Looking to conquer Old Rag Mountain at Shenandoah National Park? In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know, including how to get a day use ticket (new for 2022).
Back in April 2016, before we really traveled or hiked, we visited some of our best friends near DC. We decided to spend a day at Shenandoah National Park and I (Kathryn) was in charge of figuring out what to do. I came across a hike called Old Rag Mountain and after seeing it was one of the top hikes, thought it would be the perfect way to spend the day.
At the time, I was FAR from outdoorsy and our hiking experience was limited to the easier, flatter trails in central Texas. We were definitely not prepared for the amount of physical (and mental) effort this hike would entail. And I’ll never forget the first major rock scramble and how I felt nauseous and instantly panicked and wanted to turn around. While not a scary hike overall, being my first ever real hike, having to lift myself up rocks was pretty daunting.
But I persevered through my major anxiety and we made it to the top, which was well worth it! However, ever since, I have always considered this hike my arch nemesis and looked forward to the chance to meet again and conquer it without fear.
Watch our experience hiking Old Rag Mountain for the second time!
Fast forward to October 2021 and we found ourselves back in the DC area and decided to give Old Rag Mountain another shot. At this point, we had countless miles of hiking and backpacking under our belt, so we felt much more prepared. While it was still challenging (we will share the full low down more in this guide), there was less anxiety and we were thankfully able to have a much more positive experience.
And in this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know to hike Old Rag Mountain, including the things I should’ve read and known before our first visit, new rules for hiking the trail in 2022, what to expect, and more!
- About Old Rag Mountain
- The different routes to hike Old Rag Mountain
- Old Rag Mountain Trailhead + Parking
- When to hike Old Rag Mountain
- What to bring to hike Old Rag Mountain
- Things to know before hiking Old Rag Mountain
- Our experience hiking the Old Rag Mountain Loop
- Where to stay to hike Old Rag Mountain
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About Old Rag Mountain
Shenandoah National Park is located in Northern Virginia, just 75 miles from Washington, DC and close to many other major cities in the eastern part of the United States. This park is home to the Blue Ridge Mountains, which you can experience on a drive along Skyline Drive, waterfalls, wildlife, and some pretty awesome hikes, including what may be the most popular: Old Rag Mountain.
At 3,284 feet tall, Old Rag, which gets its name from its underlying old rag granite, may not be the tallest mountain in the park, but what makes this hike so well loved is that it combines fun rock scrambling with 360 degree views, making for a pretty epic hiking experience.
Safety warnings for Old Rag Mountain
This is a physically challenging hike because of its length, sections of steep incline, tight squeezes, and rock scrambling. It is very rewarding to reach the summit, but know that it is tough! Children and shorter adults may need assistance with rock scrambling…even Kathryn, who is 5’5”, struggled with some of the scrambles.
The scrambles themselves are pretty well protected by other rocks and are not super exposed or have major drop offs, so from a safety perspective, it’s not too dangerous, just difficult.
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
The different routes to hike Old Rag Mountain
There are a handful of different routes you can take to get to the summit of Old Rag Mountain, ranging in difficulty. Below are the most popular options, including the route we chose and why we chose it.
NEW for 2022: You’ll need a Day Use ticket to hike Old Rag Mountain. We detail what this is and how to get it in the “Things to know” section below.
Old Rag Mountain Loop
Miles (roundtrip): 9.5
Elevation: 2,683 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
This is probably the most popular and challenging route to take and is what we have done both times we have hiked Old Rag Mountain. This route combines the thrill of scrambling to the top, but also a much easier (although a bit long and uneventful) way down, by taking the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, which is a pretty flat, wide path that goes through the trees.
Why we chose this route:
- You get to scramble to the top, which is the best part of the hike, in our opinion
- You don’t have to navigate the scrambling going back down, which would be hard with two way traffic
- It’s a nice reward (although sort of boring) to have flat ground on the last part of the hike, after scrambling to the top
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
Old Rag Mountain via the Ridge Trail
Miles (roundtrip): 7
Elevation: 2,362 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
This route is similar to the one above, but instead of making a loop, you’ll just go back down the way you came, which means you will go up AND down the rock scrambles.
