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)
It was a great hike the weather was at it's best, me and my wife are in our mid 50"s and found the the trail very challenging. Prepare yourself for the rock scramble, safety first . We took it slow and took rest stops for water and Power Bars finished in 7 hours. Glad we made the hike early and before the weekend because we needed extra time to work through the harder section of the trail. The veiw would have been awsome if the leaves were gone.
Date of Hike: Sunday, August 31, 2014
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: Saturday, August 23, 2014
I'm relatively in shape and try to go hiking every weekend. That being said, I have a love-hate relationship with this hike. It's really tough. The hike up isn't so bad if you hike frequently and are used to switchbacks. The switchbacks are pretty well graded and predictable. They wind through quiet forest with enough scenic variety to keep it interesting. By the time you finish the rock scramble though, you're exhausted. You're really using your whole body on this hike, so those arm muscles I haven't been working were burning by the time I was done.
That being said, the views really are everything you expect them to be. They're amazing. And it's not just at the summit (Beware-- there are at least 4 or 5 false summits. Keep pushing upward and over until you see the sign saying you're there!), it's all over. We had a great time just taking in the sights. No wildlife really. I think it's too populated.
The only reason I'm giving this a 4 is the miles long fire road you have to walk to get back to the parking lot. I really hate fire roads as they completely take you out of the mindset that you're hiking through the woods if you see random cars drive by and feel gravel under your feet. And this fire road is long, especially after you've already hiked a trail as tough as this. Just try to mentally prepare yourself for that walk.
Overall, definitely a great hike that everyone should try. Make sure you have plenty of water and great shoes!
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.
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