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Old Rag Mountain - SNP, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
9.1 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
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5.5 hours plus a half hour for lunch
2,415 ft
Shenandoah National Park
Printable Topo Hike Map (PDF)
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Old Rag Geology
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Park at the 200 car parking area on SR600/Nethers Rd. 38.57036, -78.28705
NOTE: The upper parking area at the trailhead is now closed to all public parking

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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Hiker Reviews For The Old Rag Mountain Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the Old Rag Mountain hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, July 08, 2017
So this was my second favorite hike I've ever done! (Favorite being a glacial ice field hike in Alaska). There is something so incredibly satisfying about finishing this hike. You are literally climbing the entire mountain, not put up close to the summit.

Starting with time, I got there at 7am on a saturday and there were a few cars, but hiking was secluded. Before the scramble I came into contact with maybe 3-4 people. I only had to wait for a couple of the scramble "obstacles" but the group was nice enough to let me continue ahead of them since I was faster. Most of the "obstacles" were very doable and you could make your own routes sometimes which was fun. The hardest part actually included on the trail was the little crack between two boulders. It wasn't rainy and everything else was dry except for the one rock you need as footing. I'm only 5'3 and was hiking alone, so I knew I needed to find another way to get up. I think the safer way to do this is shimmy with your back to the wet rock and your feet on the adjacent boulder. I felt like I was in a movie haha, but it's much more doable with less likely of falling and getting hurt (which almost happened when I attempted the normal way to get up).

Just remember these parts are not easy, but, for the most part, determination will get you up. I'm not and incredibly fit or strong and very short female but was able to get up with just a little trouble. Later, on one of the "false summits" there is a crack in a rock and it looks like you have to climb up it, so I did. You don't have to!! Save yourself the adrenaline rush, I mean I'm proud I did that without any help, but it was intense.

The 360 views from the summit are unbeatable, make sure you get up on a boulder for that heightened experience.

The entire time scrambling I was within 400 feet of another person, but never felt crowded. Even the hike back down wasn't very crowded. I saw 3 deer very close up because they weren't very scared. When I got back to the lot it was extremely busy. Big take away: start early!! 7 is a good time because the sun is up so it's not dark and there are a few people to be comfortable but not even close to crowded. It's also nice and cool for the intense ascent. It was 90 on the way down, but only 70 going up. And no joke about the water, bring more than you think you need and freeze at least one bottle so it's cool enough on the descent.


By: Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, June 02, 2017
This is the second time I hiked Old Rag this year. Great hike, beautiful weather.

Saw a lot more trash than usual. If you carry water bottles, when they're empty, crush them and put them into your pack. Empties will bounce out of the side pocket. Someone left a gallon jug of water on the rock scramble, it may have been to difficult to hike with.

Also, keep in mind, there are no bathrooms other than at the port-a-lets in the parking lot or at Old Rag Shelter where there's privy with no toilet paper (bring your own). There was human waste on the trail on June 2nd. I'm sure it was human as there was toilet paper mixed with it and I'm pretty sure it wasn't left by the Charmin Bear. The best thing to do is bring a trowel, dig a hole, and bury your waste. There's no place to do this on the scramble so you'll have to do your business before or after.

After the .8 mile trek to the trail head with a modest elevation gain, it's an uphill hike to the rock scramble. If you are not in shape, take your time, take photos, stop for a snack. You gain about 1800' from the parking lot to the scramble. It's a bit like Mary's Rock in terms of steepness but Mary's Rock is only a 1200' gain.

The scramble can be challenging. I'm a 56 year old woman in good shape, I'm about 5'4". I hike a ton but find a few obstacles very challenging. I prefer to hike with a partner for assistance. I've occasionally relied on trail friends for help. There's a rather difficult spot where you have to pull yourself up 5-6 feet. On May 18th, the rocks were wet and I struggled to get traction. Thanks to Nick and Rick from Annapolis for the hand up. I can do this when it's dry. I also struggle to get across what I call "water bottle" crevice. (Not the one you climb down.) Although I can step across to the other side, I can't seem to shift my weight over the leg on the far side. There's no hand hold to pull yourself across. Most people seem to push off (and lose their water bottles) but I keep visualizing myself at the bottom of the crevice with a broken ankle. I'd appreciate any sincere suggestions. After that there's another large round boulder to climb up. It's a bit challenging because of its size and it's somewhat smooth, probably due to all the people climbing the same spot. If you can't get up it, walk around to the backside where the granite is still rough. Much easier.


By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, May 25, 2017
Last time I hiked this trail it was in the late 70's. Not much has changed except the trail is more maintained and they moved the parking lot back a mile or so (used to park at the trail head). The rock scramble is the same! Very nostalgic hike in the clouds and rain. This is a great gear and leg workout....very friendly ranger at the parking lot....

By: JAM Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, May 14, 2017
Always a fantastic hike! Probably my favorite in the region. Yesterday it was so clear I could see Arlington/DC in the distance, this was also very early in the morning. It is strenuous and the crowds can be insane on weekends. My tip is to try starting before sunrise to beat the crowds if you really want to do this hike on a weekend.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Amazing hike. Great for the huge amount of early wildflowers in bloom, the ascent which is a great workout and the rock scramble which is really incredible as well as strenuous enough to be a good workout. A group of nine of us tackled it today taking eight hours with a lot of wildflower identification stops and a couple snack breaks. Lunch on top provided spectacular views in many directions. All in all one of the best in the Park!

    View all 554 reviews for the Old Rag Mountain hike
Video
Old Rag - Saddle Ridge Trail Easterly View
Old Rag - 1st Crack on the Saddle Trail
The Staircase - Ridge Trail - Old Rag

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

Early January (photos courtesy of Heidi W.)
 
Mid October
Late December
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