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
Interactive Hike Map BelowPrintable
Topo Hike Map (PDF)
Hike route in Drag the map with your mouse using the icon Zoom with the controls on the left
Mouse-over the icons in the map below for location shots
Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Old Rag Mountain hike:
Reviews For The Old Rag Mountain Hike (5 Most Recent)
We chose to go up the rock scramble, and with 2,300 feet of vertical climb in 3.8 miles there was a lot of scrambling, but we loved the challenge and we loved
the views. This is both challenging and an awesome hike. We are 54 and 55, both loved it and felt both challenged and satisfied. We were hoping to be the first up In 2015, but we had lots of company. A beautiful day with a tiny bit of sleet and rain, but we loved it and we both totally recommend the circuit hike, going up with the rock scramble and down the saddle trail and road. We both felt like this was a "lifetime hike" - in our top ten. Just be sure to take water and safety stuff and if you go up the rock scramble side - be ready to rumble. And be safe by following Park Service recommendations.
Date of Hike: Saturday, December 27, 2014
This time, we did the hike in reverse so we get the boring part, the fire road, over first. From then on it was beautiful. I do not recommend this hike to people who are afraid of heights or do not enjoy rock scrambling.
Date of Hike: Friday, December 26, 2014
Awesome day with amazingly warm temperatures for the time of year. Very little ice and negligible snow combined with the great Old Rag granite to make for good footing. Many people on the mountain, including a trail running crew heading up the Ridge Trail as we reached the (closed) upper parking lot returning via the fire road. They clearly were going to be finishing up in the dark! Probably the best day hike in the region. Climbing in winter really opens up the views and helps keep the crowds down. However, extreme cold or icing conditions can make the rock scramble treacherous.
Date of Hike: Sunday, December 21, 2014
Happy winter solstice! My brother and I hiked up to the overlook at the beginning of the rock scramble in order to watch the sunrise on this, the shortest day of the year. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and the sunrise was quite unimpressive, but it was still a great day of hiking. Once the sun was up, we continued on to the summit. The rock scramble is always fun. The views from the top of Old Rag are always awesome. And, although it was chilly (mid-upper 20s F when we started, low 30s by the time we finished), there was no wind and the hiking kept us plenty warm. Just remember to wear layers so you can remove (or add) layers as needed to keep your body comfortable. There was no snow on the mountain and just a few patches of ice that could be easily avoided. And, with the 5 am start, there were no crowds!
Date of Hike: Tuesday, December 09, 2014
This was a great hike, granted it was cold and windy but when you have the urge to go hiking, do it! Dressed in layers because it was 30 degrees plus wind chill, was concerned the morning before I left to the mountain because reports were showing snow conditions, but much to my surprise, all the surrounding peaks had snow on the trees but not Old Rag ( Kinda depressed because I wanted a Snow Hike! ). When your on the Rock Scramble during Icy and Muddy conditions, take your time and be ready to get cold if anyone plans to hike this during winter. Give your self plenty of time and don't get caught off guard on day light once you summit, the real summit and not the false summits before, your only half way done and don't want to descend in the dark on the trails, luckily for me that wasn't an issue. Since I did this yesterday, there was nobody and I mean nobody on the trails, so I got the solitude aspect at a 5 on my hike!
As for the water aspect, on the way up take advantage of the water run off and top off your water bottles if you have filters, and bring plenty of water with you because the only other time you can refill is when your just about done with the hike. So what ever you think is good for a water supply, double it.
Dressing for the cold, layers is king but don't start off with all of it on because your body will warm up when you move. A Thermo Layer of a Long Sleeve Shirt and Pants is perfect with some kind of satin or silk boxers/underwear, its an old trick I learned for hiking in the rain that I apply to all my hikes. Polyester Cargo Pants or something along those lines, you don't want them to baggy but you want them so you can point and position your footing on the rock scramble. A decent long sleeve cotton shirt for your second layer followed by a hard-shell coat that's water and wind proof. Gloves are key for the cold rock scramble, insulated and water proof is best. Bring extra socks if you hike after it rained or snow, you should be doing that anyways on hikes because your feet will still get wet even with water resistant boots! Balaclava is always the best option to have on your head when its cold and windy and also keep a fleece in your pack, you might toggle back and forth with the hard shell depending how cold and windy it is, the west ridge is more exposed then the east ridge, so as you are through all the fun parts of the rock scramble you will have an awesome view that's on the east ridge where the wind is either non existent or much lower to what your were exposed to, this is a great point to rest and have a bite to eat, this is a large area so if there were a ton of people hiking you will have plenty of room, also you will re-acquire cell phone reception at this point so if you need your internet fix or snap chat & face time fix, go ahead!
Beyond is the false summits and a few "caves" even though they are not really caves, they are close enough for me anyways! The 2 False summit views are amazing, take as many photo's at these two summits because the real summit is not as fantastic for the photo opportunity.
The summit has multiple vista's and has a sign indicating that your at the real summit and not another fake summit. At this point, take some time to rest your legs, your gonna need them on the way down because the trail is not as smooth as it was coming back up and watch your footing, there are tons of things that can mess you up! If its muddy then slow down because the clay "dirt" in some area's is like walking on grease. Pack a high powered head torche in your pack, its just good habit to have everything you need if you get caught in the dark on the way back down, during the descent, you will come across 2 cabins "huts" on the way down, these are good rest points if needed if you have the time.
All in all, awesome hike! If you never have done a Rock Scramble before, do not hike this alone, its always best to hike in pairs or groups anyways!
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