Julie United States 21 Comments

Old Rag is the toughest but the most rewarding hike in Shenandoah National Park. Some people say it’s the best hike in the mid-Atlantic region.

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.

Old Rag Hiking Stats

  • Distance: 9.4 miles round trip
  • How Long: allow 5 to 7 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 2,400 feet
  • Where: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

How to Get 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).

Old Rag Day-Use Ticket

From March 1 to November 30, you will need to have a day use permit to hike Old Rag. This is to limit the number of hikers on this very popular trail. Tickets cost $1 and you can purchase it in advance on recreation.gov. Don’t plan on buying it at the trailhead, because the tickets can sell out in advance and cellular service is limited. Learn more on the National Park Service website.

For other US National Parks that require hiking permits and timed entry tickets, read our article US National Parks that Require a Reservation.

Hiking Old Rag 

Step-By-Step Trail Guide

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.

Ridge Trail Old Rag

Old Rag Trail

Hiking Old Rag in May

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.

Old Rag Kids


There are a few areas where being small is an advantage, such as squeezing between the boulders seen here.

Old Rag rock scrambling


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.

Old Rag May

Old Rag picnic spot

Old Rag view

Old Rag with Kids

Old Rag Summit

My crazy family

The Return Hike 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.

Weakley Hollow fire road

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.

Old Rag boulders

How to Have the Best Experience

To avoid the crowds, arrive early or hike on a weekday.

Don’t forget to purchase your day-use ticket in advance if you will be hiking Old Rag from March through November.

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 are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.

If you have hiked Old Rag, comment below, leaving any other suggestions our readers might need to know!

Happy Hiking!

More Information about Virginia

SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK: Learn about Shenandoah National Park in our guide to the Best Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park. We also have a guide to the Best Hikes in Shenandoah.

NEARBY NATIONAL PARKS: New River Gorge is one of the newest national parks in the USA and it is located in West Virginia. Or, venture south to North Carolina and visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

VIRGINIA: To read all of our articles about Virginia, check out our Virginia Travel Guide.

WASHINGTON DC: Shenandoah is just a short drive from Shenandoah National Park. Visit the highlights on our One Day Walking Tour of Washington DC.

NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries. You can also learn more about the national parks and get a FREE printable checklist in our US National Parks Checklist.

Are you planning a trip to the United States? Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.

Hiking Old Rag Shenandoah National Park


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Comments 21

  1. Avatar for Andrea

    My husband and I are planning a trip to Shenandoah with our two-year-old this summer and are thinking of carrying him up Old Rag in his Osprey Poco pack. We took him up the Beehive last summer without much trouble and were wondering how the scrambling compares.

    1. Avatar for Julie

      If you did the Beehive Trail without a problem, you will do just fine on Old Rag. There is a ton more exposure on the Beehive Trail and a lot more climbing, with the rungs. There are a few places on Old Rag where you will have to use your upper body strength to lower yourself down or up, so there is a difference there, and you can see the photo where our daughter squeezed herself between the rocks, so you’ll have to be creative to get through this section. But I think the Beehive Trail would be more challenging with a toddler than Old Rag. Have a great hike! Cheers, Julie

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