About a five-minute walk downhill and west from the summit of Old Rag, a trail, unmarked and unmaintained but easy to notice, leads a short distance into an area of boulders, walls, and short cliffs. This area is part of a larger formation called Sunshine Buttress, and it leads to the summit of Old Rag. The open slabs atop the formation here have outstanding views of the summit and the surrounding area. Although the area attracts some curious hikers, it sees nowhere near the heavy traffic that the summit and the trails to and from it do.
The north-facing side of Sunshine Buttress holds Upper Sunset Wall and its established climbing routes. The west-facing section, however, is a small wilderness of rock that holds abundant delights for those into scrambling (Class 3 to easy 5) and bouldering. The sheer west-facing walls directly beneath the "summit slabs" seem to have the potential for some trad and toprope routes up to 50', but I have found no published information about established routes there. In fact, when I Googled Sunshine Buttress, all I found were two photographs here on SP and a reference to a guidebook that mentions Sunshine Buttress only in a diagram of Old Rag's west-side crags.
Scramblers who don't mind a little bushwhacking can use Sunset Walls and Sunshine Buttress as a scenic, adventurous, and little-traveled alternative to the Saddle Trail. Expect a good deal of Class 3 and some short pitches of Class 4. Avoid this route May through October, when the undergrowth will make bushwhacking miserable.
Pictures: Rather than try to make a spot for every picture attached to this page with its original posting, I have instead made a larger display of the photographs I like best. There are, though, several more pictures in the gallery; please feel free to peruse them.
You can start from Weakley Hollow on the north side of Old Rag or from Berry Hollow on the west. The Berry Hollow approach involves about 2.5 trail miles as opposed to 3.8 via Weakley Hollow, and it is easier going (1700' of elevation gain vs. 2400', and no scrambling on the trail itself).
Getting to Berry Hollow
At Sperryville along U.S. 211, look for signs indicating 522 and 231 and follow the directions to them. Turn right on 231. You can also reach 231 via 522 from Culpeper, and you can take 231 all the way from Charlottesville. After about 10 miles along 231, you reach a tiny town called Etlan. Look on the east side of the road for a small convenience store. Directly across the road from the store is SR 643. There should be a sign indicating access to Whiteoak Canyon. Follow this road for about 4 miles until you reach a stop sign. Turn right (a sign for Whiteoak Canyon should confirm this). You are now on SR 600, and it takes you all the way to the signed parking area and trailhead, almost at the very end of the road. Instead of turning into the parking area, continue straight for about 0.8 mi to the end of the road, which is where the Berry Hollow Fire Road begins. It is about 5 miles from the junction of 643 and 600 to the trailhead, and the drive takes about 15-20 minutes.
Getting to Weakley Hollow
At Sperryville, located along U.S. 211/522 east of Shenandoah National Park and in the park's shadow, turn south onto US 522 where it splits from 211 and turn right onto Virginia 231 shortly afterwards. There is good signage for these intersections. You can also reach 231 via 522 from Culpeper, and you can take 231 all the way from Charlottesville.
A little over 8 miles from Sperryville, watch for the signed turn to Old Rag at Route 602. The road becomes Route 707 at an intersection (stay left on the south side of the river). At the next fork bear left again, now on Route 600. Follow this road for 4 miles to its end at the parking area, which accommodates 200 cars. Park here and walk 0.8 mi to the upper parking area at the end of SR 600. Trails begin here.
Update: As of August 2010, the upper lot is closed to vehicles and parking along the road to it is illegal. This is a permanent closure.
Finding the Crags
As mentioned at the beginning of this page, the access to Sunshine Buttress is a short distance west of the summit of Old Rag, along the Saddle Trail. About 0.2 mi or 5 minutes from the summit, look on your right (if heading downhill) for an unmarked but obvious use trail and follow it a short distance to an area of boulders and crags. A picture on this page shows some trailside landmarks found by the junction of the use trail and the main trail.
Note-- even closer to the summit of Old Rag, a faint use trail leads a very short distance to a rock outcrop that overlooks a gully between it and the mountain's summit. This outcrop is not Sunshine Buttress.
March through November, there is a per-person entry fee of $8; December through February, the fee is $5 (the maximum for family groups is $15 and $10, respectively. Payment is mostly on an honor system, but rangers do collect fees on weekends at Berry Hollow.
No pets allowed. Remember that as much as you love your dog, it is still considered a pet. People routinely violate this restriction; please don't join them.
Be prepared for poison ivy, and be wary of rattlesnakes.
There are no campgrounds at or near Berry Hollow and Weakley Hollow, but people do sleep in their cars at the trailheads. Backcountry camping is not allowed on Old Rag above 2800'. Free backcountry camping permits are required, and they are obtainable by self-registration at the trailheads.
Don't show up the night before and set up a tent at the TH or within sight of it. Rangers look for people doing this, and I have seen people ticketed for it.
Shenandoah National Park Telephone: (540) 999-3500
Official park site