One of the hikes I’ve wanted to do ever since moving back to Maryland is Old Rag, an iconic hike in Shenandoah National Park. With it’s unique mile-long rock scramble and unobstructed 360-degree views, Old Rag is almost a rite of passage.
Because the loop is 10.5 miles, I couldn’t convince the boys to come with me. Everything I had read about needing to be there early to beat the crowds is exactly correct! After a 2+ hour drive I made it to the parking lot by 7:15 am and it was already 3/4 full. Because the hike is inside the National Park, you do have to pay a fee but it was well worth it.
The hike starts off with some decent elevation gain for the first 3 miles, with a few switchbacks to break it up. Next comes the mile-long rock scramble that takes you up, over, under, around, and through some really cool rock formations, all while still gaining elevation.
Having a very small pack or water bladder is ideal as you squeeze through the rocks. I had a 234-liter day-pack and it was tight some times. You’ll want to have some good flexibility in your clothes as well. My pants were a little tight and I had a blow out about half way through the rocks. #awkward
There are amazing views at several different times through the rock scramble but stopping for too long means you get stuck behind more people at the rocks. This is another reason to get there early as you can lose time waiting in the queue to go through the different rock scrambles.
The summit comes just past the 5 mile mark and the views are fantastic! The elevation is only 3,284′ but it has a 1,355′ prominence over the other peaks in the area. And because the summit is above the treeline if gives you some great views of the Shenandoah.
While the hike up is tough because of the elevation gain and the rock scramble, the rest of the loop is an easy descent that ends with a couple miles on an old fire trail that is really easy! There are some back-country camping sites on the descent but I’m not sure if they’re first-come or if you can reserve them. It looked like there was a Scout troop there.
I did the whole 10.5 mile loop in 5 hours and 5 minutes, including an hour-long lunch break on the summit. I will say that my glutes were sore the next day from all the rocks but other than that it was an amazing hike and I look forward to doing it again. I might even make it an annual tradition if I can fit it on the schedule!