on April 15, 2009
Hiking Old Rag is a day trip out of DC. This is really more for DC residents or the frequent/jaded DC traveler with a whole day (and a car) to spend as you please. If you enjoy hiking though, I CANNOT recommend this day-trip enough. The primary hike that most people do on Old Rag is a circuit of about 8 miles. I'd say 65% of the hike is a standard switchback trail, but the other 35% around the rocky summit are scrambles. Scrambling is just what it sounds like - scrambling over rocks. It's not really rock climbing, but more often than not you will be using all four limbs to scuttle between tight spaces, pull yourself up onto a boulder, etc. Given the scrambling, you should be fit and, at minimum, be moderately familiar with hiking. It’s not a walk-in-the-woods-never-been-hiking-in-my-life excursion. However, I have taken friends out who don't really hike, but who are generally into sports and exercising. At an easy pace with plenty of stops for water and to gawk at the views (you reach over 3,000 feet in elevation) you can do it in 4 to 5 hours. Old Rag is crazy popular. I've been there early on a chilly February, president's day Monday and the parking lot right by the trail head is full (there's two parking lots, the other one is just a quarter mile away from the trail head). On a gorgeous fall or spring day, you won't be able to go a minute without seeing someone on the trail, which, quite frankly, is not preferable. So come super-duper early and/or in the middle of the work week. Common sense, do not try to hike when its really cold or hot or when there is likely precipitation - rain, snow, ice will make the scrambles absurdly dangerous. It's somewhat tricky getting to Old Rag the first time. Yes, Google maps produces directions when you type in DC to Old Rag. However, the dead end road the directions take you too is marked with a wooden sign "GOOGLE IS WRONG" which should be pretty obvious since the base of the mountain is still some distance away. Fear not, Google does not lead you astray - in fact, those directions are a good base. Where the Google directions end in Sperryville just pick up with the NPS directions from Sperryville to the parking area. Those directions are on the second page of this NPS guide: http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/upload/old_rag_area.pdf. Oh, and it's just under two hours to get there from DC. There's a small park service fee per car at the main parking lot. Every time I've been there, no one enforces it. It's on your honor though, and the fee helps to maintain the quality of the trails (note the handy trail markers on the scrambles pointing out the safest route). Pack a lunch and snacks. Take lots and lots of water (two big bottles per person even when it’s not hot). Bring a camera. When you start getting close to the top and you're starting the scrambles, the panoramic views will make you gasp.
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