While this would be the most fun way to do this hike, as you’ll get lots of scrambling in, we think it would be a bit difficult to navigate the scrambles with two way traffic. Even if you start early, you’ll run into quite a few people when scrambling down, which means you’d likely have to stop a lot to let others pass.
While going up and down the scrambles would be safe during warmer weather, we would not recommend going down the scrambles in slick or icy conditions.
Berry Hollow to Old Rag Mountain Trail
Miles (roundtrip): 5.4
Elevation: 1,754 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
The easiest option to hike Old Rag Mountain, but it does not include the rock scrambles. While the views at the top of Old Rag are beautiful, there are many other beautiful hikes in Shenandoah that offer similar (and probably even better) views and in our opinion, what makes Old Rag fun is the challenging journey to the top. However, if you really want to hike up Old Rag and do not want to scramble, this will be your best option!
Old Rag Mountain Trailhead + Parking
In this guide, we’re focusing on hiking the Old Rag Mountain Loop option. And for this route, plus the Ridge Trail route, you will start at this parking lot. This parking lot is about 30 minutes from the Thornton Gap park entrance, 40 minutes from the town of Luray, and 1 hour, 45 minutes from Washington, DC.
The parking situation was recently renovated and there are now two parking lots, plus restrooms, as well as a ranger station. It’s a big improvement over our first visit!
It is free to park in the national park parking lots, but if the lots are full, there are other parking lots down the road on private property, which charge a fee. If you have to use one of those lots, know that you still have to pay the entrance fee to Shenandoah National Park.
When to hike Old Rag Mountain
The Old Rag Mountain Loop can be hiked year round, but depending on the season your experience will vary.
The park begins to come alive from its winter slumber in the springtime. Trees grow their leaves back, flowers start blooming, and the temperatures rise from the mid 30s in March to the mid 50s in May, but weather can vary greatly from day to day. Along with all of that, many facilities and services open back up.
Of course, when the weather gets nicer, the days get longer, and the park opens up, the crowds of people will come, especially during spring break. If you can visit midweek you’ll have the best experience.
Our first time hiking up Old Rag was in April, mid-week, and while the trees were not totally back to life, it was a nice, crisp time to hike.
From June to August the temperatures warm up and since many people are on summer vacation during this time, the park gets a lot busier. This is a great time to do the hike and ensure there will be no snow or ice, but be prepared to share the trail with others.
Fall is also a very popular time to visit Shenandoah, as the park experiences some nice fall foliage and the temperatures are cooler. Weekends during fall foliage can be very busy, so try to plan for a weekday if you can. Our most recent hike up Old Rag was on a weekday at the end of October, during what seemed like a delayed fall foliage season and we got to see some nice colors at the top! The crowds weren’t horrible either.
If you want more solitude and don’t mind some snow or ice, winter is a good time to hike up Old Rag. While the scenery may not be as colorful as normal, this is a much less busy time in the park. If you hike in the winter, please bring some microspikes (we love our Kahtoola MICROspikes) just in case there are any icy areas. The scrambles can be very dangerous in ice and you will want good traction.
Go on a weekday & start early!
On our most recent visit in October, we hiked on a Wednesday, starting just before sunrise, and the parking lot only had a few cars when we got there. While we saw some people at the top and on our way down, we were surprised to see that the parking lot still wasn’t full hours later when we returned. We also got to enjoy the scrambling without worrying about holding anyone up, which was a huge plus.
What to bring to hike Old Rag Mountain
To see everything we recommend packing for hikes, check out our hiking gear, where we share everything we bring with us when we hike, including the 10 essentials. But for this specific hike, we have a few items we really want to stress bringing with you.
You will be grabbing a lot of rocks on this hike and having gloves will help protect your hands. We forgot them on this second visit to Old Rag and regretted it a bit!
There are some tight spaces you will have to squeeze through and having a big backpack will make this even more challenging. If you can bring all of your 10 essentials in a smaller pack, it’ll make things easier.
During our visit, the summit was really windy, so make sure to bring layers so you can bundle up at the top if needed!
We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map before you go. While the trail is easy to follow, there are some turn offs and we like to use the map to track our progress along the trail. You will need an AllTrails+ membership to download maps, which is $35.99 a year and so worth it! (But you can save 30% with our code aplusk30)
No matter what time of year you visit, the hike will likely be busy, or at least not empty. Remember that everyone is there to enjoy the parks just like you!
