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)
I think I liked the false-summit better than the actual summit. Awesome view! I'm a 54 year old woman in moderately good shape. I hike often. Last month I hiked White Oak Canyon from Rt 600 in Madison County up to Skyline drive and back (approx 10.4 mi). Today was my first time hiking Old Rag. Started Tuesday at 7:30 am. Saw a handful of hikers all day.
The only reason I give this a 4 is that I could not have hiked this without a little assistance. I'm not very tall and needed a hand twice. I read all the reviews and knew this in advance. I was prepared to ask for assistance. Two men kindly assisted with 1.) a climb that required wedging your feet up both sides of a narrow gap and pulling yourself up over the top and 2.) between the false summit and actual summit, you must climb up one rock and cross a ravine to a higher rock. I just couldn't get the momentum necessary to know I could get up without falling. Thanks to the two young men for their assistance. I don't feel my fellow hikers minded lending a hand. If you only hike what's comfortable, you'll never stretch yourself.
Otherwise, great hike. We brought tons of food and 2L water. Plenty for a warm day (84).
Date of Hike: Sunday, June 21, 2015
I hiked this with my daughter on Father's Day. Even though it was 90 plus degrees, I would not trade it for the quality time we had on this amazing trail. The rock scramble was fantastic but needs to be respected. We took our time and enjoyed the scenes without twisting an ankle or worse. We really wanted to see the beauty that nature has to offer. On the way down we were rewarded with a bear sighting. This may turn into a yearly trip.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, June 16, 2015
This was a great hike, but not going to become one of my favorites. To become a favorite, I would want to frequent it often in a year's time. While it was very enjoyable, this is not a place that I would frequently visit because of the time involved. My buddy and I went up and back in about 5 hours including lunch, after a 1 1/2 hour drive. If we lived closer, maybe.
Loved the views - outstanding! I expected a lot of people due to the 0 ranking it got, but we probably saw a total of 10 people. It was about 90 degrees, just a tiny bit humid. Maybe that's why, or people were at work (as we went on a Tuesday), or people were on their summer vacations. Who knows?
Overall, it was a good experience, but definitely not for the casual hiker. This IS a strenuous hike. Bring plenty of water and some snacks (or a small lunch if you plan to eat up top). This hike I would probably do once every year or two years.
Date of Hike: Thursday, June 11, 2015
All the reviews here seem to point to the same things, great views, reasonable length and overcrowding. Simply put, if you want to most enjoyment try to sneak away to Old Rag on a weekday. You still may not find solitude, but you will be able to tackle most of the boulder field on your own and in peace. That being said, you should choose carefully who you take with you on this hike. The NPS rates this as a strenuous hike, and it will challenge all who tackle it. It's incredibly fun to pull, slide and slither your way around all of the obstacles, but there are a few points along the way were upper body strength and the ability to manipulate one's body comes in handy. You don't need to be superman by any means, but if you're going to do this hike alone, you may need to be able to pull your self up and over many obstacles. If you want a more direct route or to avoid the boulder field, then take the advice on this site and go around counter clockwise. You'll miss some of the fun, but you'll still get the same spectacular views at the top. Just be aware that the fire road and trail backwards can be a little boring until nearing the top. Overall, this may be the most iconic hike in Virginia, with beautiful views and easy access it belongs on the at least once list for any hiker.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, June 03, 2015
It was a rainy foggy day which made for a hike with some mystique. You could see the fog swirling around the summit in the breeze. There were very few people on the trail which made this trip on old rag special. Here's to days no one else wants to hike! I tip my hat bad weather.
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