Standing at 4,011 feet, the summit of Stony Man is the second-tallest peak in Shenandoah National Park. This mountain has been attracting sightseers since the early 1900s and remains one of the most-visited places in the park. Accessing the peak from the Little Stony Man Trailhead allows you to pass over Little Stony Man Cliffs, which are just as beautiful as the summit. The route is a 3-mile out-and-back hike, with an elevation gain of around 785 feet. Parking for this trailhead is located directly off of Skyline Drive at milepost 39.1.
Quickly after the hike begins, merge onto a section of the Appalachian Trail and follow the white-blaze markings until the forest opens up to Little Stony Man Cliffs. The cliffs boast spectacular views over the town of Luray, the Massanutten Range, and Skyline Drive. This is also a popular rock climbing destination, and hikers can often see fixed ropes and anchors hanging from the cliffs.
From the cliffs, head back into the woods and zigzag through a series of switchbacks as you make your way up to the summit. Like the rest of Shenandoah, wildlife sightings here are bountiful. There is always a chance to spot fauna such as woodpeckers, chipmunks, or white-tailed deer. Chances increase in the morning and at dusk. Peregrine falcons can also be spotted on the cliffs of both Stony Man and Little Stony Man. These birds of prey were reintroduced into the park in 2000 in an effort to restore populations in the Blue Ridge area.
Near the top, turn off the AT and follow the blue-blaze markings to the summit. Just below the official peak, the path opens onto another cliff outcropping with elevated views and opportunities to scramble around the rocks. (Dogs are not allowed on the final section of the trail leading to the summit and out on the exposed rocks.) On the weekends in summer and fall, the summit can get very crowded. An early start is a great way to minimize the crowds and perhaps find some solitude.
This trail is a must for anyone traveling to Shenandoah National Park or any peak-baggers passing through the Shenandoah area. The park can be accessed with a National Parks Annual Pass or by obtaining a seven-day single-vehicle entry pass for $25. For those looking to get an early start, nearby campgrounds include Big Meadows and Matthews Arm.