Need a day out of Richmond to get some exercise, sample some of the wilderness, witness some unforgettable views and - if you’re lucky - spot some wildlife?
Hike and scramble your way to the summit of Old Rag Mountain, just a two-hour drive from Richmond in Shenandoah National Park. Catch the panoramic views from the top and you’ll understand why it is the most popular hike in one of the most popular national parks in the country - especially in the fall, with the foliage turning.
Start early: Be advised that if you go on a weekend, it gets crowded. Arrive early to beat the crowd and avoid long waits at trail bottlenecks. You’ll also have a better chance at seeing wildlife such as deer and, more rarely, bears and bobcats early in the morning.
Lot for your money: The 8- to 9-mile hike starts at the Old Rag parking area. Admission is $10 per person, or $20 per vehicle, and is good for seven days throughout the park, including the popular Skyline Drive.
Maps and tips: Walk up the narrow paved road for 0.8 mile to the upper parking lot (closed to the public) where the Ridge Trail, part of a loop, comes in on your left (the loop returns on the fire road to the right), and there is a kiosk with a map and further tips.
Nature's glory: The blue-blazed Ridge Trail is easy to follow. The first couple of miles are wooded with a number of switchbacks. A mile from the top, the trail opens up to views, and you’ll largely be climbing a ridge made of billion-year-old Old Rag granite. Enjoy a break or lunch at the top, but stay out of the roped-off, ecologically fragile areas.
Gentle descent: The descent on the blue-blazed Saddle Trail is much gentler, passing by two shelters before you reach the yellow-blazed Weakley Hollow Fire Road for an easy stroll back to the parking area.
BY THE WAY
• You should be in good physical condition - it’s a long hike with more than 2,000 feet in altitude gain. In some places, there are steep climbs over, around and through the rock formations and large boulders, requiring good upper body strength and flexibility.
• Watch your step, and stay on the trail: There are rattlesnakes, poison ivy and ticks.
• Pets are not allowed, and keep young children close – there are numerous steep drop-offs.
• The National Park Service advises you to bring plenty of water and allow seven to eight hours of daylight.
• For safety tips, see nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/old-rag-hike-prep.htm.
Take Interstate 64 west to the Zion Crossroads exit. Take U.S. 15 north to Gordonsville. At the traffic circle, take U.S. 33 west briefly, then north on state Route 231 to Madison. Continue on Route 231 for 12 to 13 miles - this is one of the most scenic stretches of road in Virginia - and turn left onto state Route 602. Follow the signs for about 3 miles to the parking area.