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 hike gets a star rating for solitude, so the best time to enjoy Old Rag is during the week when there are significantly fewer people.
The circuit hike listed here follows the popular clockwise loop, however many hikers prefer to do this loop counterclockwise, thereby tackling the rock scramble at 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. If hiking on a nice weekend, the best time to arrive is by 7 a.m. before the crowds.
Mile 0.0 - From the Old Rag parking area walk 0.4 miles along paved Nethers Rd. at which point the road veers left. In another 0.4 miles Nethers Rd. ends at the closed Old Rag upper parking area.
Mile 0.8 - 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. From this first vista to the west, the Ridge Trail will become more rocky then arrive at the main easterly vista on the ridge in another 0.2 miles.
Mile 3.0 - From here 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. At the bottom of the crack continue out to the left. Follow the blue blazes passing around 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, then arriving 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 is 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.
Mile 4.1 - Descend south along the Ridge Trail for 0.4 miles to the intersection of the Saddle Trail and Byrd's Nest Shelter.
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
Mile 4.5 - Turn right descending on the blue blazed Saddle Trail. 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).
Mile 5.9 - Turn right downhill on the yellow blazed Weakley Hollow Fire Road. In 1.2 miles pass the Robertson Mountain Trail, then in another 200 yards the Corbin Hollow Trail. Continue along the Weakley Hollow Fire Road back to the upper parking area.
Mile 8.3 - Arrive at the closed upper parking area then continue down the paved Nethers Rd. for 0.8 miles back to the main parking area.
Mile 9.1 - Arrive back at the main parking area on Nethers Rd.
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Reviews For The Old Rag Mountain Hike (5 Most Recent)
A great work out rewarded by awesome views at the top. The downside is the crowds, even though we hit the trail around 8am there was absolutely no privacy. Once we started the final rock scramble it was painfully slow and some of the hikers are not very mindful of others. E.g. there was some guy hiking with a 3-4 year old who had a melt down and he made no attempt to get the kid out of the way, about 15 people had to wait till the kid stopped crying and made its way up. Also people tend hike very close to each other which from my training is not a good idea especially when scrambling up rocks - I'm of the school where one waits till the person in front has cleared the section and then the next person starts.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 22, 2016
Think the leaves need an extra week to be perfect. Hike was great, but when we got there at 7:30, I'd venture 20-30 cars int the parking lot. It was a cold, cloudy very windy day, and this did not deter anyone.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 22, 2016
Tis the season for HUGE weekend crowds from mid-October until leaves are off the trees around mid-November Old Rag will be CRAZY busy on good weather weekends. PLAN, PREPARE, STAY SAFE, HAVE FUN. When I arrived last weekend I think there were more cars in the neighbors pasture than in the packed full official lot. (500 plus cars.) The neighbors' charge $10 to park on their private property. The park entrance fee is separate. If there is room in the NPS lot parking is free. During leaf peeper season wait times in the scramble on a good weather weekend day will mean 1-2 wait times and 200 plus person lines between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Last weekend lots of folks were dressed for 70 degree temps. There were 10-40 mph winds on the ridge/summit and temps got down in the low 40's F once the sun went down. Keep in mind that if you sustain a non-ambulatory injury in the scramble it may take several hours for responders to arrive at your location and 2-6 hours for you to be carried out. Without the correct clothing you could easily suffer very serious hypothermia waiting for first responders to arrive. Days are getting shorter and our clocks will fall back an hour Sunday Nov 6. Bring lights preferable headlamps in order to leave your hands free. If you do not have at least one member of your party pretty familiar with the twists and turns of the one mile rock scramble it is best not to try it in the dark even with lights. The scramble is not marked as well and looks different going down it then coming up it. From the summit going down the Saddle Trail and Fire Roads it is easy to navigate in the dark if you have lights. The summit often has beautiful sunsets this time of year but keep in mind that from the summit you are still two hours from your car. If you get in trouble follow Mr Rogers' advice, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” There are often volunteers, good Samaritans or Old Rag Mountain Stewards on the mountain on the busy weekends. DO NOT LEAVE THE TRAIL IF IN TROUBLE. The first thing searchers/rescuers will do is walk the trails to look for you. If you are on the trail you will be found in hours but if you are 150 feet or MORE off the trail it could take days to be found. Practice good group management, know and follow Leave No Trace wilderness ethics. Teach young children about the National Association For Search and Rescue's (NASAR's), Hug A Tree skills http://www.nasar.org/hug_a_tree_program. PLAN, PREPARE, STAY SAFE, HAVE FUN.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, October 19, 2016
It was a perfect day, weather was great and got a little warm as well towards lunch. The colors were great, maybe peak at the top of the mountain or just before. There were a few people out like always but was not crowded on the trails at all. I enjoy this hike every time. There was a 4' black snake, a young adult black bear and a deer on the trail so it was nice to see some wildlife as well. By far one of the best weather days I have had on that hike. I always recommend it.
Giker (Girl Hiker)
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 08, 2016
I picked the best day to hike (strategically) because it was raining (100% chance) and I knew the trail would be relatively deserted. I reached the parking lot at around 8:30 am and saw only 3 vehicles parked, mine being the 4th one. After paying the fees and chatting with the park ranger about the hike and directions, I started at exactly 8:50 am. I don't mind the rain at all, but I was extra careful knowing the rocks would be slippery. Climbing up, the views were amazing, but at I reached the summit, I couldn't see anything because of the clouds. But the exhaustion and the experience itself was fantastic :) Coming down was, of course, a piece of cake. I didn't stop for lunch but did pause at the different view points so my breaks would add up to a total of 15 minutes. I was back at the parking lot at exactly 1 pm, which means I completed the hike in about 4 hours.
This was my first time so I was going really slow on the rocks, trying to maneuver through them. Now that I've done it once, I feel more confident and will definitely do it again...on a sunny weekday. This trail accurately deserves the rating of a 5/5 both in terms of difficulty and 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.