Hiking Old Rag Mountain

For Michigan’s (very early) Spring Break, I went to Virginia with my friends Sam and David. Besides visiting Washington D.C., an experience I particularly enjoyed was hiking the Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. This trail is around 9 miles long, with a standard hike in the beginning and end legs, and a very fun middle portion called the Rock Scramble.

It was actually quite windy up at the top

The ascent is pretty typical for a trail, if a little steep. We had to take quite a few breaks in the beginning. David was a little more out of shape, so we assigned him the safe words “chicken nuggets” to differentiate his laziness complaining from actual exhaustion. In high school, I was a swimmer and Sam ran track, but now we were all EECS students that exercised less than we should (read: some cardio once a week. Maybe.) This was probably the most difficult part emotionally. We constantly examined our slow progress: “How the heck are we going to get past the rock scramble and 6 more miles of hiking?”

Rock Scramble

Did you see that strategic foot placement?

Those thoughts all went away at the Rock Scramble. From there, it was one fun obstacle to overcome after another, and nothing else mattered. Each climb had to be planned out and executed as individual puzzles, and completing each portion felt significant towards climbing the mountain as a whole. It would have been nice to have some gloves to help grip the rocks, but climbing equipment was not really needed. I think that’s what makes Old Rag great. It’s mentally stimulating and provides a challenge, but isn’t ever truly dangerous, and it’s a good first step up from your “typical” hike.

Reaching the top was one of the more rewarding experiences I’ve had in a while. A major part of that was literally climbing to the top and being rewarded with an amazing view. When I was growing up, my parents would take me hiking, and I would mostly just complain a lot. Taking ownership of my own hiking experience allowed me to begin to appreciate the rewards of hiking as an activity.

Sam enjoying the view near the top of Old Rag Mountain


If our experiences at Old Rag sound like your kind of thing, here is some advice:

  • Be careful! The trail isn’t that dangerous (in my opinion), but there are some challenging areas where you can get hurt. David messed up one of his landings and thankfully only slightly twisted his ankle. Getting hurt any more will make getting out of the Rock Scramble area difficult, so watch out.
  • Wear grippy shoes. Sam had some worn out running shoes and he had a bit of a hard time on some rocks. My Converse IIs worked pretty well. Also, consider getting some grippy gloves.
  • Go during a good time. We went in the late February during a weekday. The trail was basically empty, and the temperature was a very pleasant 45 degrees.
  • Bring friends, food and water and take some time to relax and enjoy the view!

For more detailed advice and information, visit the Official Site.