Cardiovascular Contortion on Old Rag Mountain

View of Old Rag Mountain from Thoroughfare Overlook in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Tucked into Shenandoah National Park in Madison County, Virginia, is Old Rag Mountain. With a low peak standing staunchly at 3,284 feet (1,001 m) and a prominence of less than half that, it offers a fun hike for all skill levels, with two routes to the summit.

Rocks over valley in the Shenandoah on a climb of Old Rag

The more strenuous hike – considered by many to be the most strenuous of the Shenandoahs – is a circuit of about nine miles total, guiding you gently heavenward at first, then much more steeply, for about two miles on Ridge Trail. Nearing the summit, hikers meet the mountain gods at the ridge. If you make it here, exposed to the world, Old Rag will throw you to the mercy of the granite. But this isn’t any granite.

Mountain laurel in meadow and view of Old Rag from an overlook on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, VA.

Geologically, this granite is known as Old Rag Granite. It’s just that special. For the next two miles, you will become close friends – and perhaps enemies, too – with this granite, as it will force you to contort, wiggle, and wriggle, a veritable trial by trail. Keep your wits about you and your hands at the ready to stay upright. Switchbacks keep your head spinning, and the blue trail blazes are accompanied by numbers, due to the frequency of the need for rescues. Luckily, the summit comes soon enough.

Mountain view from the Old Rag mountain hiking trail at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia

The summit offers a 360° view of the rippling Shenandoahs, which can be quite a sight in the summertime, when they are swathed in green, with peaks speckled by stone. Take your time to enjoy the view and bask in the immensity of its natural beauty. Eat a snack, hydrate, and – should you be subjecting yourself to the entirety of the nine-mile circuit – mentally prepare yourself for the return hike.

Cloudy Winter Morning with a view on Old Rag Mountain. Shenandoah National Park.

The trip down takes Saddle Trail and Weakley Hollow Fire Road back to the trailhead. After the work it took to make it up the mountain, the descent is much easier, although a bit longer in distance. However, you won’t have to shimmy between any rocks to get back to the trailhead.

If your legs are not up for the entire climb, you can get to Old Rag’s summit from the scenic Skyline Drive, by driving east on Old Rag Fire Road until you hit Saddle Trail. From there, it’s an easy walk to the summit.

Shenandoah National Park, Old Rag.

For those into rock climbing and bouldering, Old Rag is one of the best climbing spots in the mid-Atlantic region, with granite formations not just at the summit, but on the mountainside, as well. There are countless routes to choose from, both developed by others and waiting for an intrepid climber to discover for herself.

Old Rag is not a peak that will leave you with altitude sickness, but it isn’t easy, either. Good for a day hike if you’re in the area, but not for the faint at heart. Pets aren’t allowed, but you won’t regret leaving Fido at home; the scramble to the summit will keep you on your toes – and hands, too, at points – enough to keep you occupied without having to worry about an animal’s safety.

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