Old Rag Mountain

 

Description: This is a strenuous 7.0 mile loop (Add 1.4 miles if you start at the overflow parking lot!) in the Shenandoah National Park. It is by far the most popular hike on the Blue Ridge to the degree that a farmerís field had to be purchased for over-flow parking. Iíve refrained from publishing any notes on this hike for just that reason but during a recent convalescence from the bug I found photos from a 1998 trip I did with my good friend from Hillmanís Happy Hikers of Annapolis, none other than Dick Hillman himself. Thinking back on it, hiking Old Rag is like a right of passage. Anytime a group of mid-Atlantic hikers in conversation want to test the metal of their peers they ask the ultimate question: ďHave you ever hiked Old Rag?Ē I decided I should discuss the trek here after all.

 

I would like to mention that there are many tales of calamity on treks up Old Rag found here on the net. Some might be true. Most are due to a lack of preparedness. First, since this is a strenuous hike, it is not for beginners or folks out of shape. Also, if you have balance issues, height phobias, etc. this hike will probably worry you to death. There are places where youíll have to take your pack off to slither through

cracks in the rocks, shush along on your butt around a boulder with little or nothing to hold onto, lower yourself down a crag and hip-hop across rocks. I can honestly say this is the only hike Iíve done where upper body strength and arm strength might be issues. Iím not trying to turn you off. I just want to make sure youíre prepared. If you are then the trip will be an enjoyable one.

 

OK Ö that was the bad side. The good side is all of this happens as you near the top. Before that is a pretty steady ascent up a switch-backed footpath. Once to the top, if you picked a clear day, youíll enjoy a 360 degree panoramic view of the Blue Ridge and will quickly forget the effort required to get to this place. The remainder of the trek is relatively easy. Youíll descend on the back side of the mountain and follow a gravel fire road back to your car.

 

Google Custom Directions (To the upper lot)

 

Note: Google Maps may have you try to make a turn onto private property. Use the directions in the Downloadable Trail Notes below as you approach the venue.

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Printable/Downloadable Map!

Printable/Downloadable Map

View 3-D Map!

Zipped National Geographic. TOPO! GPS and Universal GPX Files

GPS Text File for Non-TOPO! Users

 

 

Trail Notes: Starting at the trailhead parking lot take the blue blazed Ridge Trail. At 2.2 miles youíll come to an open, rocky area. Continue to follow the blazes through, around, under and between the boulders and fissures in the rock. Blazes will be painted on the rocks. Although this portion is difficult itís hard to get lost. Take your time!

 

At about 3 miles youíll reach the summit and the fantastic views that this hike is all about.

 

After relaxing a bit continue along the trail. Ridge Trail will become Saddle Trail at a concrete post. Follow Saddle Trail (also blue blazed) steeply down the backside of the mountain, passing Ragged Run Fire Road on the left near Byrdís Nest #1 (about 0.6 miles from the summit).

 

Descend quickly on switchbacks. Soon pass Old Rag Shelter on the left. Turn right onto a blue blazed forest road and descend.

 

0.6 miles after passing the shelter arrive at the junction of 3 fire roads: Weakley Hollow, Old Rag and Berry. Turn right onto Weakley Hollow Fire Road and follow it about 2.4 miles back to the car. Youíll pass Robertson Mountain trail and Corbin Hollow Trail on the left.

Printable/Downloadable Directions and Trail Notes!

Critique This Outing

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Name: Eagle Scout/Outdoorsman                                                                     Hike: Old Rag

04/26/14                                                                                                                Rating: 5

 

Critique: I do a lot of Backpacking in the Shenandoah National Park (SNP). I've done Old Rag about 7 times. I decided to do it this time as a Backpacking trip instead of a hike. It was just as worth it, and the backpacks made for an extra challenge while scrambling the rock faces. This loop has gorgeous views, and excellent terrain. The rock scramble is arguably one of the best in Virginia. Bring plenty of water (at least 2 liters) and trail food. We got a late start (arrived at the trail head at 9:45) and had exactly the right amount of time to make it to a suitable area to camp along side the creek running by Weakley Hollow fire road. For as long as I can remember, the parking lot for this area fills up FAST. ESPECIALLY on weekends. I would always recommend getting to the parking lot by no later than 8. This hike can easily be done in 8-9 hours if you are in good shape. It's one of the best hikes in the SNP in my opinion, and I honestly cannot recommend it enough.

