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)
did this one this morning. whoo wee! tough hike. it was 11 miles all in from the parking lot and took roughly five hours not counting a couple breaks ). trails are very well marked and maintained. the best views I've seen in SNP. highly recommend this hike! saw a humingbird, deer, and skunk.
happy trails -
Date of Hike: Monday, August 25, 2014
This is an amazing and challenging hike. It is dangerous at times, but that is part of my enchantment with Old Rag. It's often hard to find a trail that doesn't baby you. If you are looking for guardrails and warning signs, Old Rag is not for you.
We started at 11AM and ended up finishing at 5PM. I was with a less fit partner that required more breaks. Crowds were not a problem, especially past the first false summit. As soon as the scramble started there were only a handful of groups and everyone was courteous.
This is one of my favorite hikes, and I will be going back in October to experience the fall. Just be prepared- this isn't a regular hike where it's a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. This is extremely physical, and if you are out of shape you can seriously hurt yourself or die on one of the rocks.
Date of Hike: Friday, August 22, 2014
My son and I hiked this and absolutely loved it. We're both new to hiking, we did some short hikes while vacationing in Maine a few weeks ago and realized that we really enjoyed it. This was a bit of a step up in difficulty but we both fared pretty well and had a great time. The description provided is pretty accurate, but it does somewhat downplay the first part of the hike. The switchbacks are pretty hard and I was getting fairly tired. Actually a little nervous given all the warning about the rock scramble. But we both found the rock scramble to be very energizing ... in part because it is so fun and also you get to employ your whole body in the workout instead of just your legs. Really just can't express how fun the scramble was. Once you get to the Old Rag shelter it is really just a long walk. After the scramble a bit boring, and for this 50+ year old, a time for the muscle aches to start revealing themselves. But it was very nice and offered plenty of time to chat about the hike and so on. Also, a nice little stream ran along most of it.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, August 19, 2014
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.
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