Yesterday, I completed the long circuit hike at Old Rag in the Shenandoah National Park. It is one of the most challenging hikes in Virginia and takes much of the day but it is worth it. It remains one of my favorite hikes with truly breathtaking overlooks. In the Fall, Virginia is radiant with different colors and you get the “big picture” on Old Rag.
Depending on your pace, the hike will take 5-7 hours. I like to stop and just listen to the wind in the forest or just gaze out at the panoramic view of the Virginia countryside. (I took almost an hour just lying on the forest floor and looking up at those fire red and blazing yellow trees moving in the mountain winds).
If you do not live here, you need to plan a trip for the Fall. We love living in Virginia, which has (in my humble opinion) the most beautiful Spring and Fall seasons in the country.
The hike is quite challenging at point as you climb over large rocks or through small passages in the rocks. Old Rag makes you pay for the privilege of the incredible view of the summit. Indeed, it plays with your mind with a series of false summits where you think that you have finally made it only to look up and see another rise. When you reach the real summit, most of us are pretty beat (yes, that is a Bears hit and Blackhawks teeshirt. One fellow hiker at the Summit said “I am going to guess that you are from Chicago”).
Last year, I did the hike for the first time and it damn near killed me. It was huge wake up call for me. I had failed to take enough water and I was highly dehydrated. I was also very heavy. As as lifelong hiker, I was shocked and a bit unnerved. I barely finished the long course.
After the hike, I swore that I would return in better shape. I did that yesterday. I lost over 40 pounds in the last year and it made a huge difference even though I was pretty wiped out by the end. I also brought ample water this time.
I strongly recommend doing the trail on a weekday. It takes about an hour and forty minutes to drive to the trail from Washington, D.C. (Your GPS probably will cut out as you enter the country roads, which are themselves gorgeous). It can get very busy on weekend. Unfortunately, now that they have closely the small parking lot at the trailhead, you have to walk roughly a mile to start the hike. I started the hike at the break of dawn and it was amazing.
I strongly encourage you to do this wonderful hike. It is a soul-cleansing, stress-relieving experience. Less than two hours away from the Beltway, it is one of the best hikes that I have taken anywhere in the world.
Here are a few of the many pictures from the hike.