 

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Name: KCJones                                                                                                       Hike: Old Rag

05/17/14                                                                                                                 Rating: 4

 

Critique: 4 Only because the crowds...Screaming kids ...groups and a very full parking lot...serves me right - nine on a Saturday. However, the rock scrambles and the views are so so worth, its like a giant play ground. I really enjoyed climbing scrambling and squeezing though the rocks. I went alone was originally concerned it was a bit to much for me... as I am athletic but not super athletic...Little sore but finished in about 3 hours and 30-45 minutes (picture taking time included). The fire road was not as bad as I thought it would be boring wise because I could hear and see the water on the way down. I will be going again at some point but as early as I can and on a week day. PS, its pretty well marked and easy to follow due to its heavy use I went map-less and I was fine.

 

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Name: Ed S.                                                                                                             Hike: Old Rag

Date: 04/22/13                                                                                                      Rating: 5

 

Critique: I finally made it down to Old Rag, having wanting to go there for probably about 20 years now. It does not disappoint. From the open lot, the hike is about 9-9.5 miles. The beginning is a long switchbacked climb, sometimes near boulders, a couple of wet spots, some views of what's to come. Then is the rock scramble. I've done Billy Goat, Sunset Rocks, Potomac Heritage and other well known rock scramble trails. They have nothing on old rag. Drop into crevices, shimmy up another, jump and step over yet others. Take a short caving expedition. Numerous views in all directions during this time. It was a weekday, and so, while plenty of people were on the mountain, I got to do the scramble fully by myself. There were plenty of people at the summit, along with basically 360-degree views. The return by the Saddle Trail is all downhill, with some views left, one of a balanced rock on the southern part of Old Rag. Finally comes the long fire road walk, the least interesting section of the hike, but there were displays of white trillium along the way, plus views of cascading Brokenback Run and the Hughes River, the last a short side trip along the beginning of the Nicholson Hollow Trail.

 

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Name: Penny Kennedy-Smith                                                                              Hike: Old Rag
Date: 10/14/12                                                                                                       Rating: 5

Critique: We are both in our mid 60's and had not climbed Old Rag since living in Va in the early 90's. it was hard work but absolutely fantastic and the sense of achievement when we got back to the car was wonderful! It was very crowded and everyone was (much!) younger than we were but people were so friendly and encouraging over the more difficult bits. The scenery was every bit as beautiful as we remembered and though I doubt we will climb it again (due to living in England) it was by far the best climb we did on our recent visit. It gave my husband's year old hip replacement a good work out! Highly recommended!

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Name: Judith Hafner                                                                                              Hike: Old Rag Mountain
Date: 6.4.2012                                                                                                         Rating: 5

Critique: I am 54 years old and this was my first hike of any level challenge, other than a stroll in a local park or on flat ground. I will admit it was a challenge for me but it was a suggestion from my daughter as something we could do together. she attends and teaches boot camps. So her having faith that I would do well was a very great compliment. Though there were difficult spots the others on the trail were very encouraging and helpful. She was patient with me as I did have to stop many times to rest and drink. I do have several health issues but she is a nurse and as said earlier she thought I could do it. I did make the whole loop of the trail and truly enjoyed the view from the summit. To feel like the birds and experience the majesty that only God could create can only be eclipsed by the birth of your own child. The views are fabulous and beyond what is seen in the pictures we all share and take on this hike. I have to say if my daughter did not suggest this trip for us I would have missed out on an experience of a lifetime. I will be forever in debt to my daughter for this outing.

