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)
This is the second time I did this hike. First time was about two weeks ago.. and what a difference two weeks can make! If you get the chance, the trees are at peak color in my opinion, and absolutely breathtaking. I usually do long hikes on the AT north of SNP to stay away from crowds, and I always considered Rag Mountain a tourist trap so I stayed away from it. But, today I am proud to say I saw a wild BLACK BEAR for the first time in my life!!! It was a cub that crossed the trail about 20 yards in front of me at the 4.2 km mark from the lower parking lot(I had GPS), and I was a little worried that Mama bear would be near, but i kept moving and it turned out fine. So now I must admit, Old Rag is the best day hike accessible to DC. Views, rock scrambles, and wildlife encounters that rival the most remote of trails in the Appalachia make Old Rag a winner.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 25, 2014
We arrived on the mountain around 8am. Somehow we got turned around and actually parked at the opposite end of the mountain, we came up berry hollow road and parked there (no charge to park). We had to hike up a road about a half mile where we came to division straight down the fire trail to start the hike at Old Rag parking, or right heading straight up to the summit (where most are coming down). We decided to go straight for the summit.
I've done both ways now.
This hike was a little more steep heading up, but we reached the summit within 2 hours and it was beautiful!
At this point you have 2 options, to go back down the way you came, or to head down through the rock scramble which we did. Fighting the bottleneck of people coming up the mountain, wasn't much fun, but at least we weren't waiting in a line just go get up the mountain (and there was a VERY LONG LINE) we were very lucky that people were kind and lets us squeeze through. Teamwork people! It's a plus on this mountain!
We reached the bottom (Old Rag Parking) by 1:00. But we still had to hike back up to our car at the other parking lot, which was another 2.5 miles. This was an easy hike for those who had gone the opposite way because this was a downhill beautiful walk. For us, it was uphill the whole way.
I don't recommend this hike for the elders, for anyone who has knee issues, or for backpacking children.
I definitely recommend either starting early or starting late. I also recommend trying the hike backwards like we did.
I believe it was a better workout and I burned more calories going the opposite way.
We did take my 6 year old nephew and he did great most of the way, until we started walking up the fire trail. That was tough for him, and he basically cried the whole way back to the car.
I hope to do this hike in a couple of weeks again.
Date of Hike: Friday, October 24, 2014
Beautiful day to hike and views of all the fall colors were fantastic. Brought my 15 year old and 19 year old. We took our time went up and back the rock scramble trail. It took us 7 hours total.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Going on a weekday, there were only about 10 cars in the parking lot. I went clockwise, as I usually do, and had a blast (again, as usual). Found some cool insects and met some cool people on the way up. The fire road is long and a little too flat for my liking, so after spending some time at the summit, I went back the way I came. Shortly after leaving the summit a moderately heavy rain came through. This made the rock scramble HARD. What is usually medium-difficulty was now high-difficulty. My shoes were slipping on every boulder. I had to stop and think about how I was going to approach each scramble. Luckily, I didn't hurt myself but wow, this made the workout much more intense. If there is rain predicted, be wary that the rock scramble will be exponentially harder. While this made the experience more exciting for me, an instance like this may ruin the hike for you if you are unable to pass the more difficult parts of the rock scramble.
P.S. The views are incredible right now.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, October 21, 2014
The first time I hiked Old Rag I had two small children and plenty of energy. Now over 30 years later, with two grandchildren, one about to graduate from high school, I decided to try it again. What is wrong with me?
I am not in great shape but do walk several times each week. Since I live in FLA this is probably not the best preparation for hiking Old Rag. Also I probably should have invested in some shoes with a little tread on them instead of the racing slicks I was wearing which made the rock scramble even more interesting.
I arrived to an almost empty parking lot at about 8:30 on Oct 21st. I took two bottles of water, crackers, a fig bar and my arthritic knees and headed up the switchbacks toward the summit of Old Rag Mountain. My intention was to hike for one hour and then take a break. I took my first break after about 45 minutes. The higher I got the more frequent my breaks became. The views were getting better and better so this was a good excuse to stop and rest. By the time I reached the rock scramble I was almost spent. I would climb a little and then rest a little. I was glad it was a weekday with no crowds. Several hikers passed me while I rested but none had to wait for me or witness my unique style of hiking which at times included climbing on all fours. Some checked to make sure I had water and one offered me a band aid. It seems that although I wanted to abide by the ’leave no trace’ hiking practice, I was forced to leave a little skin on the rock scramble.
I reached the summit about noon. I was so happy I could have danced a little jig if my legs would have cooperated. The view was well worth the effort. I should have spent more time at the summit but was concerned about the trip down.
It was not as physically exhausting going down the other side but each step sent pain through my knees and hips. About the time I reached the fire trail it started to rain which was no problem then but had the rocks been wet when I went up the scramble, I would not have made it. My legs were killing me by the time I reached the parking lot and completed the hike within 6 or 7 hours.
I got in my truck, looked back at Old Rag and thought to myself ‘ah, that wasn’t so tough’.
If I had it to over again:
I would not go alone, could have used a push or pull from time to time.
I would have the proper footwear.
I would take more time to enjoy the hike 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.
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