Old Rag: THE Hike of Shenandoah National Park

Old Rag viewpoint of Blue Ridge Mountains
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Shenandoah National Park

When thinking about Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains, one trail stands tall among the rest. Only the fourth tallest mountain in the park but one of the most trafficked trails, Old Rag Mountain is the pinnacle of hikes in the park.

Along the Blue Ridge and home to 101 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park is a hikers paradise. The park is one of the dog friendliest in the country but sees less visitors than most national parks. Often overlooked and under hiked, Shenandoah National Park rarely gets the recognition it deserves. As does its trails.

Shenandoah National Park is only 75 miles from Washington, D.C., and a short drive from other major cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia, it is the perfect recluse from city life.

Hiking Old Rag viewpoint
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Preparing for Old Rag

Contrary to popular belief, Old Rag is quite a feat. Many people believe that east coast mountains are easy to hike, but the Old Rag trail takes you through miles of forests and rock scrambles that defeat even the most seasoned hikers.

When preparing to hike Old Rag there are a few must haves and some would be nice that should definitely be included in the pack.

First, this is a long trail that requires a lot of effort, make sure to bring a sturdy day pack that is lightweight on the back but durable enough to withstand the Shenandoah elements. Osprey makes great day packs and are even reservoir compatible – which is highly recommended for this hike to ensure enough water.

Inside the day pack should be plenty of protein rich snacks to fuel you through your hike – we’re obsessed with these bean snacks. This is bear country so load in the bear spray and anytime you’re out in the wild bring a multitool kit and first aid.

This is a long and strenuous trail, so make sure to wear good hiking boots that are comfortable and durable. There is an elevation change so pack a lightweight jacket (or season dependent jacket) in your pack and since the trail is long it is a good idea to bring a head lamp or flashlight incase the sun sets.

Keep your bag light but make sure to include anything that is needed – especially if you have medical needs.

Old Rag view of the Blue Ridge Mountains
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On the Old Rag Trail

Get ready for a steep, rocky, and way more than nine and half mile trek. The AllTrails profile for this trail says nine and a half miles, but our calculations put it closer to 13 miles.

The parking lot has moved closer to the trailhead but now the loop has to cut back to the beginning of the trail due to park rearrangement.

Hiking Old Rag Mountain is a blast, it is moderately strenuous and requires knowledge and hiking skills, but the views and journey are well worth it.

The first two miles of the trail are riddled with switchbacks and a decent ascent through the forest. There are minimal views during the switchbacks but plenty of areas to stop, catch your breath, and take a snack break.

After the seemingly never ending switchbacks, you arrive at the rock scramble. The rock scramble takes you all the way to the summit. Be sure to keep an eye out for arrows on the rocks to stay on the trail, the sea of gray rocks makes it easy to get lost off trail.

Old Rag Rock Scramble
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The Old Rag Rock Scramble

The rock scramble is where you will be challenged – and happy you wore durable hiking boots! There are narrow stairs within rocks to climb, caves to shimmy up and through, and the infamous jump.

The jump is a narrow space on the trail that goes from the top of one boulder to between two boulders. If you are well versed in rock climbing and have the appropriate shoes you can scale your way down. Most people have one tall person stand at the bottom and help guide others to the trail floor. (At 5’2″ I have scaled down the boulders, it is not as scary as it seems but be very aware and careful)

Once you get on to the rock scramble, the weather turns against you. I have done this hike the same week, three years apart and two completely different weather patterns. The first time I did it, the wind and cold was brutal on the rock scramble making it hard to move our fingers and grip anything. The second time, the sun and lack of wind was brutal making us dehydrated instantly. Be aware of the weather and pack for anything.

Old Rag Summit
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Old Rag Summit

The rock scramble takes you all the way to the Old Rag summit.

Old Rag does have a false summit that fools many first time hikers of the trail. The real summit is only a little further than the false summit, and you will know you are there by the sign marking the summit.

The summit is full of fun. The rock faces are long and flat with boulders throughout that you can climb on or hide under. This summit is super wide, with many places to roam and take pictures.

Since the summit offers extraordinary views of Shenandoah National Park with places to relax, people often stay up here for a while. Celebrate your climb to the summit with some jerky and beer.

When you are ready for the trek back to lower ground, you can either take the rock scramble back or follow the loop to the fire road for a more gradual descent. The loop is longer but easier, with a shelter, bird house, and stream to follow.

Old Rag
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Old Rag Trail Information

Old Rag is such a fun hike with beautiful vistas to enjoy. The hike is a part of Shenandoah National Park – you will need to pay to hike.

Shenandoah National Park is a dog friendly park, but due to the dangerous nature of this hike, Old Rag is not a dog friendly hike.

The trail is heavily trafficked, make sure to use the bathrooms at the trailhead – it is hard to find a good squat spot on the trail.

This trailhead is down winding country roads (queue ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads‘) through Virginia. Be sure to fill up on gas and make sure your spare tire is full!

Old Rag will take a long time, head to the trailhead early to get a spot and hike early to complete during daylight. This trail is a lot of fun, but if you are a beginner hiker, try out a few others in the park before heading to Old Rag.

And remember, always follow the Leave No Trace Principles and help keep the trails clean and safe.

On Old Rag
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Bonus Hits

Old Rag Pinterest Pin
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Old Rag Summit
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