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)
Can't say enough good about hiking the Ridge Trail Boulder Scramble from the first "False Summit" to the last (4th) real summit. Snow and Ice were a HUGE threat down the back (Saddle Trail) however, until God had mercy on me and put Robert Look (NPS Volunteer) in my path. It was then that I learned of "Microspikes" (Shoe sized spike-embedded rubber slip-on nettings that brought back memories of putting chains on autotires). Anyway these REI-sold easy to carry life-savers were really all one could use descending in the dark (as we were doing) without giving way to sliding down on one's butt (whether accidentally or on purpose). And such sliding quickly gives way to torn pants if you're lucky (or worse if you're not)!!!!! Please also know that it goes without saying that a "Miner's lignt is an absolute must regardless of conditions (REI has these too!). You will always need to have your light because of the impossibility of knowing when you will actually summit (and it is pitch black up there when the lights go out, believe me:). Happy Trails.
Date of Hike: Saturday, January 18, 2014
Question: Are dogs allowed on this hike? If they are, is a good idea to bring them along? Thanks for the help!
Answer: Dogs are NOT allowed on the Old Rag Ridge Trail. For a full list of trails pets are not allowed on in the SNP visit: http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/pets.htm
Date of Hike: Friday, December 27, 2013
Great as usual! I have done it several times and it's the best in the mid-Atlantic. Fun scramble, great views, nice woods. ~5 hours to complete the trip, including stops and lunch at the top, with 5 kids (8 yrs old and up).
John and Dan
Date of Hike: Monday, December 16, 2013
This is a great hike--a lot easier in summer, without ice on trail and rocks.
We ascended on the ridge trail, returned on the bridle trail & fire road.
If you decide to climb in winter, after decent snow has fallen, be prepared for slow going and to be creative and adaptable in your approach to the mountain. Since days are short, begin very early in the morning to allow yourself ample time.
Previous hikers packed the snow on the trail to ice freezing and thawing covered rocks with a glaze of ice. Sure footing and handholds were hard to find, and sometimes not available at all. It took teamwork to ascend, sometimes requiring leaving the blazed trail to move up. A fun challenge, but requiring great caution to avoid slipping. The descent on the other side of the mountain was even slower and dicier, as the steep trail was solid ice.
We hiked on a cloudy day, no wind, with temps below freezing--perfect weather. If it was sunny, or temps were above freezing, the ice would have been covered with water, and we think it would have been simply too slippery to complete the hike we undertook.
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.
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