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Name: Dave                                                                                                              Hike: Old Rag
Date: 4/7/2012                                                                                                       Rating: 5

Critique: This was my second time hiking Old Rag. My first was in 2009. This trail is fun, but it is difficult and not for everyone. When we were walking past the trailhead after finishing the hike, we saw so many people who were completely unprepared for the hike it made us wonder how the ranger at the parking area could ethically allow them to start the trail. Senior citizens wearing crocs, dads with two year old kids on their shoulders, a little girl in glittery shoes with a stuffed rabbit, etc. You can read the full description of our hike on my website.

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Name: kth-7                                                                                                             Hike: Old Rag
Date: 4/14/2012                                                                                                     Rating: 5

Critique: I don't have a lot of hikes to compare it to, except Bull Run Mountain, which I would rate a 2.5. My sister and I did this hike and loved it. We are the type of people who work out 3-4 days a week, run a couple of races, and are usually active. We were pleased with our ability to do the rock scramble and steep hike upward (at times). We arrived at the parking lot at 6:30am. There were only a dozen cars in a 200 car parking lot. Bring money. The fee is $15. The climb up was just as interesting to look at as the climb down. There was a lovely stream that flowed over huge boulders most of the way down. Everyone should do this hike once in their life.

Just a note: if you want to do a part of this hike and not strain yourself too much, just go up in reverse. Take the yellow blazed
Weakley Hollow Fire Road trail to the blue blazed Saddle trail and up to the Old Rag shelter. Then come back down. This in itself is about 4 miles.

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Name: Greg Romano                                                                                               Hike: Old Rag Mountain / White Oak Canyon
Date: June 2008                                                                                                      Rating: 5

Critique: I took a group out and we backpacked Old Rag Mountain and linked over to finish down the White Oak Canyon. This was a fantastic hike! Old Rag is a classic and belongs in Cooperstown. It is by far one of my favorite hikes. It is a strenuous climb but once you near the top the bouldering is way too much fun. This is the part that keeps me coming back and is a great place for the adventurous type! We hiked on a clear and hot day and this did pose some water problems for us. Make sure you bring plenty of it. We then spent a day on some connector trails to get over to White Oak Canyon. This was an unexpected surprise. I had not done much homework on WOC, so to see the size of the waterfalls was a pleasant surprise. The grade on WOC is steep and there are no switchbacks, so be prepared for a climb.

I have been taking high schoolers out on backpacking trips for several years, and this trip has been a favorite. I can't wait to go back!

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Name: Greg S.                                                                                                          Hike: Old Rag
Date: 12/17/2011                                                                                                  Rating: 5

Critique: Background: My wife and I hiked this as one of our first dates a few years ago, and it was memorable for the wrong reasons. I wore the wrong socks and tore my heels open on the way down off the mountain. By the fire road I had wrapped my heels with bandanas and ended up limping the rest of the way back. We wanted to erase that memory so we tackled this hike again a few days ago.

12/17: For a couple in their mid-20's, we found this hike to be exactly what we were looking for. We moved quickly, and we were back in our car exactly 4 hours after we started. We had time to stop on the north summit, as well as the true summit, but other than that we were hiking at a brisk pace. For December the weather was beautiful, with clear skies and little wind.

Honestly, I can see how the rock scrambling could be difficult if you're not in decent shape, so please be realistic with yourself before you start this hike. If you're not much of a hiker and you are just going for the great view from the top, you might need to find a different hike. All in all however, this is a hike that everyone should do at least once if they live in the DC Metro Area. Totally worth it.

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Name: Rich Johnson                                                                                               Hike: Old Rag
Date: 02/11/2011                                                                                                  Rating: 5

Critique: A friend and I set out to climb Old Rag. We set out from the lower parking lot at 5:40AM. It was only 9 degrees. Going up through the woods and the switch backs was pretty easy going. There was a few inches of snow with a layer of ice beneath. We got up the some of the first vistas just after sunrise and we had very clear skies. Getting up to the actual summit was a little tough. Most boulders were covered in ice and snow so climbing up and finding the blue blaze route was a little tough. We managed to follow and make our own route around the ice covered boulders. Awesome views from the summit. Coming down the north side was very hard. I fell countless times due to all of the ice. Finally I just did some glissading. It was pretty fun. Once down the the fire it was easy going. Awesome winter trip. Didn't see one other person from the time we left the car till the time we got back.

