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)
Disclaimer: First real hike, ever, so I don't have anything to compare against. Having said that, my friends and I had a fantastic day hiking Old Rag.
Sleet in the morning (ended well before we reached the rock scrambles), and rain in the later afternoon, while we were on the long hike back to the parking lot, high of about 45 or so.
Crowds didn't seem too bad. There were maybe two times where we had to wait for more than 1 or 2 people to get through a stretch of trail before we could go. Everyone was very friendly and even helpful to each other. One very nice woman checked on me while I was catching my breath, to make sure I was OK.
Challenging, but not terrible. I have an irrational fear of heights, and there were only 3 or 4 places where the heights really bothered me, and even in those stretches, I have to acknowledge, my fear is irrational. Intellectually, there was no real danger, as long as you're careful, and conscientious about what you're doing.
I heartily recommend this hike for anyone who is interested in a challenging hike. Be prepared, follow the advice here on the site, and enjoy yourself.
Date of Hike: Saturday, April 11, 2015
I LOVE this hike! Today was my fourth time, but by far the fastest - did the 9.0 mile loop (from parking lot to parking lot) in 3hr, 13min. Note, though, that I was alone, didn't sightsee, didn't have any queues during any of the rock scrambling, and was doing it much more for the exercise and training. With my Camelbak and accessible snacks, I didn't even stop for breaks except for a couple of minutes at the summit.
Devon A Stoney
Date of Hike: Saturday, April 11, 2015
This hike really is challenging if you go up the trail and do the scrambles but definitely worth it! I am still sore but the day was perfect for this hike. Glad we did it. The park rangers were out in force and I would definitely recommend getting there early to get a parking space.
Date of Hike: Saturday, April 04, 2015
Started out for Old Rag from Arlington a little after 7am and arrived to the parking area by 9am and it was already starting to fill up. Took the prescribed route on Hiking Upward and really enjoyed it. Passed a few people on the way up but essentially was alone for most of the hike until I reached the rock scramble area. I can definitely see how this section can get very backed up with people coming from both directions and differing levels of experience.
Next time I do this hike, i'll probably go counter clock-wise and take the fire road up to hit the summit first.
Finished and arrived back at my car in right at four hours. I also didn't take a lunch break.
Date of Hike: Saturday, April 04, 2015
Beautiful hike for those who are experienced hikers and have some scrambling experience. Got in early and thought that I was spaced out enough to have the trail to myself until I got to the rock scrambles. Not a huge deal as I liked chatting while waiting for people to do the sections. I'm glad to see people enjoy the outdoors as much as I do, but some caution would be advised. Wear shoes with good treads, have extra water and snacks (emergency kit is also a great idea) and please space yourselves out on the scrambles. Overall great hike but very heavily trafficked.
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