Buck Ridge/ Buck Hollow and Mary’s Rock Loop Hike
This weekend we went hiking on one of our favorite loop trails in Shenandoah National Park to Mary’s Rock. The loop is 9.4 miles. We have done this hike three times.
The hike starts from the Buck Ridge Trailhead parking lot just outside Sperryville, VA. You walk down a connector trail for 0.2 miles that passes over Thornton River. At this time of year the water flows are relatively low. When we hiked here back in February the water was not only high, but the stones were also icy. The conditions looked so bad at the time that we tried to find another place to cross the river, but that didn’t work out. We ended up crossing at the usual point.
Wildflowers Near the Trailhead
Before the river crossing is a small meadow with lots of wildflowers. At this time of year we saw Fall Phlox, Bouncing Bet, and Woodland Sunflowers.
Bouncing Bet, Soapwort, or Saponaria officinalis, is a member of the Pink family (Caryophyllaceae) and blooms from June to September. Introduced from Europe, it can be found throughout North America. This flower favors roadsides and disturbed areas. Soapwort’s crushed foliage can create a soapy froth when agitated in water because the plant contains saponin. “Bouncing Bet” is an old-fashioned nickname for a washerwoman.
Fall Phlox, Garden Phlox, or Phlox paniculata, is a member of the Phlox family (Polemoniaceae) and blooms July to October. It can be found in the eastern and central United States in open woods and thickets. They bloom white to pink, or lavender. I loved this one that was purple with a pink circle rimming the inside.
Buck Ridge Trail
Soon after crossing the river you come to a cement post. The first time we hiked here we met a group of Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) volunteers doing maintenance work near the post and they recommended hiking up Buck Ridge first and coming down Buck Hollow due to their respective inclines/declines. Each time we’ve hiked here, we’ve followed their advice.
Turning right onto Buck Ridge Trail, you soon meet a steep incline.
The strenuous climb lasts for about 20 minutes. The upside (besides a good workout) – the forest in this area is beautiful! The trees are tall, evenly sized, and have a lot of open air between them.
The Ornate-stalked Bolete, or Reiboletus ornatipes, is a member of the Boletaceae family of fungi. It grows under hardwoods in eastern North America.
Along Buck Ridge Trail, which is 2.6 miles long, we encountered several wildflowers.
Starry Campion, or Silene stellata, is a member of the Carnation family (Caryophyllaceae) and blooms June to September. It favors open woods. A native plant, it grows in central and eastern North America. This wildflower is pollinated by butterflies and many kinds of moths.
Along Buck Ridge we encountered a couple types of Goldenrod.
Sweet Goldenrod, Anise-scented Goldenrod, or Solidago odora, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms July to September. It favors dry fields and open woods. A native wildflower, it grows in eastern and south-central North America. The crushed leaves of Sweet Goldenrod give off a anise scent. A tea can be brewed from its leaves and dried flowers.
Zigzag Goldenrod, Broadleaf Goldenrod, or Solidago flexicaulis, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms July to September. Native to eastern North America, this wildflower grows in rich woods and thickets. These flowers attract both bees and butterflies.
Connecting to Mary’s Rock
Buck Ridge Trail connects with Hazel Mountain Trail and you walk another 0.4 miles to reach Skyline Drive and the Meadow Spring Parking Lot. In order to get to Mary’s Rock, you have to cross the road, hike 0.7 miles along Meadow Spring Trail, turn right onto the Appalachian Trail and walk for another 0.7 miles to reach the summit. Some parts of this path are a bit strenuous, especially if you’ve been climbing uphill from the bottom, but it is well worth the effort. Mary’s Rock is a popular hike for families with children, too.
Cankerweed, Lion’s Foot, Snakeweed, Earthgall, Butterweed, or Prenanthes serpentaria, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms August to October. A native wildflower, it grows throughout the eastern U.S. We found a few of these growing along Meadow Spring Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
After a couple hours of steady uphill hiking, we reached the summit view at Mary’s Rock. The weather was gorgeous, with swift breezes hinting at the start of autumn. We ate our sandwiches and basked in the sun for about half an hour before it was time to head back home.
On the way back, you shuttle down the way you came until Skyline Drive. After crossing Skyline Drive and heading to the same entrance point you came through before, you take a left onto Buck Hollow Trail. The decline can be steep at times and is constant. Our leg muscles were shaking by about halfway down. Buck Hollow Trail continues for 2.7 miles, followed by the 0.2 mile connector to the parking lot.
Recommended as a Strenuous Hike
There are many reasons to love this loop trail. The hike is moderately tough, but provides a variety of forest, river, and mountain viewpoints that make the effort worth it. It remains one of my favorite hikes in Shenandoah National Park.