Fall On The Old Rag

IMG_1540Yesterday, 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.





















29 thoughts on “Fall On The Old Rag”

  1. We have some awesome hikes around here, near Seattle, but this one looks like a real challenge and beautiful.

  2. That 2200′ rock scramble is a bear indeed — or so I’m told. Never did one but patiently waited for some fraternity brothers to finish one up. They took no water but we were somehow able to scrounge around and find them something to drink. They felt fine after that. Come to think of it, so did we.

    BTW a trip through a snowy Goshen Pass in the wintertime will convince you we have the prettiest winters, too.


  3. Shenandoah National Park is my favorite place in all the world.

    I MISS the flame of fall colors, and that particularly vibrant, almost glowing green that you just cannot find out west in the gray greens of coniferous forests.

    You are so lucky, Professor Turley! Enjoy. 🙂

  4. Congrats on the weight loss. Eating less and exercising more is the way you lose weight and keep it off. It is a lifestyle change, not a diet that is the only way to lose weight and keep it off. And, the endorphins from exercise keeps you wanting to do more. It appears the trip to Italy was an epiphany for “living in the moment.” Laying on the forest floor for an hour is downright Walden Pond like.

  5. I’ve always enjoyed your ‘work’ and knew there was something more that I liked about you. As I read one sentence it became clear for me as to why. You wrote, “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.” I get it –and thank you for sharing this!

  6. It’s wonderful to see Old Rag through your words and photographs. I visited some of the more accessible portions of the park last week, and was reminded that it is a great natural resource. I would not go again on a weekend, though. Getting through the streets of Front Royal to the park entrance took more than an hour. By then, the sun was setting, but I was not disappointed. The hills were awash in pastel hues of blue, purple, orange and gold, and deer were coming out from their hiding places. What a treat!

  7. You set a pretty high lifestyle standard – in Italy one day, on TV the next, early morning spectacular hikes, teaching, staying on top of news events, managing and writing for a widely followed blog, impressive photography skills, family, kids, and pets – seems like a very full life and a great model for your kids and students.

  8. Beautiful, but with my luck in the outdoors, I’d try to crawl through/around the boulder blocking the rock wall path when it would complete its descent, smooshing me.

  9. Good for you JT on the weight loss and completing the walk in better shape. And thanks for sharing the awesome views.

  10. Old rage this time of year is an awesome hike, but like you said it will kick your a** if your not in top shape.

    I did it almost exactly two years ago.

  11. It’s also worth noting that places like the Old Rag are under attack in Congress, which has voted to alter the very meaning of wilderness. wilderness cannot be opened up to resource extraction or licensed to commercial interests if it is to remain for future generations to enjoy.

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