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
Interactive Hike Map BelowPrintable
Topo Hike Map (PDF)
Hike route in Drag the map with your mouse using the icon Zoom with the controls on the left
Mouse-over the icons in the map below for location shots
Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Old Rag Mountain hike:
Reviews For The Old Rag Mountain Hike (5 Most Recent)
Was a warmer day (50 degrees) so decided to take advantage of the weather. It was a Saturday and arrived at noon, there were about 20 cars in the parking lot but not crowded by any means. We were alone for most of the hike, we passed people here and there but much more solitude then you would normally find in the spring/summer/fall. I was comfortable in light pants, short sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt, North Face shell, hat and gloves. I didn't really need my hat much and the gloves were helpful with the rock scramble.
We did the rock scramble section first and finished on the fire road. Although it was warmer out, there was snow and ice on the trail once you got to higher elevation. I would recommend wearing hiking boots or shoes with good traction. The snow was not deep and packed down but your shoes will get wet on the bottom making the rock scramble sections difficult. I had sneakers on and was able to complete the hike but would not recommend wearing them. The descent had the worst conditions, there was a section that was mostly a sheet of ice and very difficult. We found the best method to get down without falling was to step on rocks that were protruding. Once we got through this section and to the fire road, everything was dry. Although, the fire road is long and boring, we were glad to be done with the ice!
It took us a total of 5 hours, including stopping for about 20 mins at the top to eat and enjoy the views. I would recommend going this time of year if you want to enjoy the hike without the crowds. Just be prepared for possible snow/ice!
Date of Hike: Sunday, January 18, 2015
We chose to go up the rock scramble, and with 2,300 feet of vertical climb in 3.8 miles there was a lot of scrambling, but we loved the challenge and we loved
the views. This is both challenging and an awesome hike. We are 54 and 55, both loved it and felt both challenged and satisfied. We were hoping to be the first up In 2015, but we had lots of company. A beautiful day with a tiny bit of sleet and rain, but we loved it and we both totally recommend the circuit hike, going up with the rock scramble and down the saddle trail and road. We both felt like this was a "lifetime hike" - in our top ten. Just be sure to take water and safety stuff and if you go up the rock scramble side - be ready to rumble. And be safe by following Park Service recommendations.
Date of Hike: Saturday, December 27, 2014
This time, we did the hike in reverse so we get the boring part, the fire road, over first. From then on it was beautiful. I do not recommend this hike to people who are afraid of heights or do not enjoy rock scrambling.
Date of Hike: Friday, December 26, 2014
Awesome day with amazingly warm temperatures for the time of year. Very little ice and negligible snow combined with the great Old Rag granite to make for good footing. Many people on the mountain, including a trail running crew heading up the Ridge Trail as we reached the (closed) upper parking lot returning via the fire road. They clearly were going to be finishing up in the dark! Probably the best day hike in the region. Climbing in winter really opens up the views and helps keep the crowds down. However, extreme cold or icing conditions can make the rock scramble treacherous.
Date of Hike: Sunday, December 21, 2014
Happy winter solstice! My brother and I hiked up to the overlook at the beginning of the rock scramble in order to watch the sunrise on this, the shortest day of the year. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and the sunrise was quite unimpressive, but it was still a great day of hiking. Once the sun was up, we continued on to the summit. The rock scramble is always fun. The views from the top of Old Rag are always awesome. And, although it was chilly (mid-upper 20s F when we started, low 30s by the time we finished), there was no wind and the hiking kept us plenty warm. Just remember to wear layers so you can remove (or add) layers as needed to keep your body comfortable. There was no snow on the mountain and just a few patches of ice that could be easily avoided. And, with the 5 am start, there were no crowds!
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