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)
This was a great hike, granted it was cold and windy but when you have the urge to go hiking, do it! Dressed in layers because it was 30 degrees plus wind chill, was concerned the morning before I left to the mountain because reports were showing snow conditions, but much to my surprise, all the surrounding peaks had snow on the trees but not Old Rag ( Kinda depressed because I wanted a Snow Hike! ). When your on the Rock Scramble during Icy and Muddy conditions, take your time and be ready to get cold if anyone plans to hike this during winter. Give your self plenty of time and don't get caught off guard on day light once you summit, the real summit and not the false summits before, your only half way done and don't want to descend in the dark on the trails, luckily for me that wasn't an issue. Since I did this yesterday, there was nobody and I mean nobody on the trails, so I got the solitude aspect at a 5 on my hike!
As for the water aspect, on the way up take advantage of the water run off and top off your water bottles if you have filters, and bring plenty of water with you because the only other time you can refill is when your just about done with the hike. So what ever you think is good for a water supply, double it.
Dressing for the cold, layers is king but don't start off with all of it on because your body will warm up when you move. A Thermo Layer of a Long Sleeve Shirt and Pants is perfect with some kind of satin or silk boxers/underwear, its an old trick I learned for hiking in the rain that I apply to all my hikes. Polyester Cargo Pants or something along those lines, you don't want them to baggy but you want them so you can point and position your footing on the rock scramble. A decent long sleeve cotton shirt for your second layer followed by a hard-shell coat that's water and wind proof. Gloves are key for the cold rock scramble, insulated and water proof is best. Bring extra socks if you hike after it rained or snow, you should be doing that anyways on hikes because your feet will still get wet even with water resistant boots! Balaclava is always the best option to have on your head when its cold and windy and also keep a fleece in your pack, you might toggle back and forth with the hard shell depending how cold and windy it is, the west ridge is more exposed then the east ridge, so as you are through all the fun parts of the rock scramble you will have an awesome view that's on the east ridge where the wind is either non existent or much lower to what your were exposed to, this is a great point to rest and have a bite to eat, this is a large area so if there were a ton of people hiking you will have plenty of room, also you will re-acquire cell phone reception at this point so if you need your internet fix or snap chat & face time fix, go ahead!
Beyond is the false summits and a few "caves" even though they are not really caves, they are close enough for me anyways! The 2 False summit views are amazing, take as many photo's at these two summits because the real summit is not as fantastic for the photo opportunity.
The summit has multiple vista's and has a sign indicating that your at the real summit and not another fake summit. At this point, take some time to rest your legs, your gonna need them on the way down because the trail is not as smooth as it was coming back up and watch your footing, there are tons of things that can mess you up! If its muddy then slow down because the clay "dirt" in some area's is like walking on grease. Pack a high powered head torche in your pack, its just good habit to have everything you need if you get caught in the dark on the way back down, during the descent, you will come across 2 cabins "huts" on the way down, these are good rest points if needed if you have the time.
All in all, awesome hike! If you never have done a Rock Scramble before, do not hike this alone, its always best to hike in pairs or groups anyways!
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 29, 2014
so great hike. but don't hike after it snowed recently. the icy conditions were very dangerous, especially on the scramble and the parts requiring jumping. we did it, but it definitely wasn't safe. also the trail back was completely iced over so we had to shuffle through miles of icy stone steps, falling most of the way. the whole hike took 5 hours when it probably should have taken 3 without the hazardous conditions.
my tip. don't go in the winter.
Date of Hike: Friday, November 28, 2014
We couldn't get enough of the snow and ice on the way up! Very nice challenge in addition to the already demanding terrain. Best hike ever.
I've hiked this trail probably 5 times. Some things to consider:
As others have mentioned, it is a very popular hike. Therefore, do not expect to have the summit to yourself. The trail is quite narrow in many places, creating bottlenecks between groups. Please keep this in mind and cordially let faster groups pass.
The weather is ever changing. Be prepared. If it has snowed recently, chances are there will be snow and ice on the way up at altitude. Sneakers and t-shirts won't cut it. Of the hundred people on the trail that day, we probably counted eighty pairs of tennis shoes, five pairs of gloves, twenty people asking us "have you done this before?", and one joker in a frigging t-shirt. We were forced to stop fifteen times or so for people turning around who had realized they were in over their head. Please be prepared.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, November 25, 2014
In response to ALC's question relating to the differences in mileage shown on their Garmin GPS compared to the that shown by Hiking Upward. I have found that my Garmin GPS routinely shows a longer track than the route published by Hiking Upward. I believe that it is more a matter of advancements made over time in the precision of the civilian GPS. Your newer Garmin GPS, by capturing more frequent points along your path, more accurately captures all the turns and switchbacks. Earlier GPS's captured less frequent points along a given path that resulted in a track that appeared as a series of connected straight lines at angles to each other. Is simply related to that old geometric rule that "a straight line is the shortest distance between two points." Hope this helps.
Date of Hike: Thursday, November 20, 2014
We hike Old Rag every year for my husband's birthday - a sort of test of the aging process -)
He just turned 56, I'm a bit younger. Two observations from this year:
1) It was surprisingly deserted! We usually have a moderate crowd, even on a weekday, but we actually had the summit to ourselves. We only saw 3 other parties.
2) We used a brand new Garmin GPS, and logged over 10 miles. We've noticed that our GPS says we hike further than posted mileages. I tend to believe the GPS - so how the NPS / Hiking Upward come up with mileages?
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