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)
Truly spectacular hike and one heck of a workout! I have done some hard hikes before but this one was VERY challenging. The switchbacks seem to never end going up first and the rock scramble is very challenging, but if you are in good shape then you will have the time of your life! The rock scramble is epic to say the least and once you get to the top the views are spectacular. It says the length is 8 miles on here, but from where you actually park, the length is actually a bit over 9 miles. I did the whole 9 mile circuit in 4.5 hours (2 hours up, 2 hours down) including half an hour at the top to rest, but I pushed myself pretty hard on this hike and I am in great shape, so don't expect to match that pace. Plan about 3 hours to get up and 3 hours to get down, plus however much time you want for resting and sightseeing. Overall, this is an UNFORGETTABLE hike and by far the best one I have EVER been on so far. I will definitely do it again many times and hopefully beat my first time.
Date of Hike: Monday, August 18, 2014
I've hiked Old Rag twice this week. I'm 35 years old in good shape. The first time I started at 8:25 and finished at 12:15. Today I started at 8:28 and finished at 12:00. I ran from the Weakly Hollow/Berry Hollow intersection to the lower lot. Took half an hour from the intersection to the lower lot.
The first hike I did last week I actually saw two bears on the Saddle Trail. The first one was on the very rocky part of the Saddle Trail, he was standing in the trail and I almost ran into him. I was pretty surprised so I walked back a bit trying to decide what to do. I was standing there and he had walked back towards me uphill from me, so I was able to walk past him. I didn't run any of the Saddle Trail after that. I saw a second bear about a mile lower, about a hundred feet up the hill from me. I would of walked right past him had I not heard the leaves/braches wrustling a little.
I noticed there were a lot more flies today. I was looking forward to standing on the top rock, but there was a horde of insects flying right over it. As I was hiking alone my main worry was running into a rattle snake or bees, I didn't see either. Everything went pretty well.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 16, 2014
My wife, daughter and I hiked Old Rag for the first time today. Ideal weather for August, not too crowded except around the summit and trail in great condition. We missed seeing a bear by about 5 minutes (2.5 miles up fire road from upper lot). Rock scrambling was a highlight for all of us!
Date of Hike: Friday, August 15, 2014
I hiked Old Rag some 7 years ago and enjoyed it. I'm 54 now and made the circuit again in one piece. it was a bit crowded for a Friday. Great time and great hike - met new friends.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Just finished this hike with my wife and two boys (ages 10
and 5). Had we known the rock climbs were this tough, may have had second thoughts, as we spent some significant time hoisting the 5 year old up and through/down the rock climbs. No accidents or near accidents, however. Did help boost one older gentleman up through a climb once after he had taken a tumble.
Otherwise, it was awesome. Actually, most difficult for me was the downhill piece as your knees take quite a pounding.
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