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Old Rag Mountain, A Fall Tradition

View from the summit

Old Rag is Shenandoah's "most popular and most dangerous hike" according to the National Park Service website. There's even a prominently placed safety video to warn hikers of its difficulty.

All I know is that it's my all-time favorite hike.

The circuit is advertised as being 8 miles from the trail head, but including the walk from the parking area, you'll cover 9.25 miles. When you reach the trail, you'll see a sign advising hikers to allow 5 1/2 hours to complete it. That always startles me.
The trail starts off benignly

Views like this abound. And see? It's not unrelenting uphill the whole way.

It's a significant, but not drastically steep climb with lots of rock scrambling to challenge your inner child. 

Obligatory hold-up-the-boulder pic
Getting into the rock scrambling section
The views (at several points, not just from the summit) are simply stunning. Spend some time taking it all in, and snapping a few photos.

Another lovely view on the way to the true summit
The inevitable bottleneck. Today wasn't bad, we waited about 15 minutes.
Summit photo. Hurry up, the freezing rain is starting!
Finally, the slow climb is rewarded with an exhilarating descent. There's a section of  technical trail which emerges onto a gravel fire road. It's pure joy to bomb down. Never mind your quads, live in the moment.

Elevation profile. It took us 2 hours 55 minutes, climbing at a good clip and running the final 5 miles.

If you live anywhere near Shenandoah National Park, you owe it to yourself to hike Old Rag Mountain this fall. All the details you could ever want can be found here

My advice: You'll want both hands free, so use a hydration pack rather than a water bottle. Bring some dried fruit for calories. Go on a weekday or get there early


  1. We visited the Park when we lived in VA for a year, really a gorgeous place. With 3 kids under 10 at the time, these kind of hikes weren't happening. One day!

  2. I really need to get there sometime!

  3. Gorgeous!! I would love to hike someplace like that. Between your pictures from the bike ride, and these, I may just have to relocate! Any bears? :)

    1. Only black bears, and they are extremely shy. In all my years of hiking and running here I've seen two, not close up -- as they fled.


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