Day 2 at the park was designed to get a lay of the land, understand how busy the park is and baseline the trail ratings. I did not want to overdue any individual hike, overload a particular day or worse ruin the week.
We entered the park at the Thornton Gap Entrance. We were greeted by a park employee in the NPS uniform, love their hats. He informed us that a 7-day entrance was $30, a real bargain. When asking him about crowds and if the heat was keeping people away, he told us some people come to the park to get out of the heat. He informed us that it is typically 5-10 degrees cooler in the park. This would be perfect considering the July Virginia temperatures expected for the week.
We headed south on Skyline Drive and were immediately greeted by Mary’s Rock Tunnel. Like the tourists we are, we pulled over to the overlook and snapped a few pictures. We also pulled over at the Stony Man overlook to see where our first hike would lead.
The Stony Man trailhead is immediately to your right as you enter Skyland. Stony Man is considered an “Easiest” hike and it was. The hike was no problem for my in-laws. The trail is mostly flat gravel which crossed the Appalachian Trail. We enjoyed the summit and rocky overlook. If you go to your right at the summit, you see an interesting ridge that looks like the back of a dinosaur. This highlighted on big difference we noted throughout the park in the rock formations. Many of the rocks are very jagged compared to the smooth granite we are used to in the Adirondacks. This is because many of the mountains in this area were formed by volcanic activity. We proceeded down the mountain using the alternate trail which completes the lollypop hike.
Our next hike on day 2 was Bearfence Mountain, but was delayed by a stop to the Skyland resort and gift store. Tee shirts, of course! We headed to the trailhead. About a mile from Skyland, we saw a bunch of cars pulled over looking at something in the tree. So we pulled over too. I got out, and there was a bear eating crabapples in a tree overhanging the road. Cars were driving under him taking pictures, I got some pics and video. He was unaffected by the swarm of people gawking over him.
The rock scramble was outstanding. Loads of ups and down and some steep parts. My wife was a bit nervous in a few sections, but loved the approach. The rock scramble had some great views at the tops of the rocks. Again, I noticed that the rocks are more jagged and plated. In some sections they stuck out of the ground vertically like the plates on a Stegosaurus.
Bearfence does not have an exposed summit, but does have a viewpoint that overlooks the rock scramble, mountains and valley. We all took the trail around the backside of the mountain, which really was not worth it. The only view was the viewpoint. One of my sons and I went back through the rock scramble, everyone else too the Viewpoint/AT trail back to the trailhead.
Day 2 finished with a quick stop at the Byrd Visitor Center. My oldest was thrilled to find a CCC bandana. At the Byrd Visitor Center, there is a grocery store, restaurant and even a gas station.
- Day 1 Introduction
- Day 2 Lay of the Land
- Day 3 Luray Caverns
- Day 4 Tubing
- Day 5 Old Rag
- Day 6 Dark Hallows and Hawksbill Mtn
- Day 7 Whiteoak Canyon
Stony Man Mountain Maps, Routes and GPS Information
Route Statistics: 1.5 miles, 419′ elevation
Caltopo Map: https://caltopo.com/m/3QK1
Bearfence Mountain Maps, Routes and GPS Information
Route Statistics: 1.05 miles, 357′ elevation (Includes viewpoint and scramble. To take the viewpoint trail turn right toward AT)
Caltopo Map: https://caltopo.com/m/V1F0