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)
Awesome hike! I started around 9. The hike is about 9.5 miles from old rag parking lot and back. I went by myself and passed about 7 small groups, so it wasn't to busy. I accomplished the trip in about 3.5 hours so I was clicking off a pretty good pace. Legs were a bit heavy when i got to the rock scramble, so next time I will probably slow it down! I recommend bring snacks and lots of water, It was pretty toasty at the top. Be aware of the big fussy black bears, I saw 2 on the trail.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, July 09, 2014
We are both in our 50's, so I was a little intimidated by some of the other reviews. It was definitely a challenge, but we took it slow and steady and made it back in one piece. The weather was great and we hardly saw anyone on the trail. We had the whole place to ourselves! It took us seven hours to complete the hike, but like I said, we took it slow. I would recommend this hike for anyone who is reasonably fit and up for a challenge.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, May 27, 2014
I live in the Phila. suburbs so I woke up at 2 AM to get on the road by 3:00 and was able to begin my hike at 8:00. I'm 57 yrs old and fit for my age. Staying fit sometimes has its drawbacks, and years of running and sports in general resulted in a total knee replacement early January of this year. I've rehabbed and worked and this was going to be a test. It was! To make it more of a challenge, it was over 70 degrees at the start and reached near 90 5 hours later as I finished the 9 mile circuit. It was great, it was sweaty, and the bouldering and scrambling were especially challenging! As this was my first time ever to Shenandoah and Old Rag, I was surprised and impressed how tough it was. Doable certainly, but no joke and one needs a pretty decent level of fitness and strength to get to the summit. I'm proud to say that I did, my knee's fine, but a lot of the rest of me is still sore 2 days later as I recline on my couch back in New town,Pa.
Midlo Day Hikers
Date of Hike: Monday, May 26, 2014
My family and I have hiked Old Rag twice before, always descending via the fire road. This time we opted to descend going back down Old Rag trail. We arrived at the parking area around 8:20AM. The lot was already very full. Along the way we saw 2 non-venomous snakes and 1 large rattler. What made this hike different was the heat. We have hiked this trail in cooler weather and we found the heat very draining. Long lines formed at some of the more difficult parts of the trail. The boulders actually got hot to the touch during the day. We made it to the top, which was so full of people that it was hard to find a place to sit to eat lunch. Going down my 18 year old daughter became overheated and exhausted. We had plenty of water and snacks, had her drinking the whole way up and down, but the heat was too much for her. At one point I thought we would have to call the park ranger to get her down. But, once we got off the rocks and back on the shaded dirt trail she recovered quickly and made it back to the car on her own feet. So, from this experience I would suggest Gatorade or some other electrolytes type liquid instead of plain water for hot weather hikes. Having descended this trail using both the fire road and Old Rag trail, I prefer going down Old Rag trail. My daughter, on the other hand, may have preferred the fire road.
Date of Hike: Saturday, May 17, 2014
Amazing! If you love to rock scramble this hike is for you. So much fun.We went the rock scramble to the summit and back. Word of warning start EARLY! We started at 6:30 AM and we only saw 6 people our whole way up. We counted over 800 on our way down. Could not imagine going up with that many people but getting down we found ways around them. Worth it!
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