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 is the only hike we give a star rating for solitude.
On the other hand, it's the only hike we give a star rating to for views. Many hikers also prefer to do this loop counterclockwise, thereby tackling the rock scramble on 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. The best bet to enjoy this great hike is to be at the trail head by 7 a.m. before all the crowds arrive.
From the lower Old Rag parking area walk 0.5 miles up SR600 where it veers left and in another 0.4 miles ends at the Old Rag closed upper parking area. 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 in 1.9 miles. From the first vista point to the west, the Ridge Trail will become more rocky before reaching the main easterly vista on the ridge in another 0.2 miles.
From this point to the summit in 0.9 miles, 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. Climb to the bottom and follow it out to the left. Continue following the blue blazes passing around to 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, before reaching 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 becomes 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.
Continue south along the Ridge Trail now descending for 0.3 miles to the junction of the Saddle Trail and Byrd's Nest Shelter. Turn right descending on the blue blazed Saddle Trail, then 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).
Turn right downhill on the yellow blazed Weakley Hollow Fire Road. In 1.2 miles pass the Robertson Mountain Trail, and in another 200 yards the Corbin Hollow Trail. Continue along the Weakley Hollow Fire Road the remaining 0.8 miles back to the upper parking area.
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
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Reviews For The Old Rag Mountain Hike (5 Most Recent)
First time hiking this trail, and my trio had an early start and a cool, breezy day to aid us. Overall I'm very glad to have done it, and encourage everyone to go enjoy their national park, but I did want to note some tips from my experience (and echo those of others) that will be helpful. Those tips are below. I am of average fitness, and tackled the trail going clockwise. The first part (switchbacks) tired me out the most, because I was trying to tackle them too quickly. Take breaks and be patient. The rock scramble is a blast and was well worth the effort of the upward climb. If I could do that portion alone, I'd be up there every day! Take your time and enjoy solving all of the puzzles presented by the beautiful geology. There is a significant descent before you reach the fire road, which was muddy and slow-going for me to watch my footing. The fire road may seem 'boring' but was a calming reward after the work of climbing, giving me a chance to really take in the beautiful colors this time of year. I was a little sore but very happy at the end!
1) Arrive early! We started our hike at 7:30AM and the parking lot was already quite full. When we returned to the lot around 4PM the place was so full that they had opened up parking on neighboring farm pasture. It seems this time of year is busy because of those coming to see the fall foliage.
2) Be prepared. Lots of water, food for energy, and a first aid kit are a must. Cute little water bottles and a baggie of cereal aren't going to cut it. The summit is a great place to picnic and there are plenty of scenic spots on the trail to take hydration breaks. Make sure your first aid kit has a cold pack and elastic bandages - if you don't need them a fellow hiker might.
3) Be prepared. Sturdy footwear is a must, as the trail is often muddy, the rocks worn smooth, and this time of year there are acorns everywhere to roll around on like marbles. Bring layers - I varied through three layers of tops as the weather and elevation changed. Gloves may help on the rock scramble, but I preferred my bare hands for the best grip.
4) Be prepared. The trail is popular, and the days are short this time of year. Bring a headlamp if you have one, or a small flashlight you can hold in your teeth, in case you run out of daylight. You'll need to keep your hands free to tackle the steep parts of the trail, even when not rock scrambling. Wear a pack that is well-balanced and secured on your back. A group ahead of us had a lot of their pack contents go spilling out on the rock scramble.
Finally, bring a good camera! The extra weight is worth it - there are beautiful shots around everywhere.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 18, 2014
I have completed this hike 4-5 times, because it is that much fun. It's popularity is totally justified. The views are amazing, it's physically taxing, and going off course and exploring the rock scrambles is awesome.
Do not go during this time of the year!!! There were lines to backed up a countless rock scrambles and overlooks. Some lines were backed up to 45 minute wait times to pass rock scrambles. Luckily we were able to pass around some scrambles without climbing gear by going off course, but I would not recommend this for many. Eventually we got to a point where we could not pass by going off course so we turned around and went home.
If you go during peak season, do it on a week day.
Date of Hike: Friday, October 17, 2014
Not really a hike review as much as some seasonal advice for Old Rag hikers. Every year around this time Old Rag and the rest of SNP see huge surges in traffic due to the enticement of Fall weather and Fall leaf colors. It would not be unusual for the volume of hikers on Old Rag to be 4-6 times greater than a nice Spring or Summer day. For your best advice check out Hiking Upward reviews or Old Rag blog sites, You Tube videos ect. from peak leaf color times in prior years.
Date of Hike: Sunday, October 12, 2014
I did hiking yesterday. It was my first hiking in US. It was very challenging but at the same time was an amazing experience.With rock scramble being both steep and requiring rock climbing, boulder hopping, passing through small caves and walking on narrow trails , followed with few cuts and scratches but finally reaching the SUMMIT was breath taking.
It took us 4:50 mins to complete the whole circuit of 9 miles. My recommendation is please wear shoes with good gripping , as it will help you in climbing rocks. Also please wear full pants to avoid cuts and scratches.
Overall it was the best hiking experience. Looking forward to do it again sometime. Guys, Go ahead and do this hiking. You will never regret your decision.
Date of Hike: Sunday, October 12, 2014
The views were breathtaking. They are really reason enough to go on the hike. For me, the rock scrambles at the top added to the fun of the hike. They are difficult, definitely more than just a hop or large step, and I saw several hikers (men and women) that I felt dressed inappropriately and also were not courteous in allowing others to go around since they had trouble with some of the more difficult rock features. I would recommend sturdy and loose-fitting clothing to allow for reaching with legs and arms and also with scrambling up or over rock on hands and knees or your bottom. Many people wore tight-fitting clothing (jeans) that restricted their mobility so they needed help from other hikers (strangers) on features. Some also wore flimsy pants or shorts, and ended up tearing their clothing or scratching their knees.
As another reviewer stated, it was a very busy weekend and there were waits for the features (~30 minutes). While it is wonderful for so many to show interest in our national parks and natural treasures, I think it is important for those with fear of heights or who are unsure of themselves on the rocks, to let others go ahead while they work up their courage. It can even help to see how others tackle the problem. There would have been a backup anyway due to the volume, but a lot of the long stops were due to a frozen hiker that refused to step aside and was scared to move forward.
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.
1968 Photos courtesy of Henri Weems
January (photos courtesy of Heidi W.)
Mid April (photos courtesy of Jake)
Video - Beginning Of The Rock Scramble Ridge Trail - Early October