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)
My first time, and it was Amazing! I thought being a week day and the fact that it was pretty cold, only a high of 29, that I would be able to avoid the huge crowds everyone mentioned in ALL the other reviews, and I did! I got to the old rag parking lot a little before 730am, there were already 3 cars there, but I got plenty of solitude. And the small amount of people at the summit were pretty spread out, so I was able to enjoy a peaceful quit view. By the time I finished, the parking lot was almost completely full. I can't imagine if I had started later or worse if I went on a nice weekend day. The rock scramble was awesome, next time I'll probably take a smaller pack, bc I did have a little bit of a tough time maneuvering some of the rocks. I definitely plan on doing this again, maybe even a night hike, so I can watch the sunrise from the summit?!? Although there were a lot of loose rocks going up, so I may need to invest in some trekking poles to get better footing if I do that.
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 28, 2015
I love this mountain! However, please be careful... I got to the summit about an hour after dark, and had a stand-off with a black bear. He was blocking the path to the peak of the summit. I was with my brother and a friend, and we were talking and laughing,etc... all the things that usually ward off bears, but I guess this guy was curious. I had a head lamp, turned a corner, and practically ran right into him (I think it was a male). Luckily, I (more or less) know what to do when I see a bear, but this bear was only about 10 feet away from me... I could hear him breathing!! I stood there for about 4 minutes talking loudly and shaking the shrubs as did my companions, but they were behind me. I don't think he could see us well behind the bright lights from our head lamps, and he eventually backed off. So if you are hiking during off hours when bears are more likely to be present, be aware of your surroundings and maybe leave the beef jerky at home :)
Date of Hike: Sunday, November 01, 2015
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!
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