Hiking Old Rag is one of the most unforgettable experiences you’ll ever have on a trail. Located in Shenandoah National Park, this trek is brutal in the very best way. You’ll have to climb over boulders and slide through crevices, but at the top there are spectacular 360 panoramas 🤩 over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I first summited this mountain when I was in middle school and since then it keeps drawing me back in. Recently, I read the America’s Best Day Hikes 📚 and in it he says Old Rag is the epitome of why he wanted to write the book. It’s a mountain that will leave you ragged and tired, but also inspired.
I’ve done this hike three times now in all different seasons and there’s a reason I keep going back. It’s simply one of my favorite trails out there. It’s challenging, it’s beautiful, and it’s unique. Every time I get up to the summit I feel rewarded and immediately think about when I can return. It’s just that good 🙌🏻.
Reservations are required to hike Old Rag from March 1-November 30. Make sure to plan ahead!
If you also want to conquer Old Rag, then read below for my complete guide to hiking this amazing mountain. You’ll find everything you need ✍️ including directions to get to the hike, a packing guide, information on how to get a permit, and a comprehensive trail description.
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Table of Contents
Ultimate Hiking Old Rag Guide
Quick Hike Info:
Distance: 9-11 miles
Elevation: Roughly 2600 feet of gain
Type: Loop Trail
Length: 4-6 hours total (depends on your pace and trail conditions)
Difficulty: Hard (long, steep and at point you will have to go over rock scrambles)
Where is Shenandoah National Park?
Shenandoah National Park is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. These rolling mountains extend all the way to North Carolina. It’s only a 2 hour drive from Washington DC and Richmond, Virginia 🚙, which makes it a wonderful weekend destination.
Skyline Drive is the main road that travels through Shenandoah. You can find many scenic overlooks and thrilling hikes just off of this road. However, Old Rag Mountain is located off of this area in a separate section of the park.
How to Get to the Old Rag Hike
Cell service is often unreliable in Shenandoah National Park. So, it’s best if you have the directions downloaded before you venture to this hike. There are also maps 🗺 at the Visitor Center if you need them.
These directions will get you to the Old Rag Parking area.
Sperryville: If you are starting from Sperryville, then you need to take Route 211 until you see the exit for Route 522. You will continue on Route 522 for .8 miles before turning onto Route 231. Drive for 8 miles, then turn on Route 601 and follow signs for Old Rag Parking.
Madison: Hikers who are coming from Madison will need to take Business Route 29, then turn onto 231 and continue for 12.8 miles. Then, you will turn left onto Route 602 and again follow the signs for Old Rag Parking.
Driving Times 🚗:
Washington DC: 2 hours
Richmond, VA: 2 hours
Philadelphia, PA: 5 hours
Best time to hike Old Rag
Hiking Old Rag is a year round affair. With people visiting from all over to see the panoramic views over the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s truly a hike that you will never forget. However, the best time of year to hike depends on your personal preferences!
Spring is a lovely time to hike to Old Rag Mountain. During this time, wildlife begins to come out, flowers begin to bud 🌸, and the trees begin to get green again. In the early spring there are usually less people on the trail.
However, rain 🌧 is more prevalent during the Virginia spring days. So, just make sure to check the weather, hike with a rain jacket, and turn around if you every feel nervous.
Visitors flock to Shenandoah in the summer time to take advantage of the sunny skies 🌞 and beautiful landscapes. So, on weekends it can be hard to get a permit to hike the trail. However, it’s definitely worth it if you can snag one!
Along the way you’ll be awarded with sunshine, warm temperatures, and views that extend for miles. The summer is definitely the most lush time of year and the trees 🌲 are covered in bright green leaves. Pack plenty of water and sunscreen because it can get hot out there!
Shenandoah National Park is one of the best places to see fall foliage in the country and Old Rag is the perfect perch to see it from. Stunning arrays of reds, oranges, and yellows 🍂 fill the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Although there are less visitors on weekdays, there are still a fair amount of fall peepers who visit on the weekends. So, get an early start to avoid the crowds and see the spectacular Autumn vistas at the summit!
Winter hiking is for hardier individuals 🥶 who are willing to brave the cold. Hiking Old Rag in the winter means you’ll have most of the trail to yourself.
If you choose to hike in winter, make sure you are wearing plenty of layers and bring spikes just in case there is snow on the trail. As always, you should look up the trail conditions before you head out!
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How to get an Old Rag Day Use Permit
Old Rag is one of the most popular trails in Shenandoah, but that means that rock scrambles can get overcrowded. So, last year the park started a pilot program where you have to get Day Use permits 🎫 to hike Old Rag.
These permits are available on recreation.gov and you can reserve for groups of 4 or less. Half of the permits are released at 10 am Eastern time 30 days in advance 📆, with the other half released 5 days in advance.
If you plan on hiking with a group larger than 4, you will need to have multiple people get permits for the individuals.
Remember to download your reservation and have the QR code up when you arrive to the parking area for Old Rag 📲. There is often little cell service and they will check you in there.
What if I didn’t get a permit?
If you didn’t get a permit in advance, you can try to get a day-use permit the day of the hike. However, they are not for sale in person. The ONLY WAY to reserve them is to go online to recreation.gov 💻.
Unfortunately, if they are out of permits, then you will be unable to hike the Old Rag trail. But, there are plenty of other astounding hikes in Shenandoah that you can choose from instead. Some of my favorites ⭐️ include White Oak Canyon, Stony Mountain, Upper Hawksbill, and Dark Hollow Falls.
