Shagbark hickory is a medium-sized to large tree with a crown 2–4 times longer than broad and shaggy bark.
Leaves are alternate, feather-compound, 8–17 inches long; leaflets 3–5, lance- to pear-shaped, 4–7 inches long, the end leaflet stalked; upper 3 leaflets quite larger than lower 2; pointed at the tip, margins toothed with tufts of hairs along the outer edge of the teeth.
Bark is gray, separating into distinctive thick, long, shaggy strips, free at one end or both ends, curved outward.
Twigs are stout, brown and hairy when young, becoming gray and smooth; pores pale and elongated.
Flowers April–May; male and female flowers separate on the same tree. Male catkins in threes, 4–5 inches long, slender, green, hairy; female flowers 2–5, conical.
Fruits September–October, nuts single or in clusters up to 3, oval or round, 1¼–2 inches long; husk blackish- to reddish-brown, slightly depressed at the tip, splitting in 4 lines; nut light brownish-white, oval, somewhat flattened, with 4 ridges, aromatic.