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)
We began at 11am and encountered only 3 other groups the whole time we traversed the circuit. The first group we saw was at the very first "difficult" section of rock scramble, where an individual stood in the way and "encouraged" us on, trying to tell us where to put our feet and what to grab. I literally had to put my face in this guy's crotch because he was just hanging out there. Not only a hiking faux pas, but just rude and dangerous to boot. I cannot even imagine trying to do the rock scramble with the heavy crowds I hear so much about. I'm so very glad we did it on a Wednesday in the early spring. It was gloomy and chilly but still beautiful and exhilarating.
Date of Hike: Sunday, March 22, 2015
With the reviews warning of the crowds, I arrived at the lot before daybreak only to be surprised at the 15 or so cars already in the lot! Turns out they must have been campers, because I was the first one up and off the mountain that day. It's a good tough hike, with all your elevation gain coming in the first 3 or so miles. It's all downhill after that. I enjoyed the variety the rock scramble gave. Some parts required a few seconds of thought about how to tackle it. I was able to maneuver everything solo. I almost made a grave mistake at one section, missing the arrows and began to climb up the wrong rock only to discover the backside of it had a nice 30' drop. I can see how people get hurt out here. I had trail shoes on, and they helped tremendously, but I still slipped in some spots. I would imagine regular sneakers would have been much worse. By the time I made it back to the main road, I passed a good 50+ people beginning their hikes. I definitely think the crowds take away from the experience here, and consider myself fortunate to have been able to enjoy this hike all to myself, alone in my thoughts. The views were good, but more your standard high point looking over the valley stuff. I'm not sure I'd consider the views epic as some would say. I actually enjoyed the fire road. The beautiful stream runs right alongside it, and when faced with the two stream crossings, I enjoyed the "full experience" as you would say and went through the water instead of over the bridge. As long as you don't have an aversion to yuppies - the unfriendly type who won't look you in the eye or return your wave or greeting, you should be ok and have fun on this one. I went hard and finished fast, using the course for OCR training. But if you're out for your standard hike and photographic ops, I'd allot 5-6 hours to enjoy the experience, plus more if the crowds are in.
Date of Hike: Saturday, February 07, 2015
Was a warmer day (50 degrees) so decided to take advantage of the weather. It was a Saturday and arrived at noon, there were about 20 cars in the parking lot but not crowded by any means. We were alone for most of the hike, we passed people here and there but much more solitude then you would normally find in the spring/summer/fall. I was comfortable in light pants, short sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt, North Face shell, hat and gloves. I didn't really need my hat much and the gloves were helpful with the rock scramble.
We did the rock scramble section first and finished on the fire road. Although it was warmer out, there was snow and ice on the trail once you got to higher elevation. I would recommend wearing hiking boots or shoes with good traction. The snow was not deep and packed down but your shoes will get wet on the bottom making the rock scramble sections difficult. I had sneakers on and was able to complete the hike but would not recommend wearing them. The descent had the worst conditions, there was a section that was mostly a sheet of ice and very difficult. We found the best method to get down without falling was to step on rocks that were protruding. Once we got through this section and to the fire road, everything was dry. Although, the fire road is long and boring, we were glad to be done with the ice!
It took us a total of 5 hours, including stopping for about 20 mins at the top to eat and enjoy the views. I would recommend going this time of year if you want to enjoy the hike without the crowds. Just be prepared for possible snow/ice!
Date of Hike: Sunday, January 18, 2015
We chose to go up the rock scramble, and with 2,300 feet of vertical climb in 3.8 miles there was a lot of scrambling, but we loved the challenge and we loved
the views. This is both challenging and an awesome hike. We are 54 and 55, both loved it and felt both challenged and satisfied. We were hoping to be the first up In 2015, but we had lots of company. A beautiful day with a tiny bit of sleet and rain, but we loved it and we both totally recommend the circuit hike, going up with the rock scramble and down the saddle trail and road. We both felt like this was a "lifetime hike" - in our top ten. Just be sure to take water and safety stuff and if you go up the rock scramble side - be ready to rumble. And be safe by following Park Service recommendations.
Date of Hike: Saturday, December 27, 2014
This time, we did the hike in reverse so we get the boring part, the fire road, over first. From then on it was beautiful. I do not recommend this hike to people who are afraid of heights or do not enjoy rock scrambling.
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