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)
Getting there early wasn't an option for us, and we were worried the parking lot would be full and the mountain would be crowded. We were pleasantly surprised to arrive at noon on a Friday and see the lot only half full. A couple other groups started at the same time as we did, but we managed to get away from everyone within the first mile or so of hiking. We were able to spend most of the day out of earshot of other hikers, which was perfect...I was nervous about it being very crowded since we had read that was a possibility. The hike itself was perfect. The rock scrambles were buckets of fun and the views were breathtaking. I think the park map says something like 7.2 miles for the loop, but we ended the day at just over 14 miles according to my iphone. Not sure how that happened, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 18, 2016
One of my all time favorite day hikes. The rock scrambles are SO FUN! I brought climbing shoes for the top of the mountain and was definitely glad I did.
NOTE: PRINT DIRECTIONS TO AND FROM THE PARKING LOT. NO SIGNAL!
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 11, 2016
What a blast of a hike !!!! I had no idea what I was in for.. I had researched some of it but really didn't realize the magnitude of the hike....
You have to do this with plenty of WATER AND FOOD... it's a must.. and make sure you have shoes that have good traction. If you don't have the proper food, water and shoes it could be extremely dangerous. I am not a big water drinker and drank 1.5liters and my husband drank 2 liters. we ate several times on the route and it made it comfortable for us. We hiked it on a 90 degree day and Im certain without the water I would have been sick. Beward of wild life- my husband saw a snake (Thank God I didn't as Im petrified of them) and some of the others in our group saw a bear. It was a blast.... not for the weak.. the rock scrambles were very difficult in spots. Make sure you are fully prepared before you hit the path.... we also wore gloves which helped with the rock scrambles.
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 04, 2016
This is a must do if you're in Virginia. Hiked the loop over night with a troop of Boy Scouts. We parked at the lot off Nethers road on Friday and walked up to the old parking lot (~1 mile). Below the old parking lot there is a small water fall and a couple places to pitch tents. We had 4 guys in hammocks who all found good spots and 3 tents who also found spots. The next morning did the loop with our 30 lb packs on. Wouldn't recommend taking backpacking packs for the average hiker. We did this to train for our 50 mile trip and needed some experience on tough terrain with the packs. There were ~5 places along the ridge trail where we needed to take off our packs and pass them ahead in order to continue. Tough but not impossible. We continued down the saddle trail and around the loop which was very easy going. All clearly marked, easy to follow. A couple of reminders. Weekends are very crowded, get started early (by 7:30 it's getting crowded). If there is a chance for rain do not attempt as the rock scrambles get much more difficult and dangerous when wet. All that being said, one of the other leaders in our group took his 7 year old son who, with a little help, had no problems making it to the top. Also, if you're thinking of making it an overnighter, which isn't at all necessary, aside from the campsite below the old parking lot i didn't see many obviously opportunities to pitch a tent further up the mountain. Happy trails.
Date of Hike: Friday, May 27, 2016
Overall a great hike! My wife and I, along with our 8 & 11 year old children, arrived at the parking lot at 7am. There were only 5-6 cars there when we arrived which was a welcome sight. After paying the $20 park fee and grabbing our gear, we were off. The parking lot is 8/10 mile from the official trailhead with probably 200-300 feet of elevation gain over that distance. The next 2-1/4 miles through the forest was nice, with multiple switchbacks to temper the elevation gain up the mountain. The final 1.0 mile to the summit was the best part of the hike. The rock scramble section has a little bit of everything - squeezing between boulders, lowering yourself down an 8ft crack, walking through a cave-like split between the rocks, and several short 'slab' climbs. You will definitely be using your hands a great deal throughout the scramble section. There are a couple of false summits with outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below. Once you reach the summit, you will be rewarded with 360° views. The first 1.0-1.5 miles down the mountain are fairly steep, then the trail levels out a bit once you reach the old fire roads for the hike back to the parking lot. The hike took us exactly 7 hours with multiple stops for breaks in addition to lunch and exploring at the top. I would definitely recommend plenty of water, snacks, and good footwear.
Total Distance: 9.3 miles
Total Ascent: 2493 ft
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.