Old Rag Mountain Loop via Ridge Trail
This is a difficult loop trail to Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. It offers a fun and challenging scramble to the mountain's boulder-strewn summit, where great views can be had along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The popular hike can be crowded on weekends, so hike on weekdays if possible.
The loop is typically taken clockwise. The ascent starts with a 0.8 mi stretch along State Route 600 from the parking lot to Ridge Trail trailhead, then follows Ridge Trail another 3.1 mi to the summit. The return is via Saddle Trail for 2.0 mi, then Weakley Hollow fire road for 2.4 mi, and finally retracing the 0.8 mi along SR 600 to the parking lot.
The first two thirds of the ascent up Ridge Trail is on a well-defined forest path that gains about 800 ft/mi. The final third of Ridge Trail, which also ascends at about 800 ft/mi, winds its way over and through a maze of boulders that requires frequent scrambling on all fours, squeezing through tight spaces, and hoisting oneself onto and off of large rocks. This makes for a fun and interesting hike, but it can be a physical workout that requires a certain level of fitness and agility. Plenty of water and proper footwear are a must. On crowded days, the narrow spaces and challenging scrambles can cause bottlenecks. The return path, while about a mile longer, avoids the boulders and has a lower grade of about 600 ft/mi. For anyone for whom traversing the boulders may be difficult or undesirable, including those with small children, going both up and back along the traditional return route is a viable option. NOTE: No pets are allowed on this trail. The National Park Service provides additional tips and safety precautions for hiking Old Rag Mountain.
Old Rag Mountain is seen as less of a hike in the area, and more of a right of passage. Every experienced hiker in Northern Virginia has conquered Old Rag at least once. Be prepared to use your upper body as much as your lower as you navigate through the steep rock scramble to reach the summit. It can be a difficult climb, but the views along the way (and at the summit) are well worth it. Make sure to keep an eye on the weather as it can be 10-15 degrees cooler as you ascend.
Detailed directions to the Old Rag parking area can be found on the website for Shenandoah National Park. (NOTE: As of June 2019, the Park Service began construction on a new parking lot that is about a quarter mile closer to the Ridge Trail trailhead.)
There is no fee for parking in the Old Rag parking lot. However you must pay an entrance fee to enter Shenandoah National Park. The National Park Service maintains a fee station located in the parking lot. The fee structure can be found on the park website.
Due to the number of visitors who hike Old Rag, the National Park Service has closed some off-trail areas near the summit for restoration of vegetation. Signs and rope barriers have been erected to designate these areas.
There are opportunities for backcountry camping in the vicinity of Old Rag. However, camping is not allowed above 2800 ft. For specific rules, including about required permits, see the Shenandoah NP Backcountry Camping webpage
The boulder scrambling on the upper part of Ridge Trail will be difficult for younger children, and certainly is not recommended to do with children who need to be carried. An alternative is to both ascend and descend via the traditional return route along Weakley Hollow Fire Road and Saddle Trail, which can be walked up without scrambling.
At the summit and at higher elevations along the trail there are numerous rocky outcrops and viewpoints which have precipitous edges.
Poison ivy is common in the vegetation along the trail. The park also is home to ticks and snakes, and black bears roam the area.
Children may struggle through the rock scramble. However, you can access the summit and enjoy the views by hiking up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road. Rock Scramble is rated a 3/10 for children. Fire Road is a much more comfortable 8/10. Still a long hike for young or less experienced children.
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