Things to know before hiking Old Rag Mountain
It costs $30 per vehicle ($25 for motorcycles) to enter Shenandoah National Park, which covers 7 days. But if you’re visiting more than one National Park on your trip (or within the year), we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass which is $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, monument, or forest for free.
To access the trailhead, you will not go through a park entrance booth, but at the trailhead there is a booth that is staffed during different hours to pay the entrance fee. If you arrive before it is staffed (which we recommend to beat the crowds), make sure to have money to be able to self pay in an envelope.
Day Use Ticket (NEW for 2022!)
Starting March 1 – November 30, 2022, any visitor wishing to access the Saddle, Ridge, and/or Ridge Access Trails will need to obtain an Old Rag Day Use ticket in advance along with your National Park entrance pass.
Important information about the tickets:
- The tickets cost $1.
- Each person is required to have a ticket no matter what age. You can buy up to 4 tickets total per name. If your party is larger than 4 then you’ll need a second person to buy more tickets, or everyone in the party buys their own.
- The ticket is good for the day you selected from 12 AM to 11:59 PM, so unlike some other national park permit systems, where you can go early or late to avoid this, this is not possible here.
- Tickets must be bought at https://www.recreation.gov/. A total of 800 tickets are available for each day, 400 are released 30 days ahead and the remaining 400 are released 5 days before.
- There is no cell service in the parking lot and the tickets are not sold at the Ranger Station in the parking lot so be sure to purchase before you arrive.
There are restrooms in the parking lot, as well as one on the Saddle Trail by the Old Rag Shelter, on the way down (if you do the hike as we did).
Stay on the trail
Please stay on the trail! There are many areas that are home to many rare and endangered plants. You can keep these areas growing by staying on the trail, including in any rocky areas that may be roped off.
Dogs are not allowed!
Because of the nature of the hike and since it’s in a national park, dogs are not allowed on the Ridge, Saddle, Old Rag Access, and Ridge Access Trails.
If you’re looking for a couple dog friendly hikes nearby, check out: Robertson Mountain Loop and Nicholson Hollow Trail to Corbin Cabin.
Learn how we travel with a dog and what we do with Kona when she cannot join us on our adventures.
Our experience hiking the Old Rag Mountain Loop
Here’s a recap of our experience on the trail, including our thoughts on the scrambling during our second attempt of this hike vs. the first. To see even more of the trail, check out our YouTube video from the hike!
The first 2.8 miles
The first part of the trail feels like any other trail. It’s a steady uphill climb through the forest, with minimal views and your typical terrain: a mix of dirt, with some rocks and roots, plus some fallen leaves.
About 1 mile into the hike we reached a junction with the Ridge Access Trail. You’ll want to continue straight here on the ridge trail. The other trail will take you up Old Rag from the other side, which is how we came down.
As we climbed up through the forest, we started to get some sneak peeks of the Blue Ridge Mountain views through the trees, which was extra gorgeous as the morning light hit them. At around 2.8 miles, we reached a wide open area, which almost feels like it would be the summit, but the fun has yet to begin!
At this area there are sweeping views of the valley below and some spots to sit and enjoy a snack and rest a bit. You’ll want to make sure you’re feeling good because the hard part is up next!
We didn’t get tons of photos of the scrambling, but watch our experience hiking Old Rag Mountain to get a better idea of the difficulty.
Right after leaving the overlook area, the scrambling begins! It starts out a bit easier and you’ll continue to have some beautiful views of the mountains (which we always think helps make tough hikes feel less tough!), but soon you’ll reach a spot where you have to climb down into a gap (there is a blue arrow pointing down on the rock).
Getting down into this can be tricky if you don’t have super long legs, but it is doable and feels relatively safe since there is no huge dropoff and you’re contained between rocks. After this spot is when things continue to be challenging.
For the next half mile or so, you’ll mostly be climbing up, down, and through rocks, with some breaks on flat land in between. Some of the scrambles are pretty easy, but many of them require using your hands, squeezing your body into tighter spaces, and moving your body awkwardly as you try to figure out how to get up certain spots. You’ll also get to go in some rock “tunnels” (as we will call them), which is a very unique feature.
