Greetings! This guest blog is brought to you by a bucket-list-crossing, hiking-stick-adventuring, recently-uprooted-native-Texan who is learning to adapt to her new place of residence: the beautiful state of Virginia.
My heart will always belong in Texas—God’s country where the sunset can stretch for miles without a single hill inhibiting your view—but the effortlessly tall trees that separate the highways and the ever rewarding, breathtaking hikes within just an hour or two’s drive have made it just a tad easier to cope.
Due to the fact that my home state could not water and tend my love for the hike-able outdoors, I was bursting at the seams when I arrived to Virginia. Without any warning to my ever-patient husband, I would flash my laptop in front of his face, declaring the “Top 16 Hikes In Virginia,” squeaky voiced and all. To imagine that all 16 of them were within an afternoon’s drive just blew my mind.
Until I stood atop the highest peak of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
That blew my mind.
The Shenandoah Valley
First off, the Valley has a million and one places to visit, things to see, and how to see them: by boat, on foot, atop a horse, or the best way—in my humble, bucket-list-crossing opinion—by hot air balloon.
As for the husband and I (him being a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps), we always jump at the chance to enjoy the outdoors on foot, see some beautiful sights and get a nice little workout all at the same time. And let me tell you, the Valley can give you a workout. The most popular hike in the Shenandoah Valley, and rightfully so, is Old Rag Mountain. The 9-mile circuit hike induces sweat and sore muscles, but is wondrously enticing with its 3,291-foot summit elevation and adrenaline-pumping rock scrambles. And don’t get me started on the view, because I already told you, it blew my mind.
Mesh Know: Don’t confuse its popularity for ease… while the young and old can do it, each hiker should be prepared with at least two quarts of water and ankle-supporting, sturdy shoes. Children are definitely welcome, but will likely need assistance throughout the rock scramble as some of the points may be hard to reach. However, in other places, you’re going to be envious of their small bodies fitting effortlessly through the tight spots.
The hike is largely uphill the first mile or two, but eventually evens out and slumps downward just when you think your legs are already about to give up. The path is wide with plenty of trees and boulders bordering it, perfect for rest breaks and simply steadying yourself. At various points throughout the hike, there are outlooks that provide great views of the valley, but if you have a limited amount of film on your camera, save those gigabytes for the summit!
Mesh Know: If you do bring your camera, be sure to tuck it safely into a backpack or other carrying bag to protect from banging against any of the boulders during the rock scrambles.
If you were as confused, but deliriously intrigued, as I was about this often repeated phrase “rock scramble”, let me try to explain. A rock scramble is basically a mountainous Chuck E. Cheese for hikers. The balloon pit is substituted for a myriad of oddly shaped rocks all jumbled together that you must sift through, climb over and often, crawl under. The plastic tunnels are replaced by cool, rocky caverns, and the twisty slide takes the shape of a very smooth, down-sloping boulder that you must conquer by sitting down on all fours and cautiously sliding down.
See, the scramble is not just one section or obstacle, but rather continues up the mountain as you near the summit. It’s not steep enough to call “rock climbing”, but it requires more upper body strength than just using a hiking stick. Certain parts of it will likely cause you to wheeze a bit, unless you’re a particular Marine I know, but the adrenaline of it all is so exhilarating. And then the views are yours for the taking!
Once you’ve spent your time ogling over your new-found bird’s eye view of the valley, you can start making your trek back down. Key word: down. Also known as: downhill. It’s lovely.
Old Rag hiker’s tip: Stop at the river on your way down the fire road (the only way down, you can’t miss it). Your feet will likely be a tad achy, and just sticking your feet in the coolness will refresh you for the last leg of the hike back to your car.