Hiking Old Rag
Holly Mills, NPS
Now that you know how to fully prepare yourself for a day on Old Rag, you are ready to begin the adventure! Once you have arrived at the parking area and paid your fee you will walk the .8 mile along the road to the trailhead.
At the trailhead there is additional information and a map. Take the time to read the information posted there. Old Rag is host to many rare and endangered plants that live in the harsh rocky environment of the granite boulders. These plants are particularly susceptible to trampling. They are pictured here so take a moment to familiarize yourself with these special plants so you can be on the lookout for them.
There are several ways to hike Old Rag, but the most popular is a circuit that takes you up the Ridge Trail, across the rock scramble to the summit, than down the Saddle Trail to the Weakley Hollow Fire Road and back to where you began. The first 2 miles will be an increasingly steeper climb along a beautiful wooded trail. You are likely to see deer and other wildlife, as well as a steady profusion of wildflowers during the spring, summer, and fall. Watch for changes in vegetation as you gain altitude.
About 2 miles into the hike you will come out of the woods onto the ridgetop. Here's where the fun begins. For the next mile and a half you will climb, slide, shimmy, and crawl your way across and around giant granite boulders. Follow the blue blazes to stay on track. If you see a double blaze, that means the trail will take a sharp turn or switchback.
You will also notice numbers beneath the blazes. These are reference numbers for Search and Rescue personnel. Take note of the numbers as you pass them. If you need to report an incident, being able to give the staff the number will help them in their response.
As you make your way to the summit you can pause at several fabulous viewpoints, but don't stop there-eventually you will make it to an unmatched 360 degree view. As you navigate the boulders notice the geology of Old Rag. You'll see quartz and feldspar and a great example of columnar jointing that forms a natural staircase. Notice, too the change in vegetation.
From the summit, you can look across much of the nearly 200,000 protected acres of Shenandoah National Park, a portion of which is federally designated wilderness. Take time to appreciate this relatively unspoiled example of forest and mountain.
You are about 4 miles from your starting point. Some hikers return via the rock scramble, but most prefer to continue on the Saddle Trail. Especially on busy weekends, attempting the rock scramble in reverse feels a lot like swimming upstream! As you travel down the Saddle Trail you will encounter two shelters, first Byrd's Nest, and then the Old Rag Shelter. Both are day-use only. There is an outdoor privy at the Old Rag Shelter (a little over a mile from the summit). If "nature calls" please use it instead of the outdoors. If you cannot make it to the privy, be sure to use Leave No Trace principles (cathole method).
About .4 mile from Old Rag Shelter you will arrive at a junction known as Post Office Junction. Before Shenandoah National Park was established this was the site of the village of Old Rag and its Post Office was nearby. There were homes and a school and church. At the junction there is additional information about the people who once called Old Rag home.
Turn right onto the Weakley Hollow Fire Road and complete your hike with another 3.4 miles through the woods and along a stream to the parking lot.
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Did You Know?
The first visitors to Shenandoah National Park during the 1930s and early 40s rarely saw deer. They were gradually restocked from four other states.