Hiking Old Rag Mountain (Shenandoah Nat'l Park)

Last weekend, I made the 4-hour drive down to Virginia to meet up with a friend and pay a visit to Shenandoah National Park to tackle the 10-mile Old Rag Mountain Hike. This trail had been on my list of must-do trails for a while, and while it is arguably one of the toughest hikes I have ever done, the views were 100% worth it! The Old Rag hike is one of the most popular Shenandoah hikes, and while we hardly ran into any other hikers (we went on a Friday), weekends lead to much bigger crowds. Old Rag Mountain is a 3,284 ft tall mountain located near Sperryville, VA, and the hike takes at least 4-5 hours to complete. This might be one of my favorite hikes that I've ever done, and while my friend has completed it several times, this was my first, but certainly not my last time. Below I will go into detail about the hike, the rock scrambles, and of course include plenty of pictures of the spectacular views!



*The trailhead/Ranger Station is located at 2577 Nethers Rd, Etlan, VA 22719*


We decided it would be a good idea to hike this trail on a 90 degree, sunny day, and imediately questioned our sanity as we tackled the first two completely uphill miles (with frequent breaks). Red faced, and out of breath, we approaching mile 3 and the wooded trail slowly started to transition into an open trail with views of the mountains below.


We stopped at our first overlook where my friend assured me we were pretty close to the summit. As we continued on, we reached our first 365 degree viewpoint at the minor northerly summit where we stopped for a snack, captured some pictures, and of course took in the stunning view.







After regaining some energy, it was time to tackle the dreaded rock scramble. This was definitely the hardest part of the hike, and though short mileage wise, probably took up the most time to cover an area of distance. If you are hiking Old Rag, sturdy shoes or boots are absolutely necessary for this part! While some parts simply required hopping from one big rock to another, other parts required squeezing outselves in between tiny crevises, climbing up boulders, or crawling between small spaces. While challenging, the rock scramble definitely adds a cool element to the hike, and in the end, we were both really proud of ourselves for making it past.



Shortly after conquering the rock scramble, the true summit at mile 4.3 comes into view. With even more 365 degree views, we were above the birds at this point. I was truly amazed at the views that surrounded us, and it made all of our hard work at the rock scramble way more worth it. Once again we hung out at the summit for some snacks, more photos, some tiktoks (of course!), and conversations with other hikers.




We decided to start the 5.2-mile descent back down to the parking lot, where we encountered more wide open views for a little while before heading back onto the wooded trail. With about 2-miles left in the descent, we were making great time, listening to music, having great conversations, and even came across a deer crossing the path right in front of us.


We finally reached the original trailhead, however, that part was blocked off, and the park rangers led us to the path back to the parking lot, which added an additional 1.2 miles onto our hike. We continued on the wooded path, crossed a few bridges, and finally made our way back to the parking lot after a whopping 10.7 miles!


Overall the hike was amazing, and all though our patience was wearing thin at the end, the views throughout the hike made everything worth it.




Some Tips for Hiking Old Rag


  • BRING PLENTY OF WATER

I cannot stress this one enough! Although your backpack will be heavier, you will not regret it especially on a hot day...trust me! We each packed two 32-oz waterbottles (one of which had electrolytes) and a large gatorade, and felt like that was a good amount. We also each kept an additional large waterbottle in the car for when we completed the hike.

  • Pack good hiking snacks

We had frequent stops for water and snacks, as well as snacked throughout the actual hike and at the summits. We tried to pack snacks that were light to carry, easy to eat on the move, and ones that would fill us up. Some examples of the snacks we packed were

-Rx Bars

-Fruit (Apples/Clementines)

-GoGo Squeez Applesauce

-Turkey Meat Sticks

-Trail Mix

-Granola Bars

-Dried Pineapple

  • Wear sturdy shoes with a good grip

Another tip I cannot stress enough. A majority of the hike would have been okay to do in regular tennis shoes I think, however, the rock scramble would have been 10x harder if I wasn't wearing sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support. I was able to latch myself onto some flat rocks to assist with climbing up them, and it made jumping from rock to rock safer.

  • Spend time taking in the views!

Some people hike simply to complete the mileage, however, the views herer are unbeatable and you definitely want to take time, sit and rest and truly take in all of the views that this hike has to offer.

  • Watch out for snakes

Snakes are very common in Shenandoah National Park in general. We actually did encounter one along the trail (I almost stepped on it hiding under a rock). I'm not sure what type that specific snake was but I know the park is home to a variety of snakes both venemous and non-venemous.

  • Get there early

If you are going on a weekday, you probably won't hit as many crowds, however, if you are planning on doing this hike on a weekend, or a hot day I highly suggest you get to the trailhead by like 8:00am to beat the heat, and find good parking

  • Bring bug / tic spray

Shenandoah is also teeming with tics, especially during the summertime. Since a majority of the hike is in wooded areas, tic spray and bug spray in general is never a bad idea.

  • Push yourself, and don't give up!

There were certainly parts of this hike that will make you want to give up, turn around, and question your skills as a hiker. No matter how much you want to give up, push yourself, you'd be surprised at what you could accomplish. Hey I never thought I would have the strength to scale a rock on my back and hoist myself onto the ledge above but I did. Definitely helps to have a hiking buddy with you to offer encouragement / assistance!


If you are visiting Shenandoah National Park and have some time to check out this hike, I certainly recommend it! Another bucket list hike crossed off my list, and I can't wait to go back during a different point in the year and see how the views have changed! Thanks for reading, and always remember, there's always more to be explored!


-nicole elizabeth