The Old Rag Mountain hike in the Shenandoah National Park is one of the most popular hikes in the mid-Atlantic region. With many spectacular panoramic views, and one of the most challenging rock scrambles in the park, this circuit hike is a favorite of many hikers. But be prepared for the crowds. This hike gets a star rating for solitude, so the best time to enjoy Old Rag is during the week when there are significantly fewer people.
The circuit hike listed here follows the popular clockwise loop, however many hikers prefer to do this loop counterclockwise, thereby tackling the rock scramble at the Ridge Trail on the downhill. Either way, the rock scramble can be challenging, being both steep, and requiring climbing through cracks in the rock. If hiking on a nice weekend, the best time to arrive is by 7 a.m. before the crowds.
Mile 0.0 - From the Old Rag parking area walk 0.4 miles along paved Nethers Rd. at which point the road veers left. In another 0.4 miles Nethers Rd. ends at the closed Old Rag upper parking area.
Mile 0.8 - Turn left uphill on the blue blazed Ridge Trail next to the closed gate. The trail will gradually increase in grade and make nine switch backs before reaching the first of many view points. From this first vista to the west, the Ridge Trail will become more rocky then arrive at the main easterly vista on the ridge in another 0.2 miles.
Mile 3.0 - From here the trail becomes a rock scramble with narrow passages and several spots requiring hand over hand climbing. From the easterly vista on the ridge start up the rock scramble, with the first obstacle a 12ft deep small crack in the rock. At the bottom of the crack continue out to the left. Follow the blue blazes passing around the easterly side of the ridge and through another crack where the trail meets a small cliff. From here, the trail will become increasingly steep going through a small cave, then arriving the minor summit where the trail turns left. Be careful to follow the blue blazes, as there are several false trails that lead to overlooks. After passing around the minor northerly summit, the trail is less steep but still requires rock-hopping for most of the remaining 0.3 miles to the true summit where there are several points with 360° views.
Mile 4.1 - Descend south along the Ridge Trail for 0.4 miles to the intersection of the Saddle Trail and Byrd's Nest Shelter.
Byrd's Nest Area Scrambling: For some additional rock scrambling, consider a side trip near the Byrd's Nest Shelter to see the Balance Rock that you can see from Old Rag and the Saddle Trail. About 20 yards from the shelter is a series of rocks worth climbing and to get a bearing (about 300 degrees with our compass pegged on North) to the Balance Rock, about 0.2 miles away. This will involve some bushwhacking, follow a visible path for about 50 yards or so beyond the first set of rocks and it will bear to the right near a campsite and take you below a cliff and the Balance Rock will be visible to the North West, mostly bushwhacking from this point to the Rock. We did not see an easy way to climb Balance Rock but with a little bit of effort we were able to get on the rock just below it for some great views. The coordinates for Balance Rock: N38.5505 W78.3236, the coordinates for the Byrd's Nest Shelter: N38.5501 W78.3211
Mile 4.5 - Turn right descending on the blue blazed Saddle Trail. In 0.6 miles pass the Old Rag Shelter. Both shelters are available for day use only. From the Old Rag Shelter the trail widens and follows a forestry road for the 0.4 miles to the intersection of the Berry Hollow Fire road (left), Old Rag Fire Road (straight), and Weakley Hollow Fire Road (right).
Mile 5.9 - Turn right downhill on the yellow blazed Weakley Hollow Fire Road. In 1.2 miles pass the Robertson Mountain Trail, then in another 200 yards the Corbin Hollow Trail. Continue along the Weakley Hollow Fire Road back to the upper parking area.
Mile 8.3 - Arrive at the closed upper parking area then continue down the paved Nethers Rd. for 0.8 miles back to the main parking area.
Mile 9.1 - Arrive back at the main parking area on Nethers Rd.
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Reviews For The Old Rag Mountain Hike (5 Most Recent)
Recommendations for Old Rag first timers: bring Gloves, enough water, snack/peanut butter sandwich/power bar (s), a packable wind breaker....
If you are planning on hiking more frequently, buying hiking shoes/boots would be recommended. Depending on your speed, your hike which is between approximately 7miles for the short loop and 9 miles for the long loop might take a while, therefore plan to start it accordingly. Don't forget to have an empty bag on hand for your trash and leave no trace!
Know your limits, as a suggestion: for the first couple of times, you can go half way up to the overlook, this will prepare your body to EASILY complete the full loop leaving you with pure hiking pleasure without any afterwards pain or body aches.
Date of Hike: Saturday, January 21, 2017
Knew crowds were going to be an issue, so we got on the trail by 7:30. Hike was beautiful - what seemed to be an overcast day turned into an amazing hike through the cloud line. Because started so early, we only encountered 3-4 people on the trail, and at no point were we forced to wait. Total time for hiking, including a 15 min lunch up top, was about 4 hours.
Dad with 6 and 8 yr old boys
Date of Hike: Tuesday, November 08, 2016
What an awesome hike! My sons(6 and 8) and I parked in the lower lot around 9am. After paying to park, we left the lot at 9:15. We passed maybe three groups and and was passed by another father with two older sons. The boys were fueled by one rest for some water and Halloween candy before we reached the first overlook and the beginning of the scramble. There were roughly 25-40 people on the scramble when we arrived. I had read about the scramble and its difficulty. I really wasn't prepared for how hard it was going to be for me and my six year old. We wore awful slippery running shoes. Don't get me wrong it was a blast. I just couldn't stop thinking about what would happen if one of them slipped and busted a leg or a head! I would suggest kids be atleast 8 before going on the scramble. There were absolutely no lines during the scramble and we only passed 5 or 6 groups on the decent. We arrived back at the lower lot just before 2pm. Hiked it in 4:43 minutes. I was worried about getting back in the dark and took three head lamps!
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 05, 2016
Hiked Old Rag today with my best friend, starting with the rock scramble and finishing down the fire road. The scramble was fun, but we both regretted not wearing gloves. We started hiking around 7:15 am and got back to the car by 1:15 pm. The mountain wasn't heaving early, but there were a lot more people going up as we were walking back to the parking area. The weather was perfect and the trees were beautiful. We met many friendly people and almost all were courteous, letting faster people pass, etc. We'd definitely do it again. Thanks to all who posted on here so that we could get great tips like getting there early and being prepared for the scramble.
It was a great day trip from D.C.
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 05, 2016
This was my third time doing the circuit. It was also the busiest. The parking was about 3/4 full when we arrived at 07:45hrs. I knew to bring at least 2L of water and something to eat and snack on. I also brought trekking poles. They made the downhill and fire road much easier on the joints, as I was packing for two people. I used all four layers in the beginning, but shed to two by the time we hit the scramble. As the reviewer before me stated, gloves are good, preferably something durable and form fitting. Wait times were as long as 30 min in some areas. The view was crystal clear once the sun warmed things up. As a whole, the crowd was very respectful. It was nice seeing strangers helping one another!
Before and after pictures of 'The Staircase' section on the Ridge Trail of Old Rag. The 2 black and white photos were taken in 1968 prior to the boulder falling and partially blocking the route in the early 1970's, then as it appears today in the picture on the right.