see down on the valley floor is Lake Arrowhead. We had a lot of haze on our trip, which was no surprise – thick, milky skies are the norm during Virginia summers. Until this week, we had been lucky and had been enjoying unseasonably clear skies (on the days it wasn’t raining, at least). 🙂
There are several trail junctions along this route, so pay attention to the cement trail markers. If you keep following the arrows for the Stony Man summit, you can’t get lost. The climb to Little Stony Man Cliffs is short – less than a half mile of the hike. After crossing the cliffs, the grade of the trail moderates. At around the 1.3 mark, the Appalachian Trail crosses the blue-blazed Stony Man loop trail. You can take either arm of the loop at this point. We usually follow the right side of the loop up and take the other side back down. This section of the hike includes an interpretive nature trail. If you pick up a brochure at Skyland, you can read information coinciding with a series of numbered markers along the way.
When we got to the summit of Stony Man, it was cloudy, chilly and exceedingly windy. I could hardly take a photo without feeling like I was going to blow off the mountainside. We could still see all the cabins and main lodge of Skyland, but most of the valley view was completely obscured by the haze. We noticed that one small section of the cliff-side was closed for peregrine falcon activity. We didn’t stay long at the summit because sundown was rapidly approaching and I didn’t want to hike in the dark. On our way down, we crossed paths with a doe and her twin fawns. They were very cute, but quite skittish. They darted off into the woods before I could manage any photos. The entire walk back to the car was easy and downhill, and retraced the same route we had taken up.
This was a great hike to get big view payoffs with minimal effort. We were able to do this after dinner in a little over an hour.
The Little Stony Man Cliffs are a popular spot for Virginia rock climbing. The cliffs provide several different paths to climb and rappel off the cliffs. We once ran into a group of college students from The College of William & Mary that were learning rock climbing skills.
We encountered a pair of hikers as soon as we got to the first junction. The two hikers shown below were from Louisiana and they were taking seven days to hike the entire stretch of the Appalachian Trail that goes through Shenandoah National Park. They were averaging about 15-16 miles per day and were on their way to Skyland. Their backpacks were quite heavy, since they were packing for their entire trip. They told us they weren’t regular hikers, so we wondered afterward what compelled them to do this trip. It sounds like a fun trip!
From Little Stony Man Cliffs, you can get a good look at the “stony man”. If you look to the south from the overlook, you can see the profile of what looks like a face. The Appalachian Mountains are some of the oldest mountains on the planet. The volcanic activity that occurred when tectonic plates moved against each other formed these mountains. Once you can picture the nose of Stony Man, you can quickly see the forehead, eye, mouth, and beard.
If you are interested in geocaching, there is a geocache through the Little Stony Man trail that gives you a lot of information about the geology of the area.
- Distance – 2.9 miles out-and-back
- Elevation Change – 750 feet
- Difficulty – 2. This is a relatively easy walk with a little moderate uphill walking.
- Trail Conditions – 3.5. There are some rocky sections and a little rock scrambling at viewpoints, but the trail is well-maintained.
- Views – 3.5. Pretty views of the drive, Skyland Resort and the Page Valley
- Waterfalls/streams – 0. None.
- Wildlife – 2.5. Maybe some deer and birds. There are a lot of bears around Skyland, but we’ve never seen them along the Stony Man trail.
- Ease to Navigate – 3.5. Pay attention at the cement markers. As long as you follow the arrows pointing to Stony Man, you won’t get lost.
- Solitude – 1. This trail is one of the park’s most popular short hikes. If you want to avoid crowds, hike it on a weekday or very early on a weekend morning.
Directions to trailhead: The trail starts at the Little Stony Man Cliffs parking area along Skyline Drive. The lot is near mile marker 39.