By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/25/2020
Occurred: 5/12/1984
Posted: 12/19/2006
Topics/Keywords: #Hiking #ShenandoahMountains #Virginia #Mary'sRock Page Views: 2571
A visit to a Virginia high country landmark.

Mary's Rock is a favorite hiking spot in the Shenandoah National Park. Its popularity is partly because it's a fairly easy hike, partly because it offers a spectacular view from its summit, but mostly, I think, because it's so easy to get to. The trail head begins at the parking lot of the concession right at the entrance to the park, where US 211 crosses the Skyline Drive.

In 1984, I took my then-wife Mary, our four kids, and my Mom on the hike. Mom was 72 at the time, in good health, but, let's face it—she was 72. Nevertheless, she completely the hike successfully. Actually, she seemed in less discomfort at the hike's conclusion than I was.

The trail is about a mile and a half one-way, but that belies the fact that the climb is pretty steep—the elevation gain is about a thousand feet. The trail is pretty but there are few openings in the foliage during the summer when we went, so there really aren't any "views" until you get to the top. Once there, however, the view is spectacular, even on a day when the sky is lightly hazed.

Karen, Mary and Johnny enjoy the view from the summit.

There's a kind of flat spot near the very top, called Mary's Rock Lookout, covered with sand and perfect for resting after the climb—even better for opening up and eating those sandwiches you've been saving. The actual summit is a few boulders piled at one side of the flat spot; I'd love to know what quirk of geology came up with this arrangement.

Mary's Rock Lookout

The actual summit is easy enough to climb for the younger members of the party to do so safely. (Mom chose to remain planted as far from the edge as possible, as she was afraid of heights.)

Johnny and Jenny on Mary's Rock Summit.

Because of the steepness of the trail, the descent is deceptive. You don't feel as if it's any effort at all; but with every step those underused muscles at the backs of the legs are getting a workout. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill, most of us could barely move. I, personally, had to lift my left leg with my hands to get it into the car. Mom, on the other hand, was fine—her walking to work every day, as she still did in 1984, had obviously contributed to her general well-being (and the fact that she lived another 21 years after accompanying us to Mary's Rock!)

Dottie, Johnny, Jenny, Mom, Karen and Mary barely able to move.