While these scrambles are challenging, especially for those who aren’t super tall, they are a ton of fun! We definitely enjoyed this part of the hike much more than the first time.
I will say though, since we had so much more scrambling experience when doing this hike the second time, it was harder than I thought it would be. I assumed that since I had basically zero hiking experience last time that it would be a walk in the park this time. But it was still challenging! Although, it felt like there were less hard parts the second time around and the scrambling went a lot quicker.
After conquering the scrambling, you’ll reach the summit! There will be a sign on the left side of the trail pointing to the summit, which you can access by going through some rocks. At the top there are panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and what really surprised us is that despite it being late October, the fall colors seemed to just be arriving. We loved getting to see the mix of greens, plus a few yellows and reds.
There are also many rocky areas to sit at the top, so you can rest for a bit and enjoy a snack, with a nice view.
During our hike it was CRAZY windy at the top, almost to the point where it felt like it was going to push us off, so if that is the case for you, be careful and make sure to pack layers!
The hike down
The hike down from the summit starts out on the Saddle Trail, which is a more traditional trail in the forest, with a steady decline. About 1.5 miles from the summit there is a restroom and a shelter if you need to take a break.
Around 0.5 miles later the trail meets up with the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, which in our opinion, is the worst part of the hike. This 2 mile stretch of the hike is on a fire road, which is gravel and goes through the forest.
And while it is a pretty stroll through the trees, at this point we were so exhausted and ready to be back to the van and it felt like a slog. Some highlights on this part (towards the end) are a couple rivers and streams, which we hadn’t seen on the hike yet!
At 8 miles into the hike, the trail ends at a parking lot, which is closed. We aren’t totally sure the situation on this parking area, but you are not allowed to cut through here and walk the road back to the main parking area, so you’ll continue on the Ridge Access Trail (the one we mentioned earlier) and connect back with the Ridge Trail that you hiked on back at the beginning to get back to the parking lot.
While the last part of this hike can feel a bit long and tedious, we still are glad we did this route, as it’s the best way to experience the scrambling, but not have to fight two way traffic. Just be prepared to be super tired when you’re done with the hike…we were pooped!
Overall, we enjoyed this hike so much more the second time around (although the first time will be a memory we will never forget) and if you enjoy scrambling, mountain views, and don’t mind a challenge, we couldn’t recommend this hike more!
Where to stay to hike Old Rag Mountain
Looking for somewhere to stay close to the hike? Here are a few options nearby that would be convenient to the hike, as well as to exploring more of Shenandoah National Park.
Shenandoah National Park is home to five campgrounds, with hundreds of sites to choose from around the park. The most convenient to the Old Rag trailhead is Mathews Arm Campground, which is 45 minutes away, or Big Meadows Campground, which is just over an hour away.
Note: None of the campgrounds in the park offer electric hookups.
If you’d like to stay in an Airbnb, the closest towns to stay in would be Sperryville (20 minutes away) and Luray (40 minutes away). Here are some Airbnbs in both!
29 Main on the River (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This former blacksmith shop is now a super charming Airbnb with a private deck right on the river! It’s also walkable to town, which has some coffee shops and restaurants.
Stonewall Abbey Apartment (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This beautiful and spacious apartment has everything you need for a comfortable stay. The couch and TV setup looks very inviting after a tough climb up Old Rag!
The Studio in Luray (Studio, 1 bathroom): If you’re looking for a comfortable place to rest and plan to eat out (there is a small kitchen with some items), this would be a great home base!
The Loft at Blue Sky Ranch (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This cottage is located on a ranch and features a pine interior, mountain views, and GOATS!
The Cavern on Hawksbill (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): WOW, this place is gorgeous! With stone walls and tons of wood, it feels like the perfect mountain getaway.
There aren’t a ton of hotel options near the park, especially if you’re looking for chain hotels in order to use reward points. But there are two hotels in the park, Skyland (50 minute drive to trailhead) and Big Meadows Lodge (just over an hour away), which would be great places to stay in the heart of the park’s best sights!
Ready to conquer Old Rag Mountain?
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