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.
Special Notice For 2013: Our friends from Old Rag Mountain Stewards are concerned, as we all should be, about the amount of trash being left on Old Rag this year. Please help spread the word about the Leave No Trace Principles. In the event you did not know there is a current Shenandoah NP Rock Outcropping Management Plan (ROMP) to consider what to do to protect rock outcroppings like Old Rag. One of the more extreme options is to close it down, let’s hope that doesn't happen! If you have an upcoming trip to Old Rag, please consider taking an extra trash bag to help clean up the trail from those who are not so considerate of the great treasure we have in Old Rag.
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)
I hiked this with my sister and brother, both are in good physical shape and were well prepared to deal with any weather that might have happened. We knew it was going to be a wet day and pack rain gear. I have done several hikes and this is a challenging one. This is one I like to do to get an extra tough work out. We made it to the summit in 2 hours (pretty quick considering the elevation). Overall we completed the hike, including stopping for lunch, in 4.5hours. As you can see, our speed was quick since the hiking upward states it 5.5 hours. It was overcast so we really focused on the actual hike as opposed to the views.
NEGATIVES: I am a huge fan of this hike, but not as much this time. There were many inexperienced hikers/climbers. Some blocked the pathway and were irritated when we nicely asked if we could pass. We found a gallon jug of pee right off the main path. Human feces behind one of the old stone foundations off the Weakley Hollow Fire Road. Obviously people don't understand the phrase "leave no trace'. Take your tissues, waste, and bottles with you when you leave. There are trash receptacles at the parking lot.
TIPS: The upper parking lot is permanently closed. Be prepared to walk a bit before you begin your ascent. Get there before 9am if you want to park in the lot. Be prepared to pay $15 cash per car for parking. Bring 1.0 - 1.5 liters of water with you on a cool day, 2 liters on a warm day. Watch the weather and pack appropriately. We saw some girl wearing SANDALS to hike. What the heck was she thinking?! Rocks become very slippery when they are wet.
OVERALL: I will do this hike again for the muscle challenge.
Date of Hike: Friday, May 10, 2013
My wife and I have been wanting to hike Old Rag for years and we were not disappointed. We arrived at the lower parking area at 9:00AM to only a handful of cars. The fee station was manned and the ranger was very helpful and knowledgeable about the mountain. It was $15 for our car, so we just ended up buying the Shenandoah annual pass for $30, since we plan to hike other mountains and visit Skyline Drive this fall. Now to the hike:
It was a .8 mile walk from the car to the trailhead entrance and we chose to run this portion as we are avid trail runners. The first hour of the hike consisted of steady and constant elevation gain on hardpacked dirt trails with 8-9 switchbacks. The trail crossed a beautiful rushing mountain creek/river several times and the constant sound of rushing water was very peaceful. The rock scramble is where the fun really began. This consisted of about a mile or so of constant rock climbing, boulder hopping, and weaving and squeezing our way through various rock formations. We absolutely LOVED this section of the hike! Just before we reached the summit, we passed a no-joke rattlesnake just off the edge of the trail so be careful and stick to the marked path! It took us about 2 hours to get to the summit where we climbed the highest rock to take a little rest. The views from the top are breath-taking! The hike back down is just over 5 miles and, like some other reviewers said, is much less inspiring. We chose to run portions of the downhill that were not too rocky. The last 2-3 miles was literally walking down a hard packed dirt/gravel road back to the trail entrance, which got a little boring after awhile. However, make sure to stop by the rushing creek on your left hand side which was cold and refreshing and absolutely beautiful! We finished the hike in about 3.5 hours, from parking lot to mountain climb and back, with about 20-30 mins of total stoppage time. All things considered, the rock scramble was so fun and the views were awesome which made up for that last stretch on the backside of the mountain. Some tips for your hike:
1. Bring LOTS of water and some salty/carby snacks: I brought a 100ounce camelbak which I thought would be enough for both of us and we still ran out of water about 90% of the way through the hike. We brought things like pretzels, nature valley bars, etc which really helped to keep us going.
2. Wear sturdy(ier) shoes: your Nike Frees are not gonna cut it. The rock scramble involves some pretty serious climbing, jumping, and ability to grip boulders that are at a pretty serious angle, etc
3. I would not suggest doing this for your first hike if you are not accustomed to long uphill hiking or have bad knees. Also, the front portion would not be very kid friendly. I did see people taking the backside of the mountain up to the top to avoid the rock scramble and intense elevation gain portions, and this was definitely more do-able for kids, older folks, knee problem, etc.
4. Bring a camera!
Date of Hike: Sunday, May 05, 2013
I'm not an experienced hiker, I have hiked regularly for only about 10 months. We went on a Sunday, arrived around 830. The parking lot was half empty. When we came back to the parking, it was almost filled up. So it's a good idea to get there early. It took us 6.5 hours for the hike, stayed1 hour on the summit. I love this hike, it has some difficult spots, where you need to use your arms more than expected, but it was also fun. There are a lot of friendly hikers offer to help if needed. I enjoyed every bit of it. Going down is a little boring, but after all the rock climbing and hoping, I don't mind taking an easy hike. I would not recommend first time hiker comes by himself/herself.
The view is great. I will come back again.
Date of Hike: Friday, May 03, 2013
I am a novice hiker. The major extent of my hiking has been the Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls, MD. The rock scramble of this hike is comparable to that and super fun. BUT, getting to the rock scramble and then back down is HARD. Walking up hill for miles is not what I consider fun. After the rock scramble and being completely exhausted I was faced with a 5.1 mile walk back. At least it was downhill, but after awhile of that it was very tiring. By the time we got back to the trail head, and still faced the road walk back to the parking lot, everything from my waist down hurt.
I have to say, I am glad I did it and I'm glad it's over! The views at the top are amazing and worth the hike. We got to the parking lot at 8:30am on a Friday morning and got back to the car at 1:10pm. I can't imagine doing this hike when it is crowded though.
Date of Hike: Sunday, April 28, 2013
@ Hikerbella. I have to agree with M. I don't like the hike very much either. My major issue is not with the views. The views are great- not the best in the world but they are very nice. My issue is that the trail is in several cases excessively dangerous because of the erosion that all the hiking has done to the rocks in critical parts of the trail. I would encourage the Park Service to realize this- I have complained before- and create ways to make this a little more realistic for experienced hikers, much less even the average person.
Ive hiked easily more than 200 times. I am not inexperienced hiker- but I have to say that Old Rag was by far and away the most dangerous hike that I have done because of the wear of the rocks. If you are someone that isn't experienced- Old Rag is not the hike to try the first time. Go to others first- Signal Knob, Mcafee Knob, Overall Run, High Knob Big Schloss... etc. Get some experience under your belt before you go so that you are concious of the hazards of a hike like this one. Even with a lot more than what I've said before, when I got to the rocks, you still aren't really prepared for it. In some places its closer to rock climbing than hiking.
The other issue that I have with this hike is that the tail end of it is UNBELIEVABLY boring. After you get to past the side overlooks, which are anti-climactic after the 360 degree views, you are basically walking in the woods until the end. (at least another couple of hours.) A lot of people run down once they get to the roads. Every time I do this hike by about halfway back down I want to punch myself for doing it again. I don't know why this hike repeatedly gets 5 stars. Yes the views are great but there are other places just as good and open- and not as dangerous or long and boring at the end!
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