by Denise Stern
Shenandoah National Park is no more than a 90-minute drive from Northern Virginia and with over 516 miles of hiking trails, are an incredible natural destination for local and travelling families alike. Set on the northern edge of the Shenandoah Mountains, one of the Park’s most popular hikes is “Old Rag.” The natural rock scramble, relatively short round trip (5.7 miles) and scenic views make Old Rag not only well travelled, but well loved.
Thinking about hiking Old Rag with your kids? Here are the essentials to know before you go:
Plan your drive…
Since there’s no physical address for “Old Rag Mountain,” using a GPS is not recommended. If you’re like my family and think, “We’ll just click on the directions tab of the website when we get close,” you’ll just end up stopping to ask the locals where you are because there’s no internet access. Dust off that old atlas or sit down and map your route before you go.
But remember this shortcut…
There’s a great shortcut to drive to the beginning of the Old Rag Trail. If you are driving to the mountain through Sperryville (the main town), the main road is F.T. Valley Road (Route 231). About 7 miles after turning onto that road from Sperryville, make a right onto Sharp Rock Road. This takes you right to the beginning of the hike.
If the upper lot is closed or full, you can still drop off…
Old Rag trail actually begins .8 miles above the main park parking lot. There is however, an upper lot that eliminates this pre-hike mileage. Signs may say that the lot is closed or full, but you can still drive up and drop off kids with an adult at the upper lot. This means 1 adult has to drive back down and walk up on their own, but it may be worth cutting off that .8 miles to give kids can have extra energy for the hike.
Keep expectations low….
Old Rag is relatively easy for grown ups, but don’t expect to hike the entire trail with kids under maybe 9 or 10 years old. This depends on your child of course but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s 3 miles uphill with a rock climb at the end.
But keep healthy snack and water rations high...
As you would expect there are no options for food or drink on the trails. And while there are little food shops in Sperryville and the surrounding towns, better to be prepared with healthy snacks and water to keep everyone moving and happy.
Be mindful of the walk down as much as the walk up…
The uphill walk may feel strenuous after a mile or two, but it’s during the walk down that you may want to stay close to your child. Loose rocks and tired legs, combined with naturally going faster downhill may make kids more apt to fall. And while they are not in danger of falling down the trail, they might still get hurt.
GPS and phones don’t work. You can truly unplug!
For more great tips on hiking with kids, please visit Hiking Along and check out their book Best Hike with Kids: Washington D.C., the Beltway and Beyond. Also, for families with 4th graders, remember to take advantage of the National Park Foundation’s Every Kid in a Park campaign for free admission to America’s National Parks!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Denise Stern is a mom of three young children and the CEO and President of Let Mommy Sleep, the premier baby nurse agency in Washington, D.C., offering overnight newborn care and education for parents.
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