Old Rag Circuit

  • Highlights: Rock scramble, amazing views
  • Distance: 9.4 mile loop
  • Elevation Change: 2,348 feet
  • Trail Surface: Very rocky
  • Difficulty Level: Very strenuous (rock scramble, distance, elevation) 
  • Trailhead Parking: Old Rag parking area, route 600/Nethers Road off route 231 south of Sperryville; park entrance fee required, hike tickets required, see below
  • Website: Shenandoah National Park and AllTrails
  • Beer Pairings: Shotwell Run Brewery—Centennial 5 Cent IPA & Penny Porter

The Hike:

Old Rag is a perennial favorite. We have hiked to the summit several times and it is an amazing hike. Unfortunately, Old Rag is such a popular hike that on busy days parking lots were full before noon. Hikers could wait up to one hour to pass through sections of the famous rock scramble. The crowds at the summit resembled Disney World more than a national park. 

To help control the crowds and maintain a better hiking experience, the Park Service is testing an Old Rag day-use ticket requirement. In addition to a Park entrance pass, each hiker must purchase (in advance) a $1 day use ticket. Each day 800 tickets are available and can be purchased online up to 30 days in advance.

We have heard both positive and negative comments about this pilot program and wanted to see how it works. We found the online ticket purchase to be easy and straightforward through the Park Service website or by calling 877-444-6777. An account with Recreation.gov is required to purchase tickets. Cell service at Old Rag is limited so don’t plan to purchase your tickets at the trailhead. Download the tickets to your phone while you have service as you will need to show them to rangers at several points during the hike.

We purchased our tickets less than one week in advance for a Wednesday hike in mid-June and found the entire process to be painless. Some advanced planning is required as tickets are not sold at the trailhead. We are big fans of the advance ticket program as it limits the number of hikers and helps to preserve the Old Rag experience.

The Scramble:

Kathy’s knee isn’t a big fan of the Old Rag scramble. The famous rock scramble is nearly one mile long and requires squeezing through tight gaps in the rocks, scaling up and down granite surfaces, and pulling yourself up onto large rocks and boulders. Watch some videos on YouTube to get a better idea of what the scramble is all about. See our post on Old Rag from Berry Hollow if you want to avoid the scramble.

Kathy decided to opt out of this hike as the scramble would be too much for her knee. Fortunately Pete’s friend Pete was eager to join him on this hike. Hiker buddy Pete had already hiked Old Rag four times in 2022 and has completed over 40 marathons. He also enjoys a cold beer following a hike so he easily passed The Hoppy Hikers qualification process.

The two Petes arrived at Old Rag at 7 am on a Wednesday in mid-June and the parking lot had about 10 vehicles. The ranger station has maps, trail information, and pit toilets. Due to internet issues, they do not sell day tickets at the ranger station. However, it is possible to purchase a park pass at the trailhead. We showed our park pass and day tickets and were on our way. 

From the parking area, cross a footbridge and follow the blue-blazed Ridge Trail to the summit. The climb begins immediately and for the next 3.6 miles the ascent to the summit can be steep. At .8 miles reach a trail junction. The Ridge Access Trail to the right will be the return for this hike. Continue straight/left on the blue-blazed Ridge Trail.

The trail becomes rocky and at 2.6 miles is a great viewpoint. The rocky summit of Old Rag looms ahead on the right. The scramble (and the fun) begins at 2.8 miles. Look for blue blazes painted on the rocks to stay on the trail. The foot traffic over the years has worn the granite smooth in many places. Getting a good grip with your hiking shoes can be challenging. 

Look around to find the best option and usually you can find a good place to position your feet and hands as you climb through the scramble. At several places you will have to lower yourself into crevices in the rock. Again look for the best foot and hand placements. The views continue as you advance through the scramble. Take your time and enjoy the rocks and views.

The Summit:

Mountain laurel lining the trail signals the end of the scramble and a sign announces you have reached the summit at 3.6 miles. The views are stunning. Explore the rocky summit and find the perfect spot for lunch or a snack. It’s hard to leave, but to continue on the hike, return to the sign at the summit and follow the blue-blazed Saddle Trail as it descends on the other side of Old Rag.

Pass the Byrd Nest shelter at 4.2 miles and the Old Rag shelter at 5.3 miles. The Old Rag shelter has a pit toilet and the trail now becomes a fire road. At 5.7 miles reach the Weakly Hollow Fire Road. A park ranger was checking day tickets at this location so either have a printed copy of your ticket or download it to your phone as you likely won’t have cell service here. Bear right on the yellow-blazed fire road following signs to Old Rag parking.

The fire road descends gradually for the next 2.5 miles. Brokenback Run crosses the trail and a series of footbridges make for an easy crossing. At 8.2 miles pass through a gate on the fire road and turn right on the blue-blazed Ridge Access Trail. The trail becomes rocky and steep as it climbs to a trail junction at 8.6 miles. Turn left here and follow the blue-blazed Ridge Trail as it descends to the parking area and your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing: 

Located just 8 miles from the Old Rag trailhead in Etlan is Shotwell Run Brewery. They have indoor and outdoor seating, food trucks visit frequently, and The Blue Quartz Winery is co-located here. Their outdoor beer garden has great views. This is the perfect place to relax after a great hike on Old Rag.

Centennial 5 Cent IPA is an amazing IPA. Centennial hops are used five times during the brewing process resulting in an IPA with great aroma, flavor, and bitterness. We brought a crowler of 5 Cent home with us. Penny Porter is an English-style porter made with English brown malt and Fuggle hops. The roasted malts give this beer its traditional caramel and chocolate notes. 

2 thoughts on “Old Rag Circuit”

  1. Good to see that you will hike with just about anybody, Pete. It was a great hiking day!
    Your Old Rag partner for the day,
    (The Other) Pete

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