Old Rag is part of Shenandoah National Park and is considered its most popular hike, but also its most strenuous. Over the years, I have heard people talk about Old Rag, but never really knew much about it. So, when I was trying to plan a challenging hike recently, and it kept popping up in my searches, I decided to start learning more about the hike up Old Rag. I read things like “one of the most impressive mountains in Virginia” and “one of the most popular hikes in the mid-Atlantic region” and “most spectacular mountain in the northern Virginia Blue Ridge”. With all of those accolades, and more, I knew that we had to hike it.
When Natalie had a Friday off of school in mid October, we decided to go for it. We camped in Shenandoah National Park, and while we were there, our plan was to hike Old Rag. We knew that we were in for a long day, but we were all kind of excited about the challenge.
That morning, we drove to the Old Rag parking area, parked and headed off on our adventure around 10:30. (In order to park and climb, you have to pay the park entrance fee in the parking area, if you haven’t paid it already. Because we were at our campsite in the park first, we had already paid the park entrance fee. Also, please note that you can’t access Old Rag from inside the park. If you’re already inside the park, just ask one of the rangers for directions to get there. Otherwise, you can check out this link for directions plus lots more information: http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/old-rag-hike-prep.htm)
The first 8/10th of a mile is a paved road/path to get you to the trailhead.
Before we even reached the trailhead, we couldn’t believe that other people were finishing up the hike. They had started early in the morning to see the sunrise. That was too early for us, at least this time. Our plan was to take the Ridge Trail to the top, then from the summit go down on the Saddle Trail and then join with the Wheatley Hollow Fire Road.
The path started uphill at the very beginning. For about an hour and a half (about 2 miles), the path continued uphill, with some switchbacks. The path had some rocks and roots on the ground, nothing major, but you did have to watch each step.
I like to think that I’m in decent shape, but whenever I start to climb hills (or stairs), I start to breath deeply. And I was breathing deeply on this hike! It was challenging. We stopped briefly a couple of times for a snack and a drink. The breaks really rejuvenated us, even though we kept them short.
After that first leg, we came to the fun part—the rocky scramble. It was fun, but challenging in it’s own way. There were some places where you really had to work together to get up and over a rock. We spent plenty of time on our bottoms, sliding down some rocks, or ducking past others,
or even crawling on all fours to make it up and through.
The path is well marked, but to move forward you sometimes have different options such as going around one rock or over another one or through a certain way. At one point, the path that I took got very narrow, and as I sucked everything in, I just hoped that I was thin enough to get through.
Sterling and Natalie were smarter and decided to go a different way.
At another point in the rocky scramble, I fell and hurt my knee and leg—but luckily we had some Advil and I was able to continue on. Unfortunately, my knee still hurts two weeks later!
The rock scramble is about 2 miles as well. Along the way, there are several points where you think you’ve reached the summit, but if you don’t see a sign, you haven’t reached the summit yet.
After about three and a half hours, as I remember, we reached the summit. YAY!! We were so happy to be there.
We had been saving our lunch until we reached the top (you have to have something to keep you motivated sometimes to keep moving and food seems to always work for us ☺), so we were especially happy to finally be there since it was about 2:00, and we were hungry. It was a great feeling to sit on the rocks at the summit, eating our lunch and enjoying the beautiful view of Shenandoah National Park. (Although I think I would have enjoyed it more if we didn’t still have to hike back down!)
After about a half hour resting and eating lunch on the summit, we decided to head back down. Our trip down was similar to the first part of our trail heading up.
We hiked a couple of miles along the Saddle Trail until it joined the Weakley Hollow Trail for about the last three miles. This trail was probably the hardest for Natalie, because there was no challenge, and it seemed to never end. It certainly didn’t help that her toes were really sore! With that said, it was a very smooth, wide easy trail though.
About six hours after we started our journey, we finally made it back to our car. We were a little sore, thirsty and tired. As we were driving away, we were trying to remember other times when getting in the car felt so good.
Am I ready to hike Old Rag again anytime soon? I’m not sure yet. But we all commented that we were happy that we had decided to do such a hard thing, and we finished it; we all felt such a sense of accomplishment. Besides, we now have another adventure to add to our list of unforgettable memories.