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Old Rag – via Berry Hollow

January 19, 2015

This is a great alternative to the ‘classic’ ascent of Old Rag.  You still get the same stunning summit, but this 5.4 mile route lets you bypass all the road walking, lessens your vertical gain, and skips the famous rock scramble (which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about rock scrambles!)

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Old Rag Summit

Adam takes in the view from the Old Rag Summit.  Below: Berry Hollow Parking; A golden forest: You reach the Old Rag Day Use Shelter shortly after the fire road junction.

Berry Hollow Parking Golden Trees Old Rag Day-Use Shelter

Adam Says…

Old Rag is one of those classic Virginia hikes that most avid hikers in the state want to do at some point.  The views are truly spectacular, but the most popular route up Old Rag includes a technical rock scramble with exposed ledges and big drops.  Some people might have a fear of heights or not be fit enough to tackle the scramble.  The route via Berry Hollow is perfect for people wanting a ‘low key’ route to the peak.

We were on our way to hike White Oak Canyon, but the parking lot was completely full.  Not wanting to give up for the day, we consulted our maps and noticed we were right next to Berry Hollow and the alternate route up Old Rag.

We arrived at the small parking lot at Berry Hollow and also found a very full lot.  However, after waiting just a few minutes, some hikers came down the trail and said about 3-4 cars would be leaving in the next ten minutes as they were returning from an overnight/sunrise hike.  So, we waited and sure enough, several spaces cleared up.  I would recommend arriving at the lot early in the morning, because there is only space available for about 12 vehicles.

You begin the hike by making your way past a closed gate. You can see the path marked on the kiosk to the right of the trail.  This route starts on the wide Berry Hollow fire road, which goes along the Berry Hollow stream for a while.  Hiking the trail during a peak fall day, we were surrounded by brilliant yellows from fallen leaves on the trail and up above.  At .8 miles, you reach a junction with the Saddle Trail.  Take a right on to the Saddle Trail, which you will take all the way to the summit.

Berry Hollow Fire Road

Adam walks the fire road on a perfect fall day.  Below: Ascending the Saddle Trail; Large boulders as we climbed; The first viewpoint along the Saddle Trail.

Ascending the Saddle Trail Ascending the Saddle Trail First Views from Old Rag

The Saddle Trail is more narrow and rocky, but is mostly a moderate climb.  The steepest part of this trail comes between 1.2 and 1.5 miles as you gain about 300 feet of elevation in .3 miles.  At 1.4 miles, you will pass by the Old Rag shelter which is only available for day use.  At 2.15 miles, the trail gets another steep push to the summit.  Continuing up the trail, you will also pass the Byrds Nest Shelter at 2.25 miles, another day use shelter.  The trail does start to open up to some views along the way as you’ll pass a couple of rock outcroppings that give you nice views or a good excuse to stop if you need a breather.

You arrive at the base of the summit which is marked by a sign.  A short path leads up to the rocky summit.  At this point, you can decide how adventurous you want to be at the summit.  There are lots of nice ledges to enjoy the views, but some will want to scramble up the boulders to try to get even higher vantage points.  Be very careful at this summit, especially if you have kids.  People get injured often on this trail, most often at the rock scramble or at the summit.

The wind was incredibly strong on this day at the summit.  It is usually quite windy at the summit, but with the colder temperatures, it was freezing at the top.  We ate some snacks at the top, trying to shelter us from the wind, but decided quickly to get away from the exposed ledges to try and stay a little warmer.

We headed back the way we came.  When we arrived back at our car, the lot was still at capacity, so we did luck out with a spot.  After our hike, we went to one of our favorite places to eat, The Barbeque Exchange, in Gordonsville, VA and then hit Horton Vineyard for wine sampling on our way back home.

We were so pleased with this alternate route up Old Rag. I think we will probably use this as our go-to route for future hikes up the mountain.

Christine Says…

I make no secret of the fact that I am not a huge fan of the Old Rag Ridge Trail.  Scrambling is not my favorite, but my primary issue is simple trail overuse.  I think the park lets too many people hike the trail each day and that the mountain is becoming damaged beyond repair. We’ve hiked Old Rag on days that people are queued up all across the ridge, waiting in line for the people ahead of them to tackle obstacles.  I wait in line in daily life enough that I’m simply not willing to wait in line on a mountain trail. It feels wrong! I also don’t prefer the significant amount of road walking necessary to complete the route via Weakley Hollow. In the end, more than half the trail is road walking.  That said, I did really enjoy this ascent via Berry Hollow.

It was our anniversary weekend, peak fall color, and a perfect bluebird day to boot.  We were sort of nuts to try hiking any of the park’s most popular trails, but somehow we were lucky enough to score a parking spot.

Old Rag Summit

The summit of Old Rag offers spectacular views. Below: Views and crowds!

Old Rag Views Old Rag Views Old Rag Views

The walk up Berry Hollow fire road was gorgeous.  The sun filtering through the fall leaves made a canopy of warm golden light.  The road was carpeted with leaves of every color.  We really didn’t see many people at all until we reached the junction of the fire road and the Saddle Trail.

The Saddle Trail is a moderate ascent.  There are rock steps and interesting boulder jumbles to admire along the way.  Through the trees we could see the rocky summit looming ahead. As we climbed the views became more impressive.  After passing the second shelter (Byrds Nest), the trail passes out of tall hardwood forest into stand of stunted, windblown trees and tangled rhododendron.

