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)
Hi. I'm looking on tips for hiking Old Rag with Girl Scouts. They are 10-11 years old and all can easily handle Section A of the Billy Goat trail. We went zip lining yesterday and they were awesome. We're hoping to do the hike in the cooler months on a weekday that school's closed with the hope that the crowds are smaller. While I've done tons of hiking, its been a very long time (too long!) since I've hiked Old Rag and would love any feedback or advice. Thanks!
Date of Hike: Sunday, December 01, 2013
This hike was a HUGE accomplishment for me! I never saw myself climbing up and over rocks - but it was more than worth it! It took me and a buddy about 5 hours to complete the loop, which included stopping at the summit for lunch and to take in the breath-taking views. It was pretty chilly at the start, but as we hiked we warmed up. The summit was quite cool (temperature wise) but hiking back down got the blood flowing again. I would not even call myself a novice hiker. This was the first hike that I have done in years, and my last 'strenuous' hike was to Sharp Top at the Peaks of Otter. If I can do it, anyone can! I highly recommend this hike. But don't rush through it. Take your time and take in all of the views.
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 30, 2013
My 10-year old daughter and I hiked this route the Saturday after Thanksgiving and had a great time. We arrived just before 8AM and were the ~20th car in the lot. Even so, there were only a couple of hikers/groups in our vicinity during the hike and no delays or waiting on the rock scramble. A family ahead of us showed us the ropes on some of the more challenging sections of the rock scramble. Their 7-year-old was a veteran -- hiking the mountain for the second year in a row! Overall it was a delightful day and the rock scramble was super fun. The temperature was in the low 30s at the parking lot and didn't get a lot warmer a we made our way to the top. There was a slight dusting of snow to the sides of the trail as you got to the top. A few sections of the rock were iced over -- but were nothing that you couldn't find a route around. Highly recommend some gloves to keep warm this time of year. Plus...climbing gloves are a big help on the rock scramble.
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 23, 2013
Started this hike at 9 a.m. and finished around 2 p.m. with a 40 minute stop for lunch. My 15 year old son and I did this hike at a very fast pace. There was a very cold wind all day, but other than on the summit, the wind was blocked by the mountains on the ascent and descent. Definitely my favorite hike in Shenandoah National Park so far. The crowds were not too bad except for cars completely blocking in our row of cars. Thankfully I was close to the end and was just able to squeeze through. Be careful where you park, there were many cars that were completely blocked in and who knows how long they had to wait to get out. I have a 7 and 6 year old that are great hikers, but this hike is too long for them right now. I would advise against it. The hike from the parking lot, around the trail, and back to the parking lot was a total of 10.6 miles according to my GPS. This actual trail total is 9 miles, but you have to add .8 miles to and from the trailhead.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Recipe for solitude...go on a cold, weekday, in the middle of November...
Arrived at the Nethers parking lot a little after 8:AM and reached the upper parking trailhead by 8:30.
Not a soul. Beautiful day as it turned out. Sunny with little wind and the chill went away once you started the climb. Saw one other person at the summit. And three more before returning to the parking lot.
Great day off with three other colleagues from work.
None of them are seasoned hikers but all had a great time, impressed with the hike, and cannot wait to do it again.
Not an easy hike by any means, the scrambling takes the monotony out of a typical hike, making it enjoyable than most, because your mind is occupied with something to do, rather than just climbing and climbing up a mountain. Then once you are at the top, you experience one of the greatest views in all of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and certainly the best views in the SNP.
Six stars for Views and Five stars for Solitude on this particular hike.
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