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Name: Lydia                                                                                                             Hike: Old Rag
Date: 7/19/09                                                                                                          Rating: 5

Critique: My partner, Kate, and I went out and hiked Old Rag in the morning to beat the crowds. The last time I was there, there was a bus full of boy scouts and we went up the back way and missed part of the scramble. I love this hike and think the upper body and mind challenges it gives in addition to the leg workout, is awesome. My heart is full and I'm waiting till I can walk without a cane again to return.

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Name: Josť Calvo                                                                                                    Hike: Old Rag
Date: 7/6/09                                                                                                            Rating: 4

Old rag is an old favorite and I recently re-did the hike - it did not disappoint. I would highly recommend getting there early OR LATE to avoid the crunch in the upper parking lot. That might be the one downside - the hike is so popular that you're unlikely to have your own space or silence for long. The plus is lots of friendly faces or commiseration if you're into that sort of thing.

Old rag remains unique for combining a difficult hike with some very unusual rock formations that require scrabbling and even upper body strength to lob your limbs up cracks and across a sheer cliff-like face here and there. I would not do this hike alone unless you are able to lift your body weight on your hands & arms (think push ups or better yet "dips)." The rocks make this a really fun hike.

In the summer most of this hike is in the shade, but of course the top 1/4 mile or so will expose you to a lot of sun.

Great views along the way so if you need an excuse to stop and pant, you'll get them.

Biggest downside might be how long that fire road seems at the end. It's easy to do, but by the time you get to it realizing you have over 2 miles to go, and go, and go is just painfully dull.

J

PS thank you for the fantastic web site - I've been neglecting hiking for many months, but your site (still bookmarked in my browser) makes it really easy to scope out the old haunts.

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Name: Josť Calvo                                                                                                    Hike: Old Rag
Date: 7/6/09                                                                                                            Rating: 4

Critique: Hey! Hey!! HEY!!! This isn't really a critique so much as an alert - your driving directions are wrong! The google maps link works fine, but if you follow the route it sends you on you cannot get to old rag at all. In fact, it's been wrong so long that some VERY NICE PERSON put up their own homemade wooden sign at the turn that says "Google maps is wrong!" and gives directions that will get you to old rag.

So - yes loved the hike as everyone does, done it many times, but please update your site to give directions NOT GOOGLE MAPS :)

Thank you!

MRHyker Note: More detailed directions are in the Trail Notes. A suggestion to use them are now noted after the Google Map Directions.

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Name: Rob                                                                                                                 Hike: Old Rag Mountain
Date: 6-21-09                                                                                                           Rating: 5

Critique: I have lived in Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho. While this may not have the solitude of a hike into the southern entrance of Yellowstone Park, it was one of the best hikes I ever had east of the Mississippi.

I went by myself and got there at 1pm on a Sunday. This was a perfect time and I was able to park in the upper lot.

The trail up to the scramble is a consistent incline and very easy. The rock scramble was awesome and much more impressive in person than described anywhere I have read.

However, I was not able to complete the circuit and I got rock jammed at the minor summit. I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get through a crevice/fissure that was narrow, tight, and slick on the sides. I tried over and over to put my back against one side and use my feet to push up against the other side to no avail. I was so pissed as I wanted to get to the top badly. I did not run into anyone while struggling so I am not sure if I was lost or what though the blue blazes were all over the walls of this thing. So I turned around and went back.

Despite not summiting, I still enjoyed the trek!

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Name: Travis                                                                                                            Hike: Old Rag
Date: ?                                                                                                                       Rating: 5

Critique: I have hiked this mountain over a dozen times starting from when I was just a kid. I absolutely love it and never get tired of it. There is always something to see when you're: there, bear, deer, and of course the scenic overlooks. If you're into landscape photography like I am I highly recommend a fall/winter hike. You can get some really great shots during the winter season even though the hike is a little more treacherous due to snow and ice.

All in All a must hike for any outdoor enthusiast.

