Trip Report: Old Rag Mountain Hike

Shenandoah National Park is an easy weekend trip from Cleveland Ohio or a perfect day trip from Washington DC! It has some of the best hiking in Virginia.

Old Rag Mountain is a classic east coast hike. Considering that it's just a 6 hour drive from Cleveland, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it a shot.

old rag mountain hike
Old Rag Summit

Old Rag Mountain is located within Shenandoah National Park, although you access the trailhead from outside of park boundaries. The parking lot address is 3577 Nethers Rd, Etlan, VA 22719. Make sure to have a paper map with you, as you likely will not have cell phone service at the trailhead. You will have to either have a park pass already, or you can pay at the fee station located in the parking lot. Note that (annoyingly), it is about 0.8 miles from the parking lot up to the trailhead itself.

Old Rag Mountain trail map

The NPS recommends that you follow the Ridge Trail up to the summit, then take saddle trail to Weakley Hollow Fire Road back to the parking lot. Note that if you turn the wrong way on the fire road, you can end up at the wrong parking lot... so don't do that.

This is an extremely popular hike. I arrived at 7am (on a saturday) and the parking lot was already about 45% full. If you are seeking solitude, find another trail (or perhaps try this hike during the week). The whole hike took me 7 hours, and that includes lounging at the top, taking pictures, and eating lunch. I followed the recommended route outlined above. 

The Ridge Trail begins like any other mountain trail, with gently graded switchbacks leading you upward. It is marked with blue blazes. You will climb through a peaceful stretch of forest, and pass your first viewpoint. After this, the trail becomes more rocky. However, at about mile 3, the trail gives way to a rock scramble, and you'll find yourself climbing over, under, and in between boulders to the summit. The blazes, and sometimes arrows, are painted on the rocks to guide you upward.

rock scramble

old rag

old rag virginia

There are multiple ways to clamber your way to the top. That being said, it is also easy to wander off trail in this section, so keep an eye out for the blue blazes along the boulders. Here is information on some other rock scrambling routes you can take along this trail.

Eventually, you will come to a broad, rocky section dotted with massive boulders, affording you views for miles. This, however, is actually the north summit of Old Rag mountain (the "minor" or "false" summit). You still have about 0.3 miles to go - with additional scrambling - to reach the summit itself. Note that the summit is marked with a sign. 

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"False" Summit

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Boulders at summit

After you reach the summit, at 3, 291 feet, you will see a sign for the saddle trail. This is also marked with blue blazes, and involves a little bit of scrambling. It will eventually lead you to Old Rag Shelter. There is also a porta potty here. This is additionally where the Saddle Trail intersects with Weakley Fire Road (yellow blazes). As noted above, make sure you follow the signs for Weakley Fire Road (turning right and heading downhill), because the other fire roads will take you far, far away from your car.

The fire road is gravel and leads you downhill through a forest. Even though I was doing this section of the hike early afternoon, I did see a black bear with three cubs (!) -- so keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. (Sorry, I did not get any pictures of the bears). 

Make sure to practice bear safety and NEVER approach any wildlife!

The fire road continues for a few miles and eventually you will end up back at the parking lot. 

Trail Info:

Length: Medium (9 miles)
Elevation Gain: 2415'
Difficulty: Strenuous (due to rock scrambling more than steepness)
Best time of year: Summer/Fall. Do not attempt in icy or wet conditions.
Fees: $25 park entry fee per car, valid for 7 days
What to pack: Shoes you can climb in, 2-4 liters of water per person, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, lunch
Trail notes: This trail becomes very crowded; definitely arrive early. You will have to squeeze through narrow gaps in the rocks, so you will want to pack light for this hike.

Want more? Check out Gorge Metropark for rock scrambling in the Cleveland area and my Trip Report for Olympic National Park for more mountains!

That's it! So let me know - have you climbed Old Rag yet? 
Carry on, lovely hikers! Make sure to subscribe here and also follow me on instagram @rhandthebeast to see the rest of the photos!


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