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  • Writer's pictureTim Murphy

Trail Trials: Old Rag

In the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, located just outside of Sperryville, VA, stands one of the most impressive and tallest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range: Old Rag! This spot has a reputation of being one of the most exhilarating hikes in Virginia, and deservedly so. It was probably one of the most physically-taxing hikes I've experienced, but it was totally worth it. In my 15 years living in Virginia, I cannot believe I haven't taken the time to do this before.

Overlook near Rock Scramble

The parking lot for Old Rag is about 3/4 of a mile away from the trail head itself. Despite the location being off the beaten path, you'd be surprised at the number of cars there. You will also be surprised at the parking fee...$20 for two people! I definitely feel that due to the popularity of the site, the NPS inflated their usual park prices. While it is a lot, all of the funds go to trail maintenance and protection. Also, the hike itself is worth way more than any fee you might pay.

There are numerous trails to Old Rag and surrounding destinations. I hiked the most-used trail, the Circuit, which is a 9-mile loop to the peak and back. The hike started off like most others, a steady but not too strenuous incline on a wooded trail. After about two miles, the trail gets steeper and vegetation starts to thin out. That's when you realize how high up you are, and you're not even halfway there yet!

Next comes the Rock Scramble, my favorite feature of the site! The foot path all but disappears and hikers are left to navigate the boulders and rock outcrops on their own with only the hash marks to guide them. There are some magnificent formations to see along the way, with plenty of views and photo ops to go along with them! I loved how I had the opportunity to blaze my own trail to get from Point A to Point B. I definitely went a little "American Ninja Warrior" to get across the rocks, squeezing through tight crevasses, leaping over gaps, and climbing over massive rock formations, all of which are plentiful along the ridge line.

Since this place is so big, it doesn't seem like many people are on the trail, despite its popularity among hikers in the state. I'm sure that on the day I went, there were probably 40-50 cars in the parking lot and over 100 people on the trail at once. However, I didn't run into that many people and there were plenty of nice spots to rest and take pictures.

Part of the Rock Scramble

After about an hour fooling around on the rocks, I finally reached the summit at the end of the ridge. The peak is 3,291 feet above sea level, which is pretty high up there. You can see for nearly 100 miles into the valley...maybe even more! The conditions for my hike--78 degrees and low humidity--provided an excellent view at the top. I really couldn't have asked for a better day.

It is a little less than four miles to the top. The way back down to complete the loop is a little over five. I ended up walking close to twelve miles that day, which took about five hours to complete. If you live within a four hour driving radius of Old Rag and haven't gone yet, you're doing yourself a disservice. Take the time, make a day trip out of it, and experience this hike! It is my personal favorite to date. However, I must say this is not the place for inexperienced hikers. Make sure you are conditioned to walk and climb the distance of the trail and that you are able to navigate the Rock Scramble. And finally, do not go alone! It's safer that way and much more fun!

I encourage you all to try Old Rag some day soon! And if any of you hike Old Rag or other trails and want to send in a Trail Trial review for the site, please send me a copy and I'll put it on! Thanks for reading everyone!

View from the Summit


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