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)
It was a perfect day, weather was great and got a little warm as well towards lunch. The colors were great, maybe peak at the top of the mountain or just before. There were a few people out like always but was not crowded on the trails at all. I enjoy this hike every time. There was a 4' black snake, a young adult black bear and a deer on the trail so it was nice to see some wildlife as well. By far one of the best weather days I have had on that hike. I always recommend it.
Giker (Girl Hiker)
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 08, 2016
I picked the best day to hike (strategically) because it was raining (100% chance) and I knew the trail would be relatively deserted. I reached the parking lot at around 8:30 am and saw only 3 vehicles parked, mine being the 4th one. After paying the fees and chatting with the park ranger about the hike and directions, I started at exactly 8:50 am. I don't mind the rain at all, but I was extra careful knowing the rocks would be slippery. Climbing up, the views were amazing, but at I reached the summit, I couldn't see anything because of the clouds. But the exhaustion and the experience itself was fantastic :) Coming down was, of course, a piece of cake. I didn't stop for lunch but did pause at the different view points so my breaks would add up to a total of 15 minutes. I was back at the parking lot at exactly 1 pm, which means I completed the hike in about 4 hours.
This was my first time so I was going really slow on the rocks, trying to maneuver through them. Now that I've done it once, I feel more confident and will definitely do it again...on a sunny weekday. This trail accurately deserves the rating of a 5/5 both in terms of difficulty and views.
Date of Hike: Sunday, September 04, 2016
Amazing! This was the first out of many hikes I plan to take throughout the Shenandoah area & it was a doozy. I researched some of it & asked my friends for some tips + pointers but it's something that you have to experience to truly understand. The views are outstanding. Scrambling was tough but so much fun. TIP: Bring PLENTY of water. I drank 2 full bottles throughout the entire 9.1 miles & was dying for another one at the very end. It may seem annoying to bring so much water, but your body will thank you in the end for it!
Date of Hike: Sunday, August 14, 2016
The no camping sign on the Saddle Trail side of the mountain has been relocated from being near Byrds Nest Shelter to a spot a tenth mile lower on the Saddle Trail. This highlights the fact that the area around Byrds Nest Shelter is above 2,800 feet. The latest version of PATC's Map 10 has a line drawn on the map indicating the 2,800 contour line. There is no camping above 2,800 feet on Old Rag in hopes of protecting/preserving Old Rag's wild nature, island in the sky, micro habitat/ecosytem, for today's and future generations. Please check the NPS SNP web-site to find lots a good information to plan and prepare for your trip. https://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/index.htm
Date of Hike: Monday, July 18, 2016
Heed the warnings!!! Water - We (my 18-year-old grandson and I) took 2 quarts each and ran out on the way up, him before me. But, we did not know how far we still had to go to get to the top. Take at least 3 quarts each in the summer. We ran into people who had been there before and they said they knew 2 quarts was not enough. Signage - Signs along the way up were non-existent. Nothing to tell us how far we had gone, how far to the top, that this was the beginning of the rock scramble - nothing! Not the first sign until we were at the top, which was all of the way after the scramble. It looks like you are getting to the top and maybe it wasn't so bad and then you get to the rock scramble. Nothing to tell you that this part may take longer to get through than you have spent already. Blue blazes are pretty good and I appreciate the effort taken to keep them visible. Rock Scramble - Don't take the word scramble lightly. Be ready to claw and hoist yourself up, down, under, and through some huge rocks! I spent minutes at some locations trying to figure out how to continue. OK, I'm 66 years old and maybe shouldn't have gone, but I have never seen anything like this in this park before. I didn't know better. Warnings on the National Park site were not specific enough to clue me in about the conditions. They need to say that the difficulty is not related to a steep trail it is related to hauling yourself up and down sometimes smooth rocks. It is not technical rock climbing, but you better be able to lift yourself up and let yourself down with minimal help from footholds or handholds. I had to turn around and inch myself up a rock on my butt more than once. Would I do it again? At my age, not likely. If I was more spry and weighed less, maybe. If I was 20-30 years younger, heck yeah! But, this was the hardest "hike" I have ever taken. HEED THE WARNINGS!!!
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.