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Name: Mark Raven                                                                                                  Hike: Old Rag
Date: 10/24/08                                                                                                       Rating: 5

Critique: Not that Old Rag needs another critique, but this is a terrific day hike. We went on a windy, chilly Friday afternoon and encountered barely a handful of people during the hike. The views on the way up were fantastic, but we had no views from the summit due to the clouds that had descended on the mountain, but it was really cool nonetheless. The rock scramble wasn't easy, but wasn't incredibly tough either. The loop as described on this site took us about 4.5 hours, and we took hundreds of pictures along the way. Tremendous hike, highly recommended.

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Name: Faye                                                                                                              Hike: Old Rag
Date: 7-29-2008                                                                                                      Rating: 5

Critique: Loved this hike...but very strenuous. I would not advise for a person out of shape. The rock scramble was a great challenge. There are some nice shady areas to enjoy your lunch. A lot of different areas to look out over. Once you get to the summit its all worth it. It was very breathtaking.

On our way down it was nice to stop at the two shelters to take a breather. It does seem to take a while to get back to the parking lot... It was the easier way to go but a little longer.

We did see one bear cub on the side of the fire road. So so cute. We were sure the mother was close so we kept a steady pace.

I'm happy to say I hiked the Old Rag.

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Name: Andrew                                                                                                          Hike: Old Rag
Date: 12/31/2005                                                                                                   Rating: 5

Critique: Came up here with my wife and brother, camped up at the camp line making the loop backwards. Then hiked up to the top to drink a bottle of champagne at midnight on NYE. It was clear and beautiful up there at night. The wind was blowing like crazy.

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Name: Josh Vaugh                                                                                                   Hike: Old Rag
Date: 11/23/07                                                                                                        Rating: 5

Critique: I live in Luray. My brother and I ran this with a kid from his school, and it was really fun. We ran most of the way to the top, walked the top, and then ran most of the descent. From the lower parking lot and back, we completed it in 3 hours, .5 of which were sightseeing. Not the best trail for running though.

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Name: Jeff                                                                                                                 Hike: Old Rag
Date: 10/07/2007                                                                                                   Rating: 5

Critique: Very challenging but beautiful hike.  For those that do it with kids like we did please be careful as you do the rock scramble.  My 8 yr old son began to gain some confidence/excitement as we climbed but I felt more comfortable leading as we got closer to the summit.  Great hike.

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Name: Kelly                                                                                                               Hike: Old Rag
Date: 9/14/07                                                                                                          Rating: 4

Critique: My first visit to Old Rag and I enjoyed the hike. I was there on a Friday morning early to be ahead of the any crowd and was able to park in the small parking lot closest to the trail head. The hike to the rock scramble has a few picture opportunities. The rock scramble area was a great experience very different from my other hiking experiences as you pull your way up and boulder hop in a few places. After reaching the summit the decent was uneventful on the fire/service road until I spotted three bear cubs and bit further came upon a ten point buck that was no more than fifteen yards off the trail.

I will return again during the week.

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Name: brad                                                                                                               Hike: Old Rag Mountain
Date:09/01/07                                                                                                        Rating: 5

Critique: an astounding hike. I agree with my sister though, I really just like the rock climbing.

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Name: Brad Nicholson                                                                                            Hike: Old Rag
Date: 28 July, 2007                                                                                                 Rating: 4

Critique: Having heard so much about this trail I decided to see what all the buzz was about. The trail was a good hike with wonderful views. However, obvious heavy use keeps the trail beaten down and very wide. It was also very crowded but then again I was there on a Saturday. At times it was easy to feel like a just another coolie shucking a load for some Sahib. All that aside it was a fun trail, the 3d class scrambling along the ridgeline at the top was fun. Lunch in the shade of the rocks was perfect as well. I think the best thing to do is go during the week or in the off-season. Will be back in the fall and winter.

