Scramble hikes can help family bonding — FranklyStein

Skyline Drive WWe haven't been great about taking our kids hiking over the years. We might have ventured into Patapsco Valley State Park a few times when they were younger — pretty lame considering how close it is to our house. But they weren't itching to go, and the schedule was quite full with sports and school.

But last year, we decided to take an overnight trip the weekend after Thanksgiving to Shenandoah National Park so we could hike Old Rag Mountain. My husband and I had done the scramble hike a number of times and love it. It's a 9-mile rigorous circuit hike with a long section at the top where you have to climb up, over and around big boulders. It's long and hard but so rewarding with stunning views from the top.

The one major drawback is the crowds — especially on fall weekends. Long lines sometimes form at some of the more difficult scrambles. We discovered a trick, however, to combat the crowds. If you do the hike backwards, staying on the fire road instead of heading off on the first Old Rag trail turnoff, you don't necessarily hit the lines.

On the day we took the kids, we got a late start because Maggie wanted to get to swim practice that morning. We didn't arrive at the Old Rag parking lot until around noon, and it was completely packed. Someone, however, left as soon as we arrived — opening up a spot for us. (Parking is also available at a neighboring field for $10, which is a nice option.)

Old Rag WBecause of the late start, we had to keep a brisk pace if we wanted to finish by dark. The kids — ages 16, 15, 15, and 11 at the time — did amazingly well, and we made it to the top in pretty good time. They loved following the blue blazes across the scramble at the top over boulders, through crevices and across ledges with steep drop-offs. Even Adam, who is deathly afraid of heights, did well.

The late start probably helped in that the crowds had cleared a bit. We didn't hit any backups at the top, and it was considerably less crowded on the way down. For long stretches on the trail, it was just us. Chris and I hung back and let the kids hike ahead. It was hart warming to watch them interact.

Everyone enjoyed the Shenandoah trip so much, we are going back again this Thanksgiving. We planned to try a different hike, but the kids want to do Old Rag again. It's that much fun. There aren't many hikes that have quite the awesome scramble at the top.

If you want to entice your kids into hiking, check out our story on five different scramble hikes within a few hours of Annapolis. Several are a little closer to home than Old Rag, including the Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls along the Potomac River, which has a 40-foot cliff to navigate. Bearfence Rock Scramble also looks like a lot of fun and one my family might try on our Shenandoah trip.

I wish we'd started taking hiking excursions when the kids were younger. On our trip last November, we learned so much about our teens just by hiking side by side with them. We talked, listened to them joke and witnessed family bonding like we'd never seen before.

Best of all, there's very little cellphone reception in the mountains. So everyone was focused on the scenery and not the screens.

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FranklyStein is a blog by Chesapeake Family Magazine editor Betsy Stein, who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Chris, and four children, Maggie, 17, Lilly, 16, Adam, 16, and Jonah, 11.

 

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