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)
This was my second time doing Old Rag in a week. I'm training for a few climbs coming up (mt. washington and mt rainier) and have been trying to get as much up and down as possible, usually by myself. This wasn't a great day for this hike. It rained from about 4am-8am. I arrived at the parking lot at 6 am, and got on the trail pretty quickly. By the first rock scramble it had stopped raining, but it took me significantly longer to get through to the summit than it did last week (about 45 min longer) due to the slick rocks. I am not an expert boulderer, so a few parts were much more difficult than they should have been had it been dry. I would recommend that others not do this hike by themselves, especially when wet. I had the summit to myself for about 15 min, and headed down. Great day, despite the rain and clouds
Date of Hike: Sunday, October 25, 2015
Since moving back to Virginia a few years ago, I've probably done this hike at least a couple times a year. Based on the advice on this site and in order to avoid crowds, I have always started climbing Old Rag early in the morning and today was no exception. When I started just a bit after 7 am, there were maybe 20 cars in the parking lot and I passed only a couple dozen people on the 2-hour hike to the top. I actually had the summit all to myself for about 10 minutes when I first got there - not too bad for a trail that gets a solitude rating of zero. The fall colors were awesome, with many shades of yellow, red, and orange sprinkled across the mountains and valleys. The clouds were pretty intense - thick and layered - and I don't think I ever saw the sun or blue sky while I was on the trail. The rock scramble was tough in spots due to the light overnight rain that made the rocks quite slick. After coming down off Old Rag, I hiked up the Old Rag Fire Road and then down the Corbin Hollow trail to add a few more miles (and more solitude) to a great day in the mountains.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 24, 2015
We, a group of ten folks, went today to enjoy the fall colors. We started in Chantilly and reached the parking lot at 7.40am. It was an uneventful 90-minute drive. The parking lot already had around 50 cars. The ranger station was open.
We started the hike around 8, and were at the summit by 11, and back in the parking lot at 1pm. The weather was cool and there was a mild breeze. The sky was overcast but opened up when we were on the summit. The temperature averaged around 60F during the hike.
The hike itself was pretty awesome. We were expecting it to be difficult (9 of us were doing it for the first time), but we found it only somewhat strenuous and a lot of fun. Folks loved the scrambling and the views were fantastic. The fall colors were in full view and it was breathtaking to see the valleys all around us.
There were some minor delays at some of the scrambles but none more than a minute or two. I guess we avoided the big crowds since we started early.
When we were back in the lot, the official parking lot as well as the paid parking lot next to it were all full. Probably 400-500 cars in total.
We had a post-hike beer and lunch at the Headmaster's pub in Sperryville. A nice country-club kind-of place with a limited menu. We sampled the Loose Cannon IPA and loved it! The pulled pork sandwich was great too!
Date of Hike: Wednesday, October 14, 2015
1st time on Old Rag. Tried running the whole trail from the lower parking lot. I say "tried" because there are a few places on this trail that you really have to climb, squeeze, jump, (wait on others ahead of you), pull, and of course, stop to take in the view. Next time, I'd bring more water than just two 10oz bottles on my belt. For those using google maps, search: Old Rag Mountain Parking Lot and Trail Head, Nethers Road, Etlan, VA. I also used MapMyRun app on the entire trail. While mobile coverage is pretty bad, the gps on the phone worked well (iPhone) (even in airplane mode). The total time is fairly accurate - and maybe even the times you stop on the trail. However, I wouldn't trust the speed/mile accuracy on it.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Three of us hiked the Old Rag mountain this morning, myself a 53 year old avid hiker, my 16 yr old son who hikes with me frequently and my Wife who is 52 and less of a hiker but in good shape. We decided to do the sunrise hike, and and with much advice from this page we left the main car park at 3.45 am with head lamps, gloves, 2L water each and food. Hiking in the dark was very cool but slightly nerve wracking when you are not familiar with bear and snake habits at night!! We are not from around here! The moon was 3 days after full moon so we had good light but the headlamps were essential, especially when we came across a small rattler just before the rock jumble! The switchbacks was a fairly easy ascent, given that we had 2 hours sleep that night! The rock climb was great fun but fairly slippery. Much to my surprise everyone found the gloves to be a big help! The rocks are much smoother with the frequent use than I remember 25 years ago! I think if it was raining it would be VERY tough.
Our night was perfect with no clouds and we arrived at OUR summit 5 minutes from sunrise at 6.48 am. I say "our" summit because when we reached the top we realized we were not at the true summit, which was another 10 minutes on, but that backtracking up to the big rock would give us a better view of the valley for sunrise. We had an outstanding view of the entire valley and had the whole summit ridge to ourselves. It was perfect, we spent almost two hours up there and then made a quick run to the real summit.
I would say that the rock scramble was really fun, a little tough with backpacks at points and anything that stops you using 2 hands is inadvisable. However it was easy for all of us to ascend with our own power but helpful sometimes to get a boost or a pull! Doing it in the dark can be slightly confusing but as we were a little jumpy about any more snakes we just took our time and followed the blue marks. We ate breakfast on the summit rock and carefully packaged our garbage up and headed don the same way.
We decided to go back the rock scramble as it was fun and on the way up we had been in darkness. We had seen some wonderful views with the slightly reddening sky leading to sunrise but we wanted to see the rocks in daylight. My strongest memory of this hike from 25 years ago was the LONG endless hike down the other side on the fire road that looked all the same and never ended. I think they way we did was perfect for us because the way back down was like a completely different hike in the day light!
We ascended in 3 hours and descended in 2 hours. On a tuesday in Sept we were surprised to meet a total of 18 couples and one family of 4 on the way up, it IS a popular hike but we got through the rock scramble before we met anyone so there were no waits like I had read of here.
Considering that we had 7 litres of water between us we actually had finished all of it just as we arrived back to the car! My wife says we drink a lot but I would have suffered with any less, and we hiked in the cool of night and early morning! Heed the warnings on this page take lots of water especially if you are starting out at 11am like we saw people doing. One couple passed us on the way up and my son pointed out they hardly had any water. We had one sandwich each and tons of granola bars but it was too much food for such a quick hike.
We were home by 12 am and had the whole day in front of us. I have hiked all over the world and I and my family throughly enjoyed this hike. Do this hike! Leave early, take gloves, take lots of water and a dry shirt to change into on the summit as even in Sept we found it chilly at 7am in the breeze.
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