Things to Know Before You Go
💵 Acadia’s entry fee is $30 for a private vehicle, which is good for a week. You can also use the annual passes including the America the Beautiful Pass to enter the park.
🎟 You will need to get reservations to hike Old Rag if you are going between March 1 and November 30th. You can get these online up to a day in advance.
☀️ Weather can change quickly in the mountains. The rock scrambles and top of Old Rag Mountain can be dangerous when wet. If there are storms in the forecast, you should avoid doing this hike.
⛺️ You can backcountry camp along the Old Rag trail, but you’ll need a permit. You also cannot camp at the summit or above 2800 feet. There are 5 different campgrounds in Shenandoah National park. Some of these spots are first-come, first-serve and some you can reserve six months in advance on recreation.gov.
🦮 Although pets are permitted on many trails in Shenandoah, they are prohibited on the Old Rag trail.
🚙 Luckily, there is a new parking area for Old Rag with three separate lots. However, this lot does fill up quickly. Some landowners nearby will allow you to park for a fee, but then you will need to walk to reach the trailhead.
🍃 Remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. As always, you want to leave nature looking better than you found it.
Old Rag Trail Description
You used to have to walk for a couple miles from the parking to the trailhead, but luckily it’s much easier now. There are three Old Rag lots and they are all near the trailhead. So, just make your way onto the trail 🪧 to begin.
After .8 miles, you’ll see a concrete marker and a junction. Remain on the blue blazes 🟦 to get to the rock scramble. However, if you want to skip the tough rock scramble, you can turn left. This route will add about 1.3 miles to your total hike.
Once you enter the Ridge trail, you will immediately start your ascent up the mountain following the blue blazes. This wooded part of the trail continues over switchbacks. Right away, you’ll begin to feel the elevation climb. This area of the trail lasts for 2 miles before you reach the best part of the hike in my opinion.
Old Rag is well known by hikers around the country because of its tough but awesome rock scramble section 🧗🏻♀️. This section will leave you both exhilarated and exhausted. Always look out for the blue blazes, because the trail is not clear in portions.
During this thrilling part of the hike, you will have to maneuver your way under boulders 🪨, over rocks, through narrow passages. and sometimes you’ll need to use your arms to lift you up.
I have gone up this trail numerous times and every single time it pushes me. There have been times where I’ve needed people ahead of me to give me a boost or I’ve just stared at the rock 👀 trying to figure out how to proceed. It’s all part of the fun.
I’ve done numerous rock scrambles throughout the country, but none of them compare to Old Rag. Getting over this portion of the trail is a true feat 💪🏻.
As you make your way through this area of the trail, there may be times you think you have reached the top. There are a few false summits along the way. They are great excuses to get a drink of water and take a break 😮💨 before continuing on.
At the Summit!
You’ll know you have finally reached the summit 👏🏻 when you reach the sign that says “Old Rag Mountain.” Now, you can truly revel in the challenge that you completed and finally you’ll be rewarded with the best views while hiking Old Rag. Don’t worry, the rest of the trail is fairly straight forward.
At the summit, you can choose one of the large boulders to sit down and take a well-deserved break. This is my favorite spot to enjoy a sandwich 🥪, while taking in the views that extend for miles beyond. I usually end up staying here for at least half an hour, because it’s stunning.
Make sure to take a few pictures 📸 before heading back down! Most people choose to continue down the Saddle Trail, because going down the rock scrambles is far too difficult.
Go back down to the sign and then turn right to access the Saddle Trail. Along the way down, you’ll have to maneuver over a couple boulders, but it’s nothing compared to what you have already done.
You’ll continue down for less than a mile before seeing the Byrd’s Nest shelter. From there, you’ll continue on the blue blazes before arriving at yet another structure- The Old Rag shelter. There is a vault toilet 🚽 at this stop, if you need it.
From there, you’ll get to a junction and turn right to access Weakley Hollow Road.
Weakley Hollow Road is a fire road with a wide berth, that continues down through the forest. I’m not going to lie, whenever I complete this hike I feel like this road goes on forever 😩. Maybe that’s because it is 4 miles, which is fairly long.
As you walk along these 4 miles of road, you’ll walk over Brokenback Run, which is a pretty water feature 💦. Besides the water, you’ll get plenty of peaceful moments in the forest. Finally, you’ll get to a hill at the end of the hike to get back to the Parking area. Congrats, you completed this challenging hike!
Packing Guide for Old Rag Mountain
Old Rag is an incredibly long hike, so my biggest piece of advice is to pack plenty of food and water. ⚠️ You may underestimate just how long this trek will take.
Also, you will need really comfortable hiking shoes that are already broken in. I have had friends do this in brand new shoes 🥾 and they end up with tons of blisters, which is awful. If you have good hiking gear, then you should be all set to make it up the mountain!
- Comfortable Hiking Boots
- Small Pack
- 1-2 Liters of Water
- Snacks and Food
- First Aid Kit
- Bug Spray
- Hat to block sun
- Rain jacket or light winter jacket
- Satellite phone
- Parks Pass
Final Tips for Hiking Old Rag Mountain
Now that you’ve read everything above, you should be ready to take on this tough trek. It’s important to remember that you can take your time as you go. If you need help on the rock scramble, don’t be scared to ask the person behind or ahead of you. Once you’ve been tot the top, you’ll understand why people can’t stop talking about it. Happy trails!
Let me know if you enjoyed this trail guide in the comments!
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