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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)
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By: Alina Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, September 17, 2017
I've done this hike 4 times now including by myself. It's definitely my favorite no matter the time of year because the views never get old. This last hike was a bit more of a disappointment, not because of the trail but because I brought a friend on a bad day. The peak was SO foggy and there was a swarm of bugs to the point where we couldn't do our lunch on the top of the mountain. Oh well. I'll just have to return in October.

Keep your eyes peeled for the blue blazes. The one that has caught me twice is the blue through the cave that spits you out on another side. The trail makes it seem that you're supposed to go straight but you'll descend quickly and realize you get to hike back up.

Also I keep forgetting to bring GLOVES! Not a must, but it would definitely make the scramble more comfortable.


By: GP Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, September 16, 2017
I have hiked Old Rag numerous times, and this latest trek did not disappoint. The trail was less crowded than usual, although I ran into slight congestion at the usual spots (rock scramble, overlooks, summit). The trees were just starting to turn, but it will likely be a few more weeks before you can really appreciate the fall foliage.

As a word of caution, there were several snakes on the trail including a large rattlesnake right at the beginning of the rock scramble. The biting flies on the summit were out in force, and I have a number of bite marks on my legs from the ~20 minutes or so that I stopped for lunch. There was also a wasp nest in a tree in the middle of the trail within the first mile or so, but I didn't encounter any thanks to a warning posted at the ranger station and on a tree about 10 yards before the nest. In the 10+ times I've hiked Old Rag, snakes and bugs have never been an issue, so hopefully this was a one off.


By: Michael Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, September 07, 2017
I just completed this for the first time today. Definitely pay close attention at all times to where a blue marker may be, lest you find yourself at a drop-off with no clue how to proceed (or perhaps even go back!). One of the hardest parts about this was not the length or the rock scramble, but the two together. I would highly recommend trying out Bearfence Mountain before taking on this "doozy". A few short trips up and down gave me the faith in my scrambling abilities I needed to take on Old Rag. To sum up, I am completely exhausted but feeling accomplished. The views are astounding, though I would not recommend this hike for views alone (given the more easily accessible points, i.e. the aforementioned Bearfence Mountain).

On a personal note- I have a slight phobia of bees/stinging insects. While I generally "deal" with this as I love hiking and climbing, Old Rag had a LOT of them (in respect to most trails I have hiked) with multiple people along the trail being stung. Be extra prepared first aid-wise on this trail.


By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, August 26, 2017
Note: If you're an experienced hiker, you have my deepest respect and I suggest you skip this review from a 61yo acrophobic recovering desk potato novice climber. This review is for anyone who thinks they can't tackle Old Rag.

Safety first, right? I made the hike with my husband of almost 40 years who is an experienced hiker and rock climber and would not have attempted it alone or without someone in whom I placed high trust. Like the illustration I'm seeing above this posting area, with one hiker giving a hand up to another, I needed help, lots of it, and gratefully took it from total strangers as well as my hiking partner. In hindsight, we probably could have done a better job of properly stretching but thankfully our worst 'injuries' were some truly minor scrapes and bruises. I am most definitely glad I made this hike, but knowing what I know now, I need to keep shedding pounds, building muscle and increasing endurance before tackling again, if ever. Read on for specifics of our two attempts on consecutive weekends, the first a partial on the clockwise route with the second a successful full counterclockwise loop.

On both trips, we left our favorite snacks and frozen water in the car which melted just as we hoped, providing lovely refreshment that helped buoy our spirits on the 1.5-hour drive home. I carried a 12-pound pack (Osprey Stratos 24) that I had to take off to navigate several areas. I carried the 10 essentials including a 3-liter Platypus hydration system and a set of hiking poles that I probably should have used more often.*

On Attempt 1, our test hike done 8/18, it was a beautiful day but very warm (high 80's) and humid. We got a late start (around Noon) on the clockwise path and stopped for lunch just past where the path becomes more rock than dirt. Don't think that's technically the start of the "rock scramble" but it was rocky enough to help us determine it was the right time to turn around in order to get down around dusk. Our total time, including frequent stops for photos of fauna on the uphill and wildlife (two bears, one high in a tree) on the downhill, was about 7 hours. We took a combined 4.5 liters of water and drank every drop. I treated myself with a massage several days after which helped alleviate considerable tightness in my shoulders and back.

