This week I turn 27 and, predictably, all I wanted for my birthday was to go for a long hike in the mountains. Since we moved to Virginia we have spent considerably less time in the mountains, mostly due to there being much fewer mountains in Virginia than Oregon, but I knew there had to be some kind of a good, challenging hike out there. Thanks to AllTrails, I discovered the 9-mile Old Rag Mountain Trail in Shenandoah National Park and we left our apartment in Arlington around 8 AM to drive West to the soft, old peaks of Shenandoah.
Old Rag is categorized as a "difficult" hike due to the nearly 2,500 ft of elevation gain spread throughout the 9-miles and the section of rock scrambling along the ridge of the hike. I was stoked - we hadn't done a hike with more than a couple hundred feet of elevation gain since we got to Virginia, and I was missing the views and exhilaration that came from making that ascent. We definitely got those views, and those leg burns, but what we weren't expecting were the crowds that came along with hiking on one of the only trails of its kind for hundreds of miles.
After the initial ascent to the ridgeline we came across a long line of folks, queued up as if we were waiting for the grocery store checkout. I peeked around the bend to better understand why they were lined up - was there some cool wildlife around the corner? Was it a line for a lookout point that everyone wanted to take photos of or with? More importantly, was it a line we could skip? Unfortunately, the answer to all of those questions was no - it was the line for the first of many rock scrambles along the ridgeline that caused this trail to be rated as difficult.
We ended up waiting in various lines as people bottlenecked at the entrance to the scrambles, but luckily we had some stunning vistas to enjoy while waiting - it was peak fall leaf color and the hills were vibrant orange, red, and yellow. Once we finally got past all of the scrambles we enjoyed lunch at the summit and a much shorter, steeper descent - at which point my knees reminded me that I really need to be doing so many more squats and lunges if I want to do this kind of a hike again anytime soon.
So, I could not recommend Old Rag enough but if you plan to go during peak seasons, be prepared to wait in line, get a little muddy, do some funky scrambling and be treated to some amazing views.