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)
Three of us hiked the Old Rag mountain this morning, myself a 53 year old avid hiker, my 16 yr old son who hikes with me frequently and my Wife who is 52 and less of a hiker but in good shape. We decided to do the sunrise hike, and and with much advice from this page we left the main car park at 3.45 am with head lamps, gloves, 2L water each and food. Hiking in the dark was very cool but slightly nerve wracking when you are not familiar with bear and snake habits at night!! We are not from around here! The moon was 3 days after full moon so we had good light but the headlamps were essential, especially when we came across a small rattler just before the rock jumble! The switchbacks was a fairly easy ascent, given that we had 2 hours sleep that night! The rock climb was great fun but fairly slippery. Much to my surprise everyone found the gloves to be a big help! The rocks are much smoother with the frequent use than I remember 25 years ago! I think if it was raining it would be VERY tough.
Our night was perfect with no clouds and we arrived at OUR summit 5 minutes from sunrise at 6.48 am. I say "our" summit because when we reached the top we realized we were not at the true summit, which was another 10 minutes on, but that backtracking up to the big rock would give us a better view of the valley for sunrise. We had an outstanding view of the entire valley and had the whole summit ridge to ourselves. It was perfect, we spent almost two hours up there and then made a quick run to the real summit.
I would say that the rock scramble was really fun, a little tough with backpacks at points and anything that stops you using 2 hands is inadvisable. However it was easy for all of us to ascend with our own power but helpful sometimes to get a boost or a pull! Doing it in the dark can be slightly confusing but as we were a little jumpy about any more snakes we just took our time and followed the blue marks. We ate breakfast on the summit rock and carefully packaged our garbage up and headed don the same way.
We decided to go back the rock scramble as it was fun and on the way up we had been in darkness. We had seen some wonderful views with the slightly reddening sky leading to sunrise but we wanted to see the rocks in daylight. My strongest memory of this hike from 25 years ago was the LONG endless hike down the other side on the fire road that looked all the same and never ended. I think they way we did was perfect for us because the way back down was like a completely different hike in the day light!
We ascended in 3 hours and descended in 2 hours. On a tuesday in Sept we were surprised to meet a total of 18 couples and one family of 4 on the way up, it IS a popular hike but we got through the rock scramble before we met anyone so there were no waits like I had read of here.
Considering that we had 7 litres of water between us we actually had finished all of it just as we arrived back to the car! My wife says we drink a lot but I would have suffered with any less, and we hiked in the cool of night and early morning! Heed the warnings on this page take lots of water especially if you are starting out at 11am like we saw people doing. One couple passed us on the way up and my son pointed out they hardly had any water. We had one sandwich each and tons of granola bars but it was too much food for such a quick hike.
We were home by 12 am and had the whole day in front of us. I have hiked all over the world and I and my family throughly enjoyed this hike. Do this hike! Leave early, take gloves, take lots of water and a dry shirt to change into on the summit as even in Sept we found it chilly at 7am in the breeze.
Date of Hike: Sunday, August 02, 2015
This is one of my favorite hikes in SNP. I have completed it about 14 times and am getting ready to go and do it again. The hike is a little less than 9 miles if you do the circuit. If you go up and down the rock-scramble side it is about 8 miles. The scenery is beautiful and the hike can be a little strenuous if you are not in decent shape. You can do it, just take it slowly. Bring lots of water and some snacks to help keep your energy up. I recommend doing the midnight hike.. Start at the trailhead around 2:30 or 3:00am (wearing a headlamp or having a flashlight) and hike up and watch the sunrise. It is a cool experience.
Get there early to avoid the crowds especially in the fall when the leaves are turning. There are several places in the rock-scramble that only allows one person to go at a time, so when there are crowds you can end up waiting for others to complete the obstacle.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 18, 2015
Started at 9:30am on a Saturday, weather was overcast with forecast of afternoon thunderstorms. At 9:30am the parking lot was about half full and filling fast. I'm 59, did the hike with my 29 yr old son. The hike took us 5 hours 15 minutes, parking lot to parking lot. I wore a fitbit, not real sure how accurate the numbers are but from my experience they are usually surprisingly accurate. My fitbit numbers were: 24495 steps, 11.18 miles, 2762 calories, 152 "floors" which equates to 1520 feet altitude climb (from what I've read the altitude rise I measured is a bit suspect, I would expect 2200-2500, but who knows). I'm in pretty good shape, my son is in extraordinary shape. For me, the miles, elevation rise, trail surface were all no problem at all. The rock scramble was for the most part challenging but very doable, however much to my surprise (and dismay) there were two spots on the rock scramble I had to get help from my son. For my son, the rock scramble was fun, he bounded up like a mountain goat. He did the hike talking the whole way and I'm pretty sure he could have done the hike a second time had he wanted. Based on my experience I recommend a minimum of 4 bottles (2 liters) of water, 5 is probably better, and a minimum of 4-5 energy bars (1000-1500 calories).
This is a great hike, good mix of trail hiking and rock scramble, almost entirely in the shade. It does get a bit crowded, mostly people in their 20's and 30's, we were almost always within hearing of large groups, everyone was very friendly and very polite, though at times it sounded like there was a kindergarten class behind us :).
The views and scenery live up to the hype, you won't be disappointed.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 11, 2015
Been wanting to do this hike for awhile. Was supposed to be a nice weekend but rain enter the forecast late in the week. We decided to go ahead and do the hike. Started around sunrise. Only a few other cars in the parking lot. A light rain started as we started up the trail. This soon turned into a heavy rain the didn't stop until we reached the summit. Great hike and we only saw a few people during the hike. Rain and our early started help there. At the end of the hike on the road back to the parking lot we encountered alot of hikers starting out and the parking lot was nearly filled. Going to have to come back when the views are not covered with clouds.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 11, 2015
Arrived at a surprisingly crowded lower parking lot by 8:30 a.m. Never having hiked Old Rag on a weekend, this was culture shock! Rain ended just as a friend and I left the lower lot at 8:45 a.m. Mostly cloudy and very humid conditions - steady pace all the way to the beginning of the boulder scramble - soaked in sweat long before this point! Started to see some patches of blue sky, which eventually gave way to a bit of sun through the clouds. Stopped for lunch and a dry out before hitting the more difficult part of the rocks. Lots and lots of hikers - had to stop several times waiting for lines of hikers to make their way through the boulders. Finally stood on the summit shortly after noon, and lingered long enough to enjoy the mist-shrouded views of the surrounding valley and mountains. More than 18 years had passed since I last stood there - nice to know I can still do it at 57 years young! This was my friend's first time up Old Rag, but he is an Iron Man and up to the challenge!
One of the reasons I hike is for the solitude. That said, I will never again hike Old Rag on the weekend. I don't mind sharing the mountain with a few like-minded solitude seekers, but those days are long gone now that the word is out. This is a phenomenal hike and a very special place. Enjoy!
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