Golden Trees

All we had to do was look up to see all the fall glory!  Below: One last view before descending; Trees near the top were already bare from the brisk wind; The shelter closest to the top – Byrds Nest – is also day-use only.

Old Rag Views Descent Byrds Nest Day Use Shelter

There are a couple nice views from the trail before you reach the actual summit.  We took time to enjoy each of them.  At the summit, there was a large crowd already congregating.  Most people posed for photos and then found places behind the boulders to shelter from the wind.  We stayed and enjoyed the summit until it became too crowded.

The way down was quick and easy!  We even did our traditional ‘Old Rag Jog’ – it’s basically a slow run to make the fire road terrain pass quicker.  On our way out, we stopped by Graves Mountain to get apples, pumpkin, and cider.  Then we headed for a big barbecue feast and a wine tasting.  It was a perfect fall day and a great way to celebrate our anniversary.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 5.4 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1725 ft.
  • Difficulty –  3.  This is a solid, moderate hike.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was in great shape in most places.  There were a few muddy, mucky places between Byrds Nest and the Old Rag Shelter.
  • Views  5.  Gorgeous views at the top and several nice views along the way.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 1.  There is one small stream along the fire road.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We didn’t see anything but squirrels, but there is apparently a nuisance bear near the Old Rag shelter.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  There is just one well-marked junction.
  • Solitude –0.  It’s Old Rag… expect to see many, many people.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  From Madison, VA on Route 29, take US-29 Business Route into Madison, VA.  Turn on to VA-231 north. In 5.4 miles, take a slight left on VA-670.  Follow this for 3.6 miles and take a slight right on to state route 643/Weakley Hollow Road.  Follow this road for about 5 miles, which becomes a gravel, fire road and ends at the parking lot for the trailhead.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Kelli permalink
    May 1, 2016 9:37 pm

    Do you know if dogs are allowed on this route up towards Old Rag?

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    • May 2, 2016 11:51 am

      Dogs are not allowed on this route on trails beyond the fire road. Dogs aren’t permitted on the summit of Old Rag, regardless of route. Sorry!

      Like

  2. alyssa permalink
    April 18, 2015 12:03 am

    Have you guys hiked Robertson mountain by old rag?

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    • April 18, 2015 5:53 am

      Not yet!

      Like

    • alyssa permalink
      April 19, 2015 9:32 pm

      I always rely on y’all before I try a new hike and couldn’t find anything on this hike. I ended up hiking it yesterday anyways and it was a beautiful view at the summit but no other views along the way besides the stream. Surprisingly with the old rag parking lot being ful and fee free weekend we only seen two other people on the Robertson mountain trail. Can’t wait to read your write up of the hike!!

      Like

    • April 19, 2015 9:34 pm

      We’ll check it out sometime soon! Thanks for the suggestion.

      Like

  3. liz davis permalink
    March 31, 2015 10:53 pm

    My husband and I along with our 3 kids would like to car camp nearby after hiking Old Rag. Where can we do this?

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    • April 1, 2015 10:24 am

      Liz – I would probably look for a family campground near Luray. There really isn’t much in the area for car camping. At least, not that I’ve seen!

      Like

    • liz davis permalink
      April 1, 2015 9:46 pm

      When you mentioned Luray, are you referring close to Luray caverns? This ia all new to me. We would like to have the option to either backpack or car camp near Old Rag. How afr is Luray from Old rag?
      Our first night is going to be close to Milam Gap, we want to hike Rapidan. Are there campsites there as well that we could either backpack or car camp?

      Like

    • April 1, 2015 9:57 pm

      Hi Liz… you probably aren’t going to find much camping (backcountry or car) near Old Rag. There are very limited backcountry (backpack in) sites on Old Rag. They are there, but they’re not ideal and they are snapped up quickly. I do not know of any car camping/campgrounds close to Old Rag. If you wanted to do a Google search, Luray (yes… where Luray Caverns is located), Sperryville, and Madison are probably the closest town names to search for campgrounds. Milam Gap is very close to Big Meadows. I would suggest you camp there, and hike the AT south to the Mill Prong Trail for your visit to the Rapidan Camp. You can’t camp anywhere within a quarter mile of Rapidan Camp. Feel free to mail me at virginiatrailschristine@gmail.com if you want more help!

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  4. January 23, 2015 1:01 pm

    Hiking Old Rag without a rock scramble? I didn’t know this was possible! Looking forward to trying in the spring. Never thought I’d be able to see Old Rag.

    Like

    • January 23, 2015 3:42 pm

      Thanks for the visit, Anna! We’re hoping this post will open the thrill of visiting the Old Rag summit to people who just aren’t interested in the scramble. Enjoy your hike! 🙂

      Like

  5. wandering virginia permalink
    January 20, 2015 11:06 pm

    I think everyone should know about this part of the trail, because the Old Rag hike is a loop and this is the back end. People who head back down the Ridge Trail from the top mess it up for the folks heading up. Old Rag is the only hike my 14 year old requests to take, and I tell my son that he has to go back down by going past the Byrds Nest Shelter out of respect for other hikers on the mountain – the golden rule of hiking.

    Like

    • January 21, 2015 9:55 am

      I think most people do know about the Saddle Trail in the context of the larger Weakley Hollow/Old Rag loop, they just prefer to hike slightly less distance or want to tackle the rock scramble twice on a single hike. I agree – it is a problem and is part of the reason I dislike the rock scramble so much. I don’t know how you change it without the park service stepping in with some kind of permit system that dictates a limit on hikers and specifies the route.

      Like

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