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
- 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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
Are you planning a trip to the United States? Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.
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Where do you recommend staying overnight after hiking Old Rag if we want to re-enter the park the next day?
Luray might be the most convenient place to stay, since it isn’t too far from the Old Rag Hike. We typically stay in Harrisonburg but that is a bit farther away. Cheers, Julie
Hi, thanks so much for these great articles! I know it’s not a great comparison but how would you rank the difficulty of Old Rag versus Angel’s Landing? We’ve done small scrambles like Bearfence before an didn’t have too much difficulty on Angel’s Landing, but this seems like a lot more scrambling than Bearfence and much more elevation gain than Angel’s Landing. Thank you!
Old Rag is longer with more elevation gain than Angels Landing. The rock scrambling on Old Rag isn’t too bad, as long as you are of average fitness. I think if you handled the drop-offs on Angels Landing and did fine with the rock scrambling at Bearfence, you will do just fine on Old Rag, as long as you are prepared for the longer distance and elevation gain. Cheers, Julie
Old rag is a hard hike!
Cell service on the mountain (and even approaching the mountain) is spotty at best, so make sure you download any maps that you might want before you leave home! Definitely a fun hike with my 17-year old daughter, but I agree that there are parts of the descent that seem never-ending.
This was so enormously helpful as I did the hike yesterday with my 10 year old son. The warning about the trip back being dreadful was especially useful as I was able to prepare him. What I wouldn’t have done to have someone meet us by the shelter with our mountain bikes.
They now have parking in the upper lot and have thrown in an inexplicable detour at the very end making it a 10.5 mile loop. We were cooked by the end.
Hello Michael. Thanks for writing in to us. And thank you for the update about the trail! That’s a long detour. Happy hiking!
In taking your kids…did you feel there were dangerous spots? Is there a section or spot where you have to traverse any narrow cliffs on an edge and could fall? Or is it just a lot of climbing over rocks?
It’s mostly just climbing over and around rocks. There were a few places that we had to give Tyler and Kara a boost up, because they were too small to do it on their own, but there was no danger here. There are sections when you are on top of the rocks that you could fall if you got too close to the edge, but it’s wide enough that you can stay far from these edges. Cheers, Julie
Unfortunately (and although I suspect you said this tongue-in-cheek), bikes are not allowed on the trail. I’ve certainly thought it would be a much more enjoyable and quicker way of getting down the fire trail!
Thanks for sharing. I am considering a rite of passage experience with my son when he turns 8 next spring and hiking old rag/camping overnight is on the list. My wife has heard horror stories from coworkers but I feel like our kids are active and I’ve tried to raise them to love the outdoors
If your son is active and adventurous, he should be fine on this trail. Even though it was challenging, Tyler and Kara loved the rock scrambling sections. It’s just the last, monotonous walk through the woods that they didn’t like (and we kind of agree). Have fun hiking with your kids! Cheers, Julie
Old Rag hike was a great adventure! I went with a bunch of Boy Scouts as the adult designated to keep up with them. Haha. What a joke! The first bit is a very steep ascent; the first1-2 hours are grueling, especially if you’re trying to keep up with 14 year olds with long legs and something to prove. (God love ’em!) But I made it and was rewarded with fantastic views. I really enjoyed the challenge of the rock scrambling. It was made a little tougher because of feeling somewhat spent from that first challenging ascent, but it was fun.
One thing I would emphasize to prospective hikers is hydration! They recommend hikers bring 2 Liters of water per person. I pooh poohed that a bit. It seemed a bit overkill, plus, water is heavy! But being a leader for the Scouts, I knew I needed to “BE PREPARED” so I hauled my water and was so happy I did. One liter was consumed during that first brutal ascent. I definitely needed more to get through the rock scrambling and then the return hike (which does seem reeeaaalllly long!). Some in our group were not prepared and really suffered the consequences. Other leaders brought water to share, so all turned out well in the end. The moral of the story is: bring the recommended amount of water. And pre-hydrate the day before.
Part of my motivation for hiking Old Rag this Spring was to measure my ability to tackle some hikes I’m hoping to do this summer with my boys: Preikestolen and Kjeragbolten in southern Norway. I’m convinced finishing Old Rag and living to tell (and walk normally the next day) gives me a thumbs up. I’m really looking forward to hiking in Norway! How would you compare Old Rag to those two Norwegian hikes?
I’m SO glad I scratched Old Rag off my bucket list. I am planning to do it again!
Thanks for a very thorough and informative blog post on this FANTASTIC Virginia hike.
Old Rag is great, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing the tips about carrying enough water! We also hiked Old Rag to see if Tyler and Kara would be able to handle Kjerag and the other hikes in Norway. Pulpit Rock is easy compared to Old Rag. It’s much shorter but it does have a pretty hefty climb, but with only 4 miles round trip it’s not as strenuous. Plus, the views will blow you away and make Old Rag look dull and boring. Kjeragbolten is more strenuous than Pulpit Rock and similar to Old Rag. But it is so beautiful that you will hardly care that you are tired. The hardest part of Kjerag is the final descent at the end of the hike (and convincing yourself to stand on the boulder). Both of these hikes will ruin hiking in Virginia. 😉 I hope you have an awesome time in Norway and fall in love with it like we did. Happy hiking! Cheers, Julie
I have hiked Old Rag numerous times which is one of my favorite hikes in Virginia. Also I have hiked Dragons Toorh another good hike in Virginia as well as McCaffe Knob and Tinkers Cliffs. I liked your pictures and the other hikes you have done…happy hiking!
Old Rag is so much fun…definitely a hike to do more than once. Cheers!
Old rag was my first hike. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I prepared for the hike by running 2 miles for months. However it was still extremely difficult. The view was worth it and I felt accomplished. I would recommend to tmstart earliest you can and wear hiking shoes. My sneakers sicker on the terrain. It was actually the #1 hardest thing I’ve ever done and I said I’d never do it again! But I’ll do it again.
Isn’t it funny, how in the moment, when something gets difficult, you say to yourself you’ll never do that again. And then a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks later you’ll say, that was great, why don’t I do it again?! But the next time, you go farther, or do something more difficult. And then the possibilities for what you can do grow and grow. I’m glad you took on the challenge of Old Rag, it is a challenging hike and very much something to be proud of! I hope you have many more hikes in your future! Cheers, Julie
Loved reading the ‘Hiking Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park’ article. My mom and I found this very interesting and useful as my family and I prepare/plan for Shenandoah in search of some difficult adventurous hikes! Thanks!!
You’re welcome! Have fun, Julie