Old Rag Mountain is undoubtedly one of the most sought-after day hikes in Shenandoah National Park. Just a two-hour drive from D.C., you will find this hike to be quite crowded on weekends.
The parking lot is your first indication of the popularity of this hike. By 9 a.m. on a Saturday, the lot can be half full. It is best to get to the trail as early in the morning as you can to avoid crowds and lines. This hike has some challenging routes that are fun to figure out, and you will not get the chance to solve the puzzle if there is a line at difficult points.
Make sure you bring enough water, especially when it is hot or very cold, because this hike is physically demanding. Bring a snack or lunch to enjoy at the peak of the mountain, where you will be able to eat your lunch with some of the best views in Shenandoah.
Old Rag is notorious for its switchbacks in the beginning of the hike and its rock scramble closer to the peak. You will squeeze through narrow passages, grip your way up gigantic granite boulders, and walk along the edge of the mountain. This hike can be dangerous, so be prepared. If you are inexperienced with scrambling or uncomfortable with heights, do not do this hike alone—bring a buddy! In addition, due to narrow passages, you will likely have trouble squeezing through with a large pack. Unless you are training, it is best to bring a small daypack. Boots are not recommended because they are heavy and bulky; try trail-running shoes.
The first 0.75 miles of the hike is a paved road to the trailhead. The next 3 miles consist of an uphill climb through switchbacks and dense forest, and depending on the rain, some small waterfalls. Closer to the tree line, the terrain becomes very rocky. During the rockier part of the hike, it is extremely important to follow the light-blue-blazed trail. Following the blazes will give you the easiest routes to your destination. There are about five false summits on this hike. Keep going; it’s worth it.
After you have finished enjoying your time at the top of Old Rag Mountain, it is time to begin your descent. This portion of the hike pounds your knees. You will be tired and therefore more likely to fall, so take extra precaution. The rocky path meets up with the Old Rag Fire Road, and at this point you are only 3.3 miles away from the parking lot. Toward the end of the fire road, marked on the map is a spot near the river where you can take your shoes off and soak your feet in some ice-cold river water near a small waterfall, a very refreshing treat after tramping down the mountain.
Throughout the shady forested portions of Old Rag, you may come across black bears. Be sure to read up on what to do when you encounter a black bear before your hike!