Stony Man Trail, Shenandoah NP

Key information: Stony Man Trail, Shenandoah NP

  • A shadow dappled and beautiful trail to Stony Man overlook in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. 
  • Hannah Middlebrook's account of this walk was a Walkopedia Travel Writing Competition 2011 winner! 

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating75
  • Beauty30
  • Natural interest15
  • Human interest2
  • Charisma28
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating75

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Variable
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable



Congratulations to Hannah Middlebrook for her piece on walking here, which won our under 18s 2011 Travel Writing Competition. Thank you, Hannah, for bringing this walk to our attention!

Oh Shenandoah

The Shenandoah is a park that is dear to my heart, because I grew up on that land. I was raised by the trails. When I was little my parents would take me into the woods and let me explore. They said it was character building, but all that really meant was that it was free exercise.

Sometimes we would go to waterfalls or to overlooks, but my favorite trail was the one that led to the Stony Man. The trail itself wasn't particularly special or terribly long by any standards, but to my young mind it was an enchanting marathon.

When I asked my parents why the trail was named the Stony Man they told me that it was because, from afar, the profile of the mountain looks just like a man. I could see that, but I couldn't accept it as the full explanation. I told them that it was probably because a man had gotten stuck in the mountain; I told them that he committed crimes against the queen of the realm, and that a fairy had probably trapped him as punishment.

I then told them that the trees would probably know the whole story, so they told me to run ahead and go ask the trees with my younger sister. However, she was too young to understand the gravity of our mission, so I took it upon myself.

It was then that I learned to scamper far in front of my parents so that I could have secret communion with the rocks and trees. I asked the trees about the story, and naturally they confirmed all of my musings. It then occurred to me that, since I had nothing else to ask, I could tell my own personal stories to the inhabitants of the trail.

The rules of the park told me that I could not take anything from the trails, and that rule I fully respected. However, I had never heard any rules about giving things to the beings that inhabited the trails already.

From then on the trees and the rocks became my confidantes. Every time we would go to the trails I would find some new tale to let them hear. I would always bring the latest gossip, and they would listen eagerly.

To this day the rocks which rest on the Stony Man Trail whisper my stories to all who walk upon them. I was never under the illusion that my secrets would remain safe; even as I confided in the stones I knew my friends weren't great at keeping secrets, but it was not for keeping that I told them.

When the babbling brook caught wind that there was a new story it would beg to hear it from the trees. The brook is vain, and cannot stand being out of the loop. Of course, when it comes to secret keeping trees are no better than rocks; they will never keep your secrets, but they will remember them until the end of time. Each ring in the trunk of a tree represents the secrets that it holds, because trees never forget.

My parents frequently told me that while on the trail it is pertinent to follow the markings on each of the trees, but I could never seem to follow the beaten path. The leaves rustled and called to me; they lived by the air from the highest altitudes, and I wanted to live by that air as well.

So I followed the wind, and I listened to nature, and I lived through each branch and each leaf. I used to think I was born a transcendentalist, but I think it was what the woods taught me.

On the way to the Stony Man there are overlooks and waterfalls; even without the markers I always came across them. To my mind the overlooks were the most captivating sights on Earth. Just like the waterfalls they are powerful, yet delicate, but waterfalls are not as deadly. Each overlook represents the balance between human life and death, because one step into the magnificence would end it all.

The landscape is immaculate, but it is jealous; it will let no one step into its horizon and come out alive.

Waterfalls, on the other hand, are welcoming. Though the icy water feels like a rain of knives, it somehow rekindles life in its victim. When I was small I would rush under the current and come out feeling like I had been given a new life; like I had gone through the ringer and come out with a brand new perspective.

I couldn't get any human to understand this sentiment, so I told the rocks and the trees. I didn't need to tell the waterfall; naturally she understood.

Upon reaching the overlook of Stony Man himself, I would sit graciously upon his old withered head and ask him about his experiences. He never responded, but I think it was because he was so bitter about his life. I always reasoned that I would be too, so I never pressed the issue. However, I could always feel his energy.

As I sat upon his head, and looked out into the unknown, I focused my little being entirely on feeling his energy. I wanted nothing more than to let the nature teach me; I wanted nothing more than to be changed by the outdoors.

To me, a hike is never simply a hike. It is a time to learn; it is a time to grow and to question. Nature is able to teach everyone; in fact, she wants nothing more than to tell her stories. The trees and the rocks are bursting with secrets and tales that they have accumulated over the years; they want nothing more than someone who will listen.

The people who cannot take a day, a moment, to dive into the fresh, cold air that the mountains offer are losing out on one of the greatest experiences available to mankind.

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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

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