Why? Along with fewer folks out on the trails, winter in the Southern Appalachians brings the year's clearest distant views. The lack of leaf cover often reveals things you otherwise might not see during the summer hiking season, among them, the rock fence lines of old homesteads that existed long before these parks were established. Sure, it likely will be colder in the winter months than in July and
August, but you can deal with that by dressing in layers and shucking
them as need be.
In Shenandoah National Park, one of the hikes recommended by the Shenandoah National Park Trust is up Little Stony Man, and you can even continue on to the 4,011-foot summit of Stony Man itself.
There are two parking areas you can take advantage of. Near Milepost 39 of the Skyline Drive you'll find a parking area for the Little Stony Man trailhead. For a shorter hike, one that just heads up Stony Man without the hike to Little Stony Man, there's parking about 41.5 miles along the drive, close to Skyland.
Here are some instructions provided by the park trust for this adventure:
To get started, park in the Little Stony Man parking lot on the west side of Skyline Drive at milepost 39.1. Take the trail uphill a few yards and turn left onto the Appalachian Trail. The climb to Little Stony Man Cliffs is short—less than a half mile—and at the top you will be rewarded with views of Skyline Drive winding through the woods. If the sky is clear, you’ll have a beautiful view of Page Valley and Lake Arrowhead. And if you look to the south, you’ll see how Stony Man got its name: once you picture the nose of Stony Man, the forehead, eye, mouth and beard will soon appear.
To continue on to the Stony Man summit, pay close attention to the cement trail markers and follow the arrows to the summit. After crossing the cliffs, the grade of the trail moderates. At around the 1.3 mark, the Appalachian Trail crosses the blue-blazed Stony Man loop trail. The right side of the trail includes an interpretive nature trail. If you pick up a brochure at Skyland before your hike, you can read information coinciding with a series of numbered markers along the way.
When you get to the summit of Stony Man, you will be looking out over the town of Luray in the Shenandoah Valley below, with Massanutten Mountain and the Alleghenies beyond. To return, take the blue-blazed trail straight ahead to finish the loop, then retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
As with any winter hike in Shenandoah, be prepared: call the park at 540-999-3500 and press 1 and then 1 to make sure Skyline Drive is open. And when you head out, bring plenty of food, water, warm clothes and blankets; leave an itinerary with someone; and take along the park’s emergency phone number: 800-732-0911.