2 things have been true for many years: I live near Baltimore, and I love being outside.
Naturally, it didn’t take long for me to start wondering where the best hiking around Baltimore truly was. Was it Gunpowder Falls? Catoctin? Running through Patapsco State Park? Welp, turns out the entire thing is a trick question and the best hiking around Baltimore isn’t anywhere in Maryland at all.. it’s in Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park to be precise
To be even more precise, a sliver of the park dubbed Old Rag Mountain.
Old Rag Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Shenandoah, so arriving early is key. It’s a roughly 3 hour scenic drive away from Baltimore (not that you’ll see much of it driving in the dark of 5am to get there ‘early’), but it goes much faster than that.
Once you arrive, you realize you’re in for a treat. A gravel parking lot awaits with a small shack manned by one of the nicer people you’ll ever meet. You pay him something like ~$5 to enter the park, and you’re on your way.
A 5-7 hour ascent (depending on time of day/season) brings you through several false summits, all a little more convincing than the last.
The (obligatory deep thought) picture above was the first false summit, only a few hours in.
I was pretty sure we were almost there (we weren’t half way) so Lori & I stopped for a moment to take some photos, grab some water, and carry on.
The markings on the trail were pretty well laid out, except one.
It wasn’t uncommon to have to hop/skip/jump over rocks, crevices, etc. so when presented with a narrow path, under a tree branch, over some rocks, etc. we were none the wiser.
It wasn’t until Lori & I had helped each other climb down this narrow path that we took a look around and realized.. F@&K.. all the people were gone.
Where the hell were we? Where were the trail markings? Why on earth had nobody stopped us?
Well.. that’s because we simply made a hard left.. when going perfectly straight was the right thing to do.
That’s right.. we saw something that looked treacherous and instead of just continuing to walk on the path.. thought.. yeah.. that’s gotta be the way. After a few minutes of assessing the situation (read: trying to recall every single episode of Man vs Wild because I was sure we were going to die out there), we managed to climb along a few trees and make our way back to the path.
Another false summit or two, and we finally did it!
We had managed to climb all 3,291ft (just 10,709ft shy of claiming our first 14’er) to the top without managing to get toooo lost.
Most of the walk down (a few hours there too) we spent taking more photos, relaxing from the challenging climb up and trying to rationalize why going down the scary narrow path previously was the total obvious thing that we should have done.
Was Old Rag a place we’d hike again?
Yes. Hands down we’d go again. Except maybe we’d follow the path this time!
This just goes to show you, sometimes the obvious answer to your question isn’t obvious at all. It took a while to figure out the best hiking around Baltimore required a 3 hour drive to Virgina.. but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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