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Name: Joe                                                                                                                 Hike: Old Rag
Date: 4-6-07                                                                                                             Rating: 5

Critique: Amazing.  Myself (an avid hiker) and a friend, who is a surveyor for the state of West VA (i.e., he gets paid to hike the state), were both amazed.  Wow.  We had stayed away because of the crowds-what a mistake.  A couple of quick notes-it seems that if you arrive early (ie. sun-up) the crowds are non-existent.  Secondly, the upper body strength issue CAN be overcome with numbers (We witnessed folks of all abilities making it up just fine.).  The height issue cannot-there are some places where it feels as if you are atop a 3000ft cliff.  All in all, it was simply an excellent hike.

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Name: ElliottsKnob                                                                                                  Hike: Old Rag Mountain
Date: September 23, 2006                                                                                     Rating: 5

Critique: Old Rag Mountain is certainly on my list of "must hike" trails. Every year I help lead our Church Youth on this challenging adventure and we've been going since 1997. Throw in my own trips [solo and with my own children] and... let's just say I can bring some of the climbs clearly to mind as I sit here.

We had ten junior high and high schoolers and five adults. Heading out early Saturday morning to beat the crowds from Washington, we saw quite a few families with young children. The parents seemed to be of the active, in shape persuasion and these families were having a wonderful outing. A few adults who were out of shape and had been coerced to go were huffing along but clearly were making it.

A couple of miles in you start working the rock. It is fun working through crevasses and through a landscape of boulders that reminds you of scenes from Lord of the Rings. I don't think I'd have been too surprised if Elijah Wood and his band of Hobbits had met us in one of the crevasses. You think you've made the summit only to discover there's more climbing and scrambling.

The summit is a unique place and the huge granite boulders lend an air of adventure to our lunch break. All too soon its time to head down the Saddle Trail. The rocks are wet in places and my Vasque boots slip out as I walk down a relatively flat part of the trail. Turns out I'm the only injury we have this trip.

When we reach the trailhead parking area, a yearling Black Bear wandered across the road. We got a great look and the kids loved it!

It's a great hike!

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Name: Scott                                                                                                              Hike: Old Rag Mountain
Date: 3/10/01-Present                                                                                          Ranking: 5 (Perfect)

comment: Old Rag was the first hike that I had ever done. That being said, I had heard that it was a challenging hike, but on that particular day, it was more challenging than any of us thought it would be. Though it was about 50 degrees at the base of the mountain, the last third of the hike toward the summit was all snow and ice. This makes the rock scrambles a whole heck of a lot harder.
Long story short, I have been hiking all over Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia, and Old Rag is still by far my favorite day hike, and I still try to get there once a month, regardless of season.

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Name: Jean-Louis                                                                                                   Hike name: Old Rag Mountain
Date: 7/2/05                                                                                                            Ranking: 4

comment: This hike is hyped way too much for what it is. The boulders, a small part of the hike, are the main attraction but they are smeared by the mark of hands and shoes making it difficult to find peaceful solitude, even if you beat the crowds. The rock trail provides a varied obstacle course requiring hands in a few places and good balance. This in itself is worth the hike. The trail and summit area are trash-free despite the traffic and the views from the top are nice, particularly when the morning humidity is rising in the valley. The circuit took me 2:45hr starting at 7am and I was back in DC for lunch.

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Name: Dawn                                                                                                             Hike: Old Rag Mountain
Date: 9-9-05                                                                                                             Ranking: 5

Critique: This is an awesome trail!! I have hiked this one well over a dozen times, and only once did I not have a full backpack. Upper body and arm stregnth were never an issue (as I have little), and I rarely needed to remove my pack. The boulder field is wonderful and unique. I've enjoyed a few beautiful sunsets from the summit and hiking back down the boulder field in the dark is a completely different experience. It has been a while since I have been there, but I hope to get back again soon!

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Name: Greg                                                                                                               Hike: Old Rag
Date: 9, 18, 2006                                                                                                     Rating: 5

Critique:     A very challenging hike, as the boulder scramble requires some low end climbing skills. I met 4 women on the trail who were at what I would estimate was the half way mark (in terms of the boulder scramble).  It had taken them 4 hours to reach that point and they looked tired.  I think the lesson from that is be prepared in terms of time and food/water.

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