Get running fast at Thornton Gap by running to Mary's Rock from the Panorama Parking Lot. This heavily traveled route starting from the large parking area just south of the entrance to Skyline Drive offers a beautiful 360-degree view from the rocks at the summit after a moderate 1.9-mile run up a rocky trail. Out and back, return the way you came for a total of 3.8 miles.
Need to Know
Handicap accessible bathrooms at the Panorama parking area.
After entering Skyline Drive at the Thornton Gap entrance and heading south, one immediately comes to the Panorama parking lot on the right just across state route 211. With accessible running-water bathrooms it's a popular stopping point for people coming from distance before heading to their destination further along the Drive.
With access to the AT and Mary's Rock from the parking lot, it's also one of the busiest destinations along Skyline Drive, since it's the first trail access after getting on the Drive southbound. I think that adds some "spur of the moment" runners who may not have planned a particular destination but just decided to "head up to Skyline Drive".
If you want to get running as soon as possible, this is it! There is also room for larger groups to meet up at Panorama. You definitely won't be alone on this trail, especially on weekends, but the parking lot is large enough to handle the crowd.
The run up the AT is fairly smooth at first but becomes fairly rocky after a few switchbacks. With leaves on the trees there are few points with a view along the way, although you can hear the traffic on 211. The trail is a steady upward climb at an intermediate running level, nothing too dramatic until you come to the big boulders at the summit. There is plenty of room for a couple dozen runners at the top, with many vantage points and higher rocks to climb up. Please be careful.
Shared By: J H