5 scramble Hikes for Adventurous Families

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Bearfence Rock Scramble, Shenandoah National Park

Short but challenging, the Bearfence Rock Scramble will have kids climbing and crawling. The scramble begins about a quarter mile into a 1.2-mile loop and is about half a mile long.

An overlook with 360-degree views of the mountains and valleys rewards hikers about halfway through the scramble. Make sure to follow the blue blazes to avoid steep drop-offs, according to Hurlbert, the ranger for Shenandoah National Park. The loop finishes along the Appalachian Trail.

“Kids end up loving this hike,” Hurlbert says. “They like to use their hands, their feet and their seat. There’s one little place where they slide down on their bottom.”

Trailhead location: Mile 56.4 on Skyline Drive
Difficulty: Moderate
Trail Distance: 1.2 miles
Distance from Annapolis: about 2 hours
Cost: $20 per car

Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock Loop, Catoctin Mountain Park

This wooded trail is considered difficult because of the climb and rough terrain, but kids will love to trek over the rock outcroppings.

Along the 3.3-mile loop hikers can enjoy an overlook with a view of the Catoctin Mountains. It’s best to wait until cooler months to hike this trail because of the prevalence of rattlesnakes and copperheads in the summer.

“Both Wolf Rock and Chimney Rock have rocky areas for kids to climb around on. This is a very popular hike and lovely in the fall and will be crowded,” Strzelecki says.

Trailhead location: Wolf Rock Parking Lot, 14707 Park Central Road, Thurmont. It’s just up the road from the Visitors Center.
Difficulty: Strenuous
Trail Distance: 3.5 miles
Distance from Annapolis: about 1½ hours
Cost: free

Scramble Hikes Old Rag WOld Rag Circuit Hike, Nethers, Va.

With breathtaking views of Skyline Drive, the Old Rag hike is one of the most popular scramble hikes in the region. The 8.8-mile circuit is challenging, however, and not recommended for small children, Hurlburt says.

Parking is available in a lot a mile or so from the trailhead on Nethers Road. The lot often fills up on fall weekends.

About 2 miles into the trail, hikers will encounter a rock scramble, which continues for about a mile.
“That’s a long time to be scrambling,” Hurlburt says. “People get tired.”

Hurburt warns that there are some difficult spots for kids (and adults) that might require help from a parent. She also stresses the necessity of wearing hiking boots instead of sneakers and taking plenty of water.

Because the hike is popular, the trail “gets outrageously crowded,” on the weekends, Strzelecki says.

“There are sometimes backups of an hour or more at certain places in the boulder field,” he says. “If you depart the trailhead after, say, 7 a.m. on weekends, you will be in the mob.”

One way to avoid the backups is to start the hike via the fire road and hit the trail and rock scramble from the opposite direction.

Trailhead location: Route 600, Nethers Road.
Difficulty: Very challenging
Trail Distance: 8.8 miles
Distance from Annapolis: about 2.5 hours
Cost: $20 per vehicle

By Kristy MacKaben

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