On Attempt 2, another beautiful day with cooler weather (70's) and relatively lower humidity, we hit the trail about 8:30. An earlier start would have been even better as our total time was right at 10 hours, well over the 6 hours noted on this site. The counterclockwise loop proved a little tricky as most of the considerable crowd who made the trek that day were on their way down. No judgement here, just fact - most did not follow trail etiquette in general, especially the 'yield to uphill hikers' part, so stops given up for photo opps were cut to let groups of 2 to 12 pass. On the way down, we saw a considerable amount of bear scat on the trail and what appeared to be a young male crossed the trail between us and the group in front of us. We also saw two white-tailed deer in the distance. Again, we took 4.5 liters of water which was more than sufficient for the entire loop and lunch on the relatively cooler day.

This hike was most definitely a personal development opportunity. Remember the acrophobia? There were several spots that I didn't think I'd be able to navigate, like the area where you cross a boulder that slopes down to a sheer drop-off. There were other challenges where I needed to pull myself up an area with no natural foot or hand holds. Thank goodness for the kindness of several strangers, one who boosted while my partner pulled at a critical point and others who generally provided encouragement along the way. The only challenge unmet was on the top where the trail called for a jump over a deep crevice from a low boulder to one slightly higher. I might have been able to pull it off the other way but my knees, flooded with adrenaline, simply wouldn't cooperate. I opted to slide down on the opposite side of the boulder with my partner helping me safely land.

I came close to tears at some of those critical points but was really just too tired to expend that energy. My brain kept trying to talk me into giving up but I simply kept putting one foot in front of the other, navigating over and around the loose rock, roots, boulders, tight spots, etc. I ignored my angry knees and thighs and, on the way down, toes. (We concluded I either had the wrong shoes (low-cut Merrell's one day and heavy-duty Skechers the other) or the wrong size). I wore liners and some wonderful alpaca socks that kept away blisters but were probably too heavy for summer hiking as they made my feet really hot.

Again, no judgement, only observation. We picked up considerable trash both weekends and saw evidence of people relieving themselves at the side of the trail who didn't follow Leave No Trace. On a positive note, we saw two people who had done a considerable amount of cutting foliage. We expressed thanks but failed to ask if they were volunteers. It was crowded and lively at the summit and we were lucky to find a shady spot on a boulder with a spectacular view for lunch. Several large groups were listening to music and dancing, others scrambled to find a good spot for a 5+ people photo. Up and down the trail on both weekends, hikers listened to music, most at higher-than-average sound levels without headphones. On the switchbacks, we could hear conversations of people both above and below us.

Then there were moments of quiet as we walked in the companionable silence of a long-time couple. Along with the wildlife, we observed babbling brooks, moss boasting tiny umbrella-shaped growth on top, mushrooms in an array of colors from white to golden yellow to dark red and lichen of multiple colors including black. There were clusters of dainty white flowers and one especially beautiful patch of what must be a type of yellow sunflower without the large center.

Despite the fact that I was wrung out by Old Rag, it was a hike worth making. I expanded my faith in my own abilities while enjoying the spectacular Virginia landscape. Be safe and enjoy life!

*Why did I take so much gear? The purpose of this hike was to prepare for an upcoming adventure - bagging a Scottish Munro. After this hike and spending some time hiking in the Rockies, my confidence level is high.


By: Susanna Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, August 19, 2017
This is an absolutely phenomenal hike! I did it last weekend with a friend (we both have done it before) but it still was marvelous. The hike up is strenuous, mostly uphill until you hit the boulders but it is completely doable. I would not recommend doing it after rain (we were lucky and most was dried up but there was one very tricky section where I was very thankful to have the help of a stranger, with my shorter legs, I couldn't quite get the traction I needed) or when it is raining as it could be incredibly dangerous. The hike down is very mild, and honestly on the fire road, you do start to sort of get a bit bored (I hate staying that but it felt very long to me compared to going up). The hike after factoring in the fact you are hiking from the lower lot is closer to 11 miles (at least that is what my tracker read). Also of note: little to no cell phone service, there are portapotties in the parking lot and there is a compost toilet headed down the back side of the mountain but there won't be many spots on the trail to find privacy as it is a very busy hike. Get there early so you don't get caught up in people when crossing the boulders. Overall, one of my favorite challenging and beautiful hikes in the Shenandoah area!

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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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