Tag Archives: Shenandoah National Park

Ten Things to Know Before Hiking Old Rag

7 Oct
Old Rag 2

Fall, with all the changing colors, is the best time to hike Old Rag.

There’s no day-hike within driving distance of the DC area that’s more popular than Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah Mountains, and with good reason. The 9-mile loop offers gorgeous views, fun rock scrambles and is challenging yet doable for most fitness levels. It takes about 2 – 2.5 hours to get there and is particularly great in the fall.

1. It can—and will—get crowded. If you’re going on a weekend and it’s nice weather, you’ll want to plan on leaving as early as you can tolerate. There’s one particular place about halfway through that requires a tricky shimmy in between two rocks. I have twice waited a whopping 45 minutes to get through this section. There’s another option, walking around a large bolder, but the ledge is pretty narrow (as is the margin of error).

2. You’ll have to pay for parking. There’s a grass field down the road from the trailhead with a park ranger pay booth. The cost is $8/individual, $15/ car or $30 for an annual pass and, surprisingly, they prefer credit cards. Don’t forget to get a national park stamp if you’re into that sort of thing. Note: There used to be a few parking spots right by the trailhead, but they’re no longer available.

3. Go before you go. There also used to be a port-o-potty right at the trailhead. They got rid of that, so make sure you use the two that are in the parking lot before heading up the road to the trailhead.

4. Bring some cash. On the road walking to/from the trailhead, there’s often someone selling cider or apples. I always regret not having cash on hand to purchase some.

5. Don’t forget to bring the basics. Over the winter my roommate and her friend forgot to bring water on their Old Rag hike. They had to eat snow. So yeah, don’t do that. And bring lunch, snacks and sunscreen too.

One of the trickier (and most fun) sections.

6. Decide where you’re going to eat afterward, beforehand. There’s no question that you’ll want to eat a big meal after the hike. You’ll pass through Sperryville, but the only cheap option is pizza. (Here’s a list of the most current dining options.) Last time I hiked Old Rag, my friends and I had trouble finding a convenient place to eat on our way home, and it was annoying because by that time we were tired and hungry. I advise pre-planning and making a decision on the drive up.

7. Go clockwise. I get so annoyed with hikers who go in a counter-clockwise direction. Most people go clockwise, and so you will be constantly going against traffic if you go the other direction.

8. You will hate your life for the last 45 minutes. Assuming you go clockwise, the last 45 – 60 minutes are down a dirt path. It’s boring and by then I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be over it. Since there’s not actually anything you can do about it, maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up at all … oh well!

9. Beware of bears. The first time I did this hike it was on a weekday and I was by myself. I only saw a few other hikers the entire time. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Luckily, I didn’t see any bears that time, but I saw one on my most recent trip a few yards from the trail.

10. Be realistic. The amount of time this hike takes varies dramatically depending on your fitness level and the number of breaks you take. My roommate took 4 hours while my co-worker, on the same day, took 7.5. If you think you’ll be pretty slow, make sure to bring adequate supplies and leave early enough so you don’t have to worry about the sun setting while you’re still on the mountain.

Want more info? Check out the National Park Service’s Old Rag webpage.

A Quintessential DC Fall

3 Oct

Hosting a pumpkin carving party is a great way to start turning coworkers and acquaintances into friends.

With so many fun DC area events centered around fall, it’s just a shame that there’s only one month to take advantage of them.

Pumpkin Patches
People in DC, especially those with kids, love their pumpkin patches. And what’s not to love? Pumpkins, cider, corn mazes, hay rides, etc.

Cox Farms in Centreville, VA, is the most popular, so be prepared for crowds, especially if you go on a weekend. Also, they say that a pumpkin is included with the cost of admission, but it’ll be one that’s too small to carve, and those that are bigger are generally overpriced, so I suggest buying them elsewhere.

Other festivals include, but are not limited to Butler’s Orchard in Germantown, MD, Sharp’s at Waterford Farm in Howard County, MD, and Burke’s Nursery and Garden Centre in Burke, VA.

Enjoy Fall Colors
Many people head to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to enjoy fall colors. Hiking Old Rag is one of the most popular activities; it takes roughly four and six hours and reveals some gorgeous views. Make note, however, that it can get extremely crowded, so I suggest setting your alarm clock and heading there early. Last fall I had to wait in a line for 45 minutes (that’s not a typo) at the top of the trail to go through a narrow portion. Also, have some cash to pay a nominal parking fee. For those less active-inclined, cruising Skyline Drive is a nice alternative.

A closer and less crowded option is Brookside Botanical Gardens in Wheaton, MD. It’s gorgeous, peaceful and free. And, of course, there’s always the National Arboretum, which is a great place to explore by bike.

Scary Stuff
Nearby amusement parks create a shoulder season by offering Halloween-themed events. Six Flags in Maryland has Fright Fest and King’s Dominion in Virginia promotes its Halloween Haunt.

The National Zoo has its annual Boo at the Zoo, which is a trick-or-treating event. It costs $30 for non-FONZ members.

There’s plenty of haunted houses, hayrides and trails throughout the region. A couple options include Markoff’s Haunted Forest in Poolesville, MD, and Bennett’s Curse in Jessup, MD.

Celebrating Halloween
DC’s Halloween bar hop called Nightmare on M Street is really popular. A true rooky mistake is to go to M Street in Georgetown for this event, as it’s actually in Dupont. And be ready for some serious crowds and long lines at the bars.

Professionals in the City will also be hosting it’s annual Halloween party, Mayhem and Madness, at K Street Lounge.