Do's and Don'ts: Hiking Old Rag Trail in Shenandoah National Park

Nestled near Madison County, Virginia, is Shenandoah's most popular — and most difficult — destination for hiking: Old Rag Mountain.

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Abby Vesoulis
Make sure to bring at least two liters of water per person. I encountered several people along my journey to the top who did not have enough water and were getting dizzy. There is no water available on the trail.
Abby Vesoulis
Bring snacks that have high levels of protein and salt. Protein gives you energy -- the National Park Service says most injuries occur when hikers are tired. Salt keeps you from getting dizzy, when paired with plenty of water. I brought along nuts, grapes, popcorn and a cheese stick.
Abby Vesoulis
Wear a sweat-wicking shirt or tank top, but bring a light jacket in case the morning is cold. I also recommend wearing thick pants or leggings that are not made of cotton. Cotton leggings can easily tear during a scramble over rocks. And wearing shorts will cause your legs to get scratched up when climbing over the boulders.
Abby Vesoulis
Experienced hikers recommend getting to the trailhead by 7 a.m. The hike could take as long as eight hours, and you must complete it in daylight. Also, it is highly recommended that this trail only be attempted in dry conditions. Water or ice will make the rocks treacherous.
Abby Vesoulis
When at the summit, climb the boulders with confidence, but not arrogance. I saw overly-confident people narrowly avoid falling as they jumped to boulders that were arguably too far away. Hikers who are too nervous psyched themselves out and also made mistakes. Several people are airlifted off the mountain every year, according to the National Park Service. It is vital hikers are aware of their surroundings and climb with care.
Abby Vesoulis
Most hikers can finish the trail within five to seven hours, but plan to spend a few hours -- yes, I said hours -- at the top. You worked hard to get there, and the views cannot be duplicated -- even in photos.
Abby Vesoulis
Climbing Old Rag Trail gave me confidence and empowered me to take on new challenges. I hiked one of Virginia's most difficult and sought-after trails with little experience. Many hikers reach the rock scramble and turn around, but I didn't.

Plus, the burger I ate once I finished the trail tasted extra good.
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