Old Rag is an awesome hike in Shenandoah National Park. Some say it’s even the best hike in the mid-Atlantic region. We hiked Old Rag in May 2013 and loved it.
The Old Rag hike is strenuous, with lots of switchback trails and rock scrambling. The reward from the top of Old Rag is a 360° view of the Shenandoah Mountains. It’s a fun, challenging hike that is great for adults and very adventurous kids.
Fast Facts about Old Rag
- Distance: 9.1 miles
- How Long: allow 5 to 7 hours
- Elevation Gain: 2,450 feet
- Where: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Getting to Old Rag
Parking for Old Rag is at the Old Rag Mountain Parking Lot on Nethers Road. Parking in this lot is free. However, you must have a valid Shenandoah National Park permit.
The National Park service recommends that you do not park on the shoulder of the road. Doing so could lead to your car being towed. You should plan on arriving very early (8 am or earlier) to get a parking space (and avoid the worst of the crowds).
From the parking lot, walk 0.8 miles along Nethers Road to the upper Old Rag parking lot (no longer open for parking). The trail starts at this older parking lot. There are port-a-pots here, your last chance to use a bathroom.
On the Trail to the Summit
For two miles, follow the Ridge Trail. This trail leads up and through a forested section. It’s a steady climb on switchback trails.
And now the real fun begins. Rock scrambling!! Now you will be climbing over, under, and between gigantic granite boulders. Keep following the blue blazes or the line of people in front of you.
This is where the trail gets more technical. You do not need rock climbing experience, but you should be able to support your body weight with your arms. There are sections where you will need to climb up onto a boulder or lower yourself down from very large rocks. Some of these maneuvers require having some moderate upper body strength.
There are a few areas where being small is an advantage, such as squeezing between the boulders seen here.
In between the rock scrambling sections, enjoy the views over Shenandoah. Or find a spot at an overlook and have a snack or picnic lunch.
Hiking Down from Old Rag
From the Old Rag Summit, follow the Saddle Trail downhill. Stay to your right to follow the Weakley Hollow Fire Road. This part seems to last forever. For miles you will hike on a gradual descent through the forest. The views do not change very much. For kids, this part is torture. Tyler and Kara hated this section.
But, it is a smooth trail and you can make very fast time here.
The fire road ends at the upper parking lot. Walk down Nethers Road to the Old Rag parking lot and you have just completed the Old Rag hike.
Hiking Old Rag with Kids
When we hiked Old Rag, Tyler was 10 and Kara was 8. This was their first long distance hike. Nine miles is a long way to go on little legs and they both did great. For them, the rock scrambling was the highlight. Crawling over and between giant boulders is a naturally fun activity for kids.
There were several short sections that were difficult for Tyler and Kara. During the hike, there are a few places where you have to climb up or down enormous rocks. In these places, we had to either give them a push up or lower them down. Without help, Tyler and Kara would not have been able to get through these sections.
Shorter adults may even have trouble in a few sections, so it is a good idea to hike Old Rag with a friend. This is the type of hike where a helping hand can really be useful.
This hike is appropriate for adventurous kids aged eight or older. If you are hiking with your kids, be prepared to help them out. They will definitely need it! It’s a good idea to have some hiking experience of your own. Do not underestimate the difficulty level of this hike. Some of these rock scrambling sections are difficult for adults.
There have been kids younger than eight who have hiked Old Rag, but they needed a lot of help and made the trail less enjoyable for other hikers, from the reports that I have read.
How to Have the Best Experience
To avoid the crowds, arrive early or hike on a weekday.
If you are here when the trail is crowded, expect to queue to get through the rock scrambling sections. During busier times, it is not unusual to wait 15 minutes to get through some of the tougher sections.
During the summer months, carry two liters of water per person.
Hiking shoes are advisable but not necessary. You should wear a sturdy pair of shoes with a good grip sole (such as a pair of good running shoes).
Do not carry a big backpack. This will get in the way when you are scrambling in tight spaces and up and down the boulders. Instead, carry a small backpack or a fanny pack.
Bring a friend. This is a good hike to have someone with you in case you need a helping hand.
I highly recommend the All Trails App for your phone. This app provides hiking maps and data not only about the Old Rag hike, but many hikes in the US. Using GPS, you can follow the hiking trail on your phone and know exactly where you are on the trail. It’s a great resource to have while hiking, plus you can use it to find other hikes in the area. And, it’s free!! Visit their website here.
If you have hiked Old Rag, comment below, leaving any other suggestions our readers might need to know!
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