We leave D.C. early in hopes of beating the crowds of hikers who swarm the trail by mid morning. Old Rag may be the most popular hiking destination in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but for good reason. The challenging Ridge Trail starts with grueling switchbacks. We're rewarded at the end of the set with breathtaking overlooks. From here, the trail becomes rocky and steep.
After every scramble we do over the mountain's slick granite surface, I insist we stop for a photo op and enjoy the increasingly beautiful sweeping panoramas of the Shenandoah. Soon we encounter several narrow passages and tricky cracks that require some fancy footwork and climbing. These are the spots that become clogged with lines of visitors during peak hours.
We're almost at the top and have worked up an appetite, but we know lots of people will be congregating at the summit. Instead, we find a quiet, sheltered spot on a cliff where we eat lunch and admire the hawks soaring over the forest valley.
TIP: Arrive before 9 am on weekends or visit during weekdays to avoid the Disney-like crowds. Drive is 90 to 120 minutes from D.C. metro area. Circuit is 9 miles and can be physically strenuous.
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Shenandoah National Park - Old Rag Mountain
The spectacular views atop Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park are worth the extremely strenuous scramble to the top. But be warned, this hike is quite popular, so it is a much busier trail. The earlier you go, the less likely you are to follow right behind another group. The upside of its popularity is that you are less likely to encounter bears that are frequently seen on other trails in the Shenandoah Valley.
One beautiful spring day in 1978 I made it to this point on Old Rag with intent to do my first rappel. They fitted me into a Swiss seat and talked me over. A bit less than 10 minutes I had descended maybe 5 feet. My hubby was beside me "encouraging (nagging was more like it) me to hurry and go down. Well I did and then was told to go down once more and I did and got the hang of it and after that it was down/up until I was told not to hog the rope!