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)
My young adult boys and I hiked Old Rag today in tribute to my wife. This was my first hike of the year. We walked at a strong pace going up, took a few water breaks to the top. It's spring break for Virginia Colleges so we passed a few groups of a college kids on the way up. Its a solid hike and while it was in the low 40's, with a sweatshirt and sweatpants, we were sweating.
The Rock crawl is another workout in itself. You are climbing up rocks approximately another mile. Highly recommend good gripping soles, gripping gloves (you'll be using your hands) as you will have some upper body work.
The first time I went, we went down the other side, and down the fire road, approximately 5 miles total. This time, we went back the way we came through the rock crawl and going down the rock crawl was much easier. We did pass multiple groups going up and the parking lot was pretty full when we got back.
All in, with the pace and the breaks, we were able to complete in 4.5 hours. It's a great workout with fantastic views.
Date of Hike: Sunday, February 26, 2017
First, I'll get over with the bottom-line for my overview about the hike. I am 50-year old not remotely close to being fit but love photography and only did simple hikes before. This hike can be done by almost anyone with proper motivation and friends company. Just take long rests when tired and start EARLY, carry headlamps, good tight fit gloves for rock scrambling, and even a hiking pole and at least couple of bottles of water. I drank two small bottles in winter with rationing it wisely.
Three of us started the hike at 2:30 from the parking lot on a Sunday afternoon on a no moon day. About half way up I noticed the sun almost nearing the tip of Shenandoah mountains and soon the light is going to drop off fast and we almost stopped seeing anyone coming down by 5:00 pm. At this point as I wanted quit and turn back as I was worried it will be dark plus there are no more hikers to have company. But a friend insisted on keep going as going back down the other way is easier. The views started to get amazing as we got to rock scramble area and saw the first peak. I didn't celebrate on seeing the peak as we were already cautioned about 2 false peaks. So, kept going and around 5:45 came to the first false peak. Noticed the other peak and again panicked as we could hardly see sun. Since the only way to get down fast and easy in dark is to keep pushing up we finally reached the peak around 6:15 pm. Felt so happy to have completed the hike and the views from here were stunning at sunset. The entire Shenandoah mountain range looked like it had a large fire burning on the other side of the mountains. It's truly breathtaking and we sat took pictures and enjoyed the light fade away slowly. Took out our headlamps, had some snacks, and headed down around 6:45 pm. All long we kept looking up and enjoy the bright stars light up the sky. The sound of steams and feeling lonely in the mountains didn't feel scared at all..
Can't wait to go back and start the hike an hour or two early. If you have company enjoy the sunset and hike down in dark. Especially, in winter as you get great view of the sky. I enjoyed this hike way more than McAfee Knob hike.
Don't forget: Gloves for rock scramble.
Date of Hike: Thursday, January 26, 2017
Recommendations for Old Rag first timers: bring Gloves, enough water, snack/peanut butter sandwich/power bar (s), a packable wind breaker....
If you are planning on hiking more frequently, buying hiking shoes/boots would be recommended. Depending on your speed, your hike which is between approximately 7miles for the short loop and 9 miles for the long loop might take a while, therefore plan to start it accordingly. Don't forget to have an empty bag on hand for your trash and leave no trace!
Know your limits, as a suggestion: for the first couple of times, you can go half way up to the overlook, this will prepare your body to EASILY complete the full loop leaving you with pure hiking pleasure without any afterwards pain or body aches.
Date of Hike: Saturday, January 21, 2017
Knew crowds were going to be an issue, so we got on the trail by 7:30. Hike was beautiful - what seemed to be an overcast day turned into an amazing hike through the cloud line. Because started so early, we only encountered 3-4 people on the trail, and at no point were we forced to wait. Total time for hiking, including a 15 min lunch up top, was about 4 hours.
Dad with 6 and 8 yr old boys
Date of Hike: Tuesday, November 08, 2016
What an awesome hike! My sons(6 and 8) and I parked in the lower lot around 9am. After paying to park, we left the lot at 9:15. We passed maybe three groups and and was passed by another father with two older sons. The boys were fueled by one rest for some water and Halloween candy before we reached the first overlook and the beginning of the scramble. There were roughly 25-40 people on the scramble when we arrived. I had read about the scramble and its difficulty. I really wasn't prepared for how hard it was going to be for me and my six year old. We wore awful slippery running shoes. Don't get me wrong it was a blast. I just couldn't stop thinking about what would happen if one of them slipped and busted a leg or a head! I would suggest kids be atleast 8 before going on the scramble. There were absolutely no lines during the scramble and we only passed 5 or 6 groups on the decent. We arrived back at the lower lot just before 2pm. Hiked it in 4:43 minutes. I was worried about getting back in the dark and took three head lamps!
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.