It’s the “Holy Grail” of mountain day hikes in the greater Washington DC metro area – the one hike, if you haven’t done it, that you have to do: Old Rag Mountain. http://www.hikingupward.com/SNP/OldRag/
While a popular and well used trail, this 8 mile loop hike to the summit of Old Rag provides a spectacular 360 view, not to mention some pretty scenic outcroppings along the way which on any other trail would be considered a worthy summit. Some hikers don’t consider 8 miles “strenuous”, but the main trail up the summit requires some rock-scrambling and challenging squeezes. I’ve seen a few adults almost turn back, but then I have also witnessed 7 year olds scramble right up. So I would rather “strenuous” hikers be disappointed than “easy to moderate” hikers be pissed off at this post.
Old Rag is also unique because while part of the Blue Ridge Mountains and within the bounds of Shenandoah National Park, the uniquely “ragged” topped mountain sits away from the rest of the range, enhancing its views and its sense of isolation. And after literally scrambling to the top, the second half of the loop is a much gentler walk down, much of that on a well maintained fire road.
The trailhead is outside of Sperryville, Virginia between Warrenton and Lurray – about an hour west of the DC beltway. There is backpack camping allowed along parts of the trail, but if you do, you will want to take the popular loop in reverse by walking the fire road up so you can drop your pack before you get to the summit. There is a map at http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/old_rag.htm
Tips for Old Rag:
*Go during the week and preferably before the leaves come in. Views are great anytime of the year, but the view up to the summit from the trail is only visible before the foliage blocks it out.
*Start really early. Besides being 8 miles, it can get a little crowded by late morning, and it’s no fun walking through “nature” in a crowd of strangers.
*Bring a few bucks. There is an $8/person park service charge for those coming by car. (Or for $30, just get the Skyline Drive/ Shenandoah Annual Pass good for 4 people for a year)
Pack food and water. The top is a great place to have lunch and there is no potable water along the route.
And of course, if you go, a suggested wine pairing: Gray Ghost Vineyards in Amissville, VA. http://www.grayghostvineyards.com It’s on the way back on Route 211 before you get into Warrenton. You’ll be a little dusty from the hike and the tasting room is a little upscale, but just march right in like a wealthy Middleburg horseback rider just finishing up a Saturday hunt and you’ll feel right at home. And try the unfiltered Cabernet. Like the hike, you will probably agree – not bad for Virginia.