Living in Southwest Virginia and around Virginia Tech, majority of the day hikes we can feasibly do are around a 3 hour radius. We don’t get to the trails out in Northern Virginia much, but recent events will have us exploring there more often now.
- Old Rag Mountain (NPS)
- gps – alltrails
- type: loop
- distance: 9.5 mi
- elevation change: 2438 ft ascent and descent
- time: 3:15 hours moving (4:20 hours with breaks)
- location: Shenandoah National Park (directions to trailhead)
- Pet are not allowed on the entirety of Old Rag Mountain loop.
On our way back from D.C., we were up for a Sunday hike to break up the drive. Old Rag is one of the most popular loops in the area said to include some fun scrambling. Expect the trail to be heavily trafficked and a busy time at the parking lot on a nice weekend day, especially after a period of hard rain.
*EDIT 2020/6 – The new parking lot is now complete. See this sub-Reddit for descriptions and detail.
There is a National Park fee of $10 each person or $25 a vehicle to be paid at the lower Old Rag parking lot, unlike the National Forests along the I-81 corridor that don’t. I’d recommend picking up the $80 NPS Annual Pass to save money and support the National Parks.
*EDIT 2022/3: To limit overcrowding, a pilot day pass permit system is in place for 2022 from March 2022 thru November 2022 for all times of the day. The cost is USD$1 per person. Exactly 400 will be released 30 days in advance of the reservation date, and the remaining 400 will be released 5 days in advance of each date. Purchases can be made via Recreation.org webpage. For detailed explanation, see the NPS webpage.
There is an alternative trail head you can take up to Old Rag at Berry Hollow parking lot and Whiteoak Canyon parking lot should you suspect the lower Old Rag parking lot to be full. The fee station is located at Whiteoak lot.
The first 0.8 miles of the hike is hiking up to the original Old Rag trail head along Nethers Rd. for about a half mile before turning left. At upper Old Rag parking lot, the typically recommended route is in the clockwise direction, so turn left onto the Ridge Trail. *EDIT 2020/6: The initial portions of the trail was rerouted to directly head up from the parking lot and no longer follow Nethers Rd.
For a little more than 2 miles, the trail is a typical uphills climb among the green tunnels of Virginia with a few switchbacks gaining majority of the elevation for the day. The next section is the a scramble section where no dogs and camping are allowed and
followed by the first vista of the day.
The initial scramble takes on upward slanting rock slabs with views toward the summit, north, and south from the valley that we drove in on.
The scramble continues and was surprisingly different as the drops you into a slot.
The unique scramble continues up not by taking you over rocks but into caves and more slots.
After passing a pretty cool overhanging rock,
there are a couple more difficult sections between more slots.
The next area opens up as you get a look down toward the scramble you’ve come up on.
The large flat surfaced rocks here are a popular stop and lunch place for many folks on the trail.
However, the summit is a little scramble and walk along the ridge further as indicated by a sign about a mile and an hour after the scrambling section began.
The summit consists of a field of large boulders to climb up on.
With 360 degree views of the area.
We definitely had to sit on the high point.
We saw several hikers double back from here because it was shorter distance, but the quicker route is to continue on the loop. Of course if you want more scrambling, but in the downwards direction, doubling back is the way to go.
The Ridge Trail become the Saddle Trail as we continue down the other side of the mountain with a couple more vistas.
Shortly after the summit, we arrive at the Byrd’s Nest Shelter.
We didn’t explore this are much since we thought it was just a shelter, but Hiking Upwards points to his area as an additional scrambling area as you can see the rock formations up the mountain in the picture below.
The rest of the Saddle trail switches back among the trees until
the Old Rag Shelter. Both the Old Rag Shelter and Byrd’s nest Shelter are for day use only.
At the Post Office Junction, an intersection of the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, Berry Hollow Fire Road, and Old Rag Fire Road. As mentioned earlier in the post, the Berry Hollow trail head is down the Berry Hollow Fire Road. This junction use to the be town of Old Rag as the poster mark explains. The way back is on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.
The fire road can be a little boring as green tunnel continues. After the intersection of Robertson Mountain Trail and Corbin Hollow Trail, the Brokenback Run crosses and accompanies the fire road until the Saddle Trail intersection. Around the intersection of trails, there seems to be a few camping spots, which can provide a multi-day trek that includes Old Rag Mountain, Robertson Mountain, and even out to the Skyline Dr.
One the road portion back to the parking lot, there was a smoothie stand set up by the locals should you want a refresher for $4.
- views: 3. The vistas for this hike are your typical Shenandoah views of farm land and small tree covered mountains. The latter half of the hike is composed of green tunnels of trees and streams typical of Virginia as well. The cool thing on this hike is both the added views the large boulders provide in contrasting the green mountains and the fun they provide in the mile long scramble. The scramble itself isn’t just the same thing throughout, but varies as you go along to keep it engaging. This is one of the my favorite hikes in Virginia and I can see the reason for its popularity.
- difficulty: 3. There is only one major uphill to get up onto the ridge on the Ridge Trail. However, the scrambling is a workout under the sun and will be way more difficult if it is raining.
- technical: 2. The technicality would be the scrambling involved on this trail, and it’s not a small section either, around a mile from the start of the Ridge Trail to the summit of Old Rag. If you aren’t familiar scrambling take, do take your time.