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)
This was a most challenging hike. To be completely fair, this was a great hike but the "rock scramble" goes on for about a mile and on a scale of 1-10, I give it a 10 for difficulty. I would not recommend climbing down that way due to difficulty. Now my wife and I are 65 and 66 yoa respectfully so this could have had a bearing on the difficulty. However, if you are not in good physical condition, I would suggest hiking to the peak counterclockwise to avoid these rocks. And I would definitely avoid them in rainy weather as even dry they were slick. Other than that, the views were spectacular in all directions! It was a good, long 7+ hour day which included a lunch break. Also, from the parking area, you walk along the road for 8/10's of a mile before you get to the trailhead. Be prepared if its your first time.
Date of Hike: Saturday, April 16, 2016
My husband and I arrived to the parking lot around 9:45am, it was completely full and had to pay $10 to park.
We didn't pay a fee due to it being National Park week :)
We started the hike at 10am and finished by 6:30pm. We did take several breaks, for me to catch my breath lol, and to eat. We breaked twice to eat a sandwich.
There was a line at the start of the rock scramble but you'll see that as you continue on, some people don't go all the way, therefore leaving you with some peace for a about 10 mins or so.
The rock scramble was pretty intense, but when you get to Old Rag summit and look at the point where the scramble started...well it's an indescribable feeling. Lots of people go back down the way they came up but my husband and I did the loop, down Saddle trail and then to Weakley Hollow Fire road. I will say this, going back down this way is easier but its long, and it felt like the trail was never going to end lol, I was so worn out from the rock scramble.
To avoid the rock scramble, you can go up through Weakley Hollow Fire road, Saddle Trail up to Old Rag Summit and then back down
Recommendations: Take gloves (our hands were sooo sore) because your hands will take some beating, make sure to wear shoes with lots of traction, do not carry a big bookbag (it'll be hard to get in between cracks), and always have a positive attitude!
I am not in the best of shape, my husband is, but I managed through :)
Overall, this is my favorite hike I've done!
Date of Hike: Friday, April 15, 2016
We started our hike around 11:00 am and finished in 5.5 hours, we didn't have to wait too much on the rock scrambles so I think that helped us stay on pace. The trails are very easy to follow and well marked. The trails were also quite well walked and pretty free of trash and debris, which is surprising for such a popular hike. the solitude rating of zero is accurate. We hiked on a Friday morning and only had brief moments of solitude, and mostly could see and hear other groups the entire hike. The view is beautiful, worth the low rating of solitude because the peak has plenty of room to stretch out, sit and have a snack. The rock scramble is fun, and challenging but not too much. The first scramble down into the crevice was probably the most challenging part. I was glad I didn't hike this alone, I was fortunate enough to have help on the harder parts.
If you don't want to scramble you can go up the fireroad. The scramble is just a fun way to get through the mountains. I would like to try this hike again, maybe another weekday morning or off time, because being around other people the whole time was frustrating because I enjoy some quiet and solitude while hiking. We did see four deer drinking water out of the creek along the fireroad in brief moment of silence, but I assume the teenagers who were shouting back and forth to each other probably missed that sight.
Date of Hike: Saturday, March 26, 2016
We arrived at the Old Rag parking lot at around 6:40am- the lot only had about 10 total cars in it at that point. We paid our fee and began the hike.
All in all, this was the most fun I've had on the hike, and the views from the top are absolutely incredible. We we fortunate to have no wind, and low humidity, so you could see for miles and miles.
A few things that I would recommend:
1) Do not bring a large pack with you
- I hiked with an Osprey Kestrel 28, and it was about the max that I would recommend. You'll have a tough time maneuvering through the rock scramble in certain areas with packs larger than that. If you bring a large pack, brink rope to pull and lower your pack in certain spots.
2) Bring plenty of water.
- I hiked with about 3L, which was about 1L too much. On hot days, however, I could see going through 3L pretty quickly.
3) The hike is a little longer than advertised on this site. According to my GPS, we hiked a total of 11.07 miles, from the parking lot, up the Old Rag Trail, and down the fire road. We did venture out to a rock or two beyond the bird's nest scramble, but it was a minimal distance (0.1 mi) from the trail.
Date of Hike: Saturday, March 12, 2016
Parking lot was full when I arrived at noon, so had to pay an extra $10 for a spot on the adjacent private lot (this hustle is run by an elderly couple, and considering the constant stream of hikers interrupting their rural peace and quiet, you can only get so mad).
Started just after noon and finished the circuit by 4pm, keeping a fairly quick pace throughout. The rock scrambling is a lot of fun, and relatively challenging. Hiking shoes are definitely recommended. It's worth noting that while the rock scrambling requires some athleticism, and the beautiful panoramic views along the peak stretch will probably make those afraid of heights a bit uneasy, none of the scrambling feels dangerous, as in the trail doesn't have any narrow ledges with big drops below, places where you might worry about falling off a cliff if you slipped, etc.
For one of the first Saturdays of spring the crowd wasn't quite as bad as I had feared, although the trail did get backed up along the stretch near the peak with the more difficult scrambling bottlenecks. The yellow part is just several miles of slightly downhill fire road, so turning back at some point along the blue part is probably a better option, especially for those starting early and looking for a fuller day or out at an off time when the rock scrambling stretch won't get congested. A great hike overall!
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.