I’ve talked a lot about how great Shenandoah National Park is for sunset and sunrise watching.
There are a few summits and overlooks that are downright spectacular, which made me rave about this national park’s potential before. And that was when I hadn’t even hiked up to Stony Man, which I now have to say is the best sunset hike in Shenandoah National Park.
After hiking the Stony Man Trail, my opinion has been confirmed. Sunset hikes are among the best things—if not simply the best thing—you can do in Shenandoah. It blew my mind, honestly, even if the sunset didn’t really live up to its potential when I was there.
Hiking the Stony Man Trail
The Stony Man Trail leads, naturally, to the summit of Stony Man, named after its collection of rocks that, when seen from a distance, resemble the face of a man. At 4,011 feet (1,222 meters), it’s the second-highest mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Only Hawksbill, a short distance further down Skyline Drive, is higher.
Huge Rewards for Very Little Effort
What makes the Stony Man Trail arguably the best sunset hike in Shenandoah National Park is its shortness. It’s only 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) to the summit, a fairly easy hike that should be suitable for pretty much everyone with a basic fitness level. Additionally, this makes the return trip, after sunset and therefore in falling darkness, conveniently brief as well.
I was surprised that Caroline and I were the only people up there—and we were there for a solid hour.
As easy as it is to get to Stony Man, that doesn’t diminish the breathtaking views take await you up there. From the jumble of boulders and rocks that make up Stony Man, the vista stretches much more than 180 degrees.
You can see the lights being turned on in the Shenandoah Valley far below you, while the evening sun paints the Blue Ridge Mountains in pure gold. If you’re lucky enough to be up there on a clear evening, with some necessary cumulus clouds high in the sky, the sunset is potentially sensational.
From a photographer’s perspective, Stony Man’s rocks are a godsend. They form the ideal foreground for the rolling hills beyond. If you don’t care about taking photos and simply want to see the sunset through your own eyes, as opposed to through a viewfinder, those very rocks make for perfect natural seats.
A Brilliant Location
It’s not only that hiking the Stony Man Trail is enormously rewarding; the trail also has arguably the best location of all hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park. You’ll find the trailhead at MP 41.7 on Skyline Drive. The parking lot lies within Skyland.
Skyland is one of only two lodges in Shenandoah. Located at the highest point of Skyline Drive, 3,680 feet (1,121 meters) above sea level, it’s nestled beautifully in the woods, overlooking the Valley.
Always relishing the opportunity to celebrate a good hike with a couple of beers, I loved the fact that you can do just that at Skyland. Besides Big Meadows Lodge, this is basically the only place within Shenandoah National Park where you can grab a freshly tapped pint. Skyland’s Mountain Taproom serves a handful of local craft beers along with your traditional pub fare.
If you ask me, it’s the ideal place to hang out for a bit after hiking the Stony Man Trail and enjoying a memorable sunset.
Stony Man Trail Details
Distance: 1.6-mile (2.6-kilometer) lariat
Total hiking time: 30 to 60 minutes. The Stony Man Trail is also an interpretive hike; the park has a brochure that highlights the twenty different stops along the way.
Outing duration: 1 to 3 hours, depending on how long you decide to stay. One hour is, in my opinion, the absolute minimum.
Location: MP 41.7 on Skyline Drive. Coming from the north, look for the first sign that says “Skyland”.
Other Scenic Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
- Dark Hollow Falls Trail
- Doyles River-Jones Run Loop
- Turk Mountain Trail
- Trayfoot Mountain-Paine Run Loop