SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
RAINY DAY CAMPING + OLD RAG MOUNTAIN HIKE
Nicole Loyd | February 1, 2020
Garrett and I tend to plan our trips in great length, but our trip to Shenandoah National Park was a little more impromptu. Since this park isn’t as far away as others we have traveled to, we decided to make a quick weekend of it. The cold of winter days seemed to be dragging out forever and we were both going a little stir crazy being cooped up in the house.
Even though the sun was setting on us, we decided to take the longer scenic route through Skyline Drive into the park so that we could catch the last glimpse of evening color. We ended up having to take our time going up the mountain and through the hills. Pulling a camper (even one as small as ours) through these hills was proving to be a little tedious. Plus, after traveling all day we both started to feel a little carsick from the constant winding of the roads.
Once we made it to the first look out point, it proved to be more than worth it. Even though Shenandoah isn’t one of the most spectacular national parks out there, it still seems to offer its own kind of quiet beauty that makes you stop and say “wow”. The Blue Ridge Mountains definitely lived up to their name. You can read more about the Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains here. As the sun went down this beautiful bluish hue suddenly rose from the horizon, this beautiful display definitely showed how these mountains got their name.
Unfortunately, we could not stay as long as we wanted to since we still needed to get to our site and set up camp. Even though setting up our camper is pretty simple and could actually be done by one person if needed, it’s always much easier getting things put together when it is still daylight out. We both hopped back in our jeep and made our way to the campground.
We ended up not making it to camp before the sunset, but since we have gotten so good at working as a team to get our camp set up we were able to get things together and head to bed early. The 6 Hour drive from Ohio to Virginia had made us more tired than we realized. Even though we didn’t have any set plans for the next day we were happy to finally be settled in and get some rest.
We woke up the next morning and tried to go for a short hike to a waterfall however, it did not go very well at all. It was a chilly rainy April day in the deep woods. I had twisted my knee on a rock and to top it all off we forgot to put cards in our camera. I’m going to be honest; I had a slight mental breakdown (classic Nicole) and decided to just turn around and go back to the camper. Rainy day camping is one thing, but cold rainy hiking is another!
Once we finally got back, we changed into warm dry clothes, Garrett made me some soup and grilled cheese, and we opened up the laptop to watch Forrest Gump since we had it downloaded. What started out as a rocky cold day ended up being one of my favorite memories from the trip. Rainy day camping can sometimes be the best.
After lunch, we didn’t do much else outside that day since all it did was rain even harder. We decided to do pull out our game of Yahtzee and listen to the movie Up play in the background. This combination of board games and movies has become somewhat of a camping tradition for Garrett and I. Anytime we are unable to leave the camper due to weather or just because we are too tired to do anything else, this seems to be our go to activity for lazy days. Since weather conditions can only be so predictable, we always like to pack rainy day camping things no matter what trip we go on!
We went to bed as early as possible that night because we had a big hike ahead of us the next morning. We try to plan at least one really big hike per trip so that we can check it off of our list. The next morning, we got up around 5 AM and drove to the Old Rag Mountain trailhead.
The trailhead to the Summit of Old Rag Mountain is actually located outside the main area of the park, but there is a park entrance station located in the parking lot (so there's no getting around paying your park fee). Once we got to the parking lot it was surprisingly full, it was a beautiful spring morning and it seems lots of people were excited to take this hike. We definitely recommend getting up early for this one.
The Old Rag Mountain hike can be summed up into 3 sections:
1. Paved Road
2. MANY switchbacks
3. Lots & lots of scrambling
The first 0.4 miles of the Old Rag Mountain hike is on a paved road. It gets a little boring walking up hill a semi residential road for what feels like forever. But one really cool thing we passed a small section of bamboo trees. Yes, you read that right. It was obvious someone had planted them there to give themselves some privacy from the road, but it was still really cool!
Once we got off of the road, we hit a rocky, forested trail and the steepness of the hike started to increase. Then we came upon nine switch backs going back and forth up the mountain. After doing half of the switchbacks, I felt pretty stupid complaining about hiking on the road! However, once we got up the winding trail, we arrived at the first lookout point. Stopping to rest at this lookout definitely gave us the motivation to go the rest of the way and had us looking forward to the summit.
After moving on from the lookout point, we started scrambling. For those of you who don’t know what kind of scrambling I am referring to, its rock scrambling. It is pretty much a mix between hiking, hillwalking, mountaineering, and rock climbing! I honestly think it was one of the more intense hikes we have had to do. If you have very weak upper body strength like I do, definitely make sure you have someone with you that is able to help you get up the boulders. Also make sure you are comfortable with tight spaces and heights. What is crazy about scrambling up Old Rag Mountain is that is goes back and forth between those two so quickly it’s a really interesting experience!
Even though your feet are aching from the rocky trails, your hands are burning from pulling yourself up the boulders, and your butt is covered in mud from scooting through tight spaces, the views at the top are well worth it all. We would highly recommend the Old Rag Mountain hike to anyone that is up for a beautiful, woodsy, Virginia adventure! Overall, Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful place to see and we cannot wait until we are able to go again!