There are two versions of this hike. The first passes the Devil's Marbleyard, a hillside of boulders with some as large as a truck, and continues down the Gunter Ridge Trail. The second version adds a 3.0 mile out and back hike along the Appalachian Trail, which reaches one of the most spectacular 360° panoramas in Virginia.
The Belfast Trail trail veers left here, crossing a creek, then arriving at another junction of the GHT. Stay right following the blue blazed Belfast Trail. From this point there are no further blazes along the Belfast Trail. The trail will become steeper crossing a stream two more times before reaching the bottom tip of Devil's Marbleyard in 1.0 miles.
The trail stays to the right of Devils' Marbleyard, and in 0.1 miles there is access through the scrub to the main boulder field. If you spend some time rock-hopping make sure to rejoin the Belfast Trail at the same point you entered, as there isn't any trail access higher in the boulder field. Continue up the Belfast Trail as it veers away from Devil's Marbleyard through a ravine, then arrives at the top of the ridge and junction of the Gunter Ridge Trail in 0.9 miles.
For The Additional 3.0 Mile Out/Back Along the AT:
Turn right and in 0.5 miles reach the end of the Belfast Trail and intersection of the Appalachian Trail (AT). Stay right along the ridge on the now white blazed AT as it continues down to the right, through a small saddle, and back up before arriving at a 100 yard clear section of the AT. Just before the open area of the trail reenters the tree line turn left uphill through the underbrush, and in 30 yards reach the ridge. This clearing, along the un-maintained Sulphur Spring Trail, is known as the 'Helicopter Pad', and has one of the most spectacular 360° views in the state of Virginia.
To continue, retrace the route 1.5 miles back to the intersection of the Gunter Ridge Trail you passed earlier.
If you are hiking the shorter loop only, turn left on the Gunter Ridge Tail. For the the out/back addition on the AT, now continue straight on the Gunter Ridge Trail.
The Gunter Ridge Trail is not blazed, and is marked on the map here in red. In 0.3 miles pass through a small saddle, then descend along the north side of the mountain before the trail heads back to the ridge line. Once along the ridge there are views in every direction. A fire, caused by lightning, burnt this section of Gunter Ridge in 2002 and almost no large trees remain.
Begin to descend more steeply, and the trail makes 14 switchbacks before leveling out near the valley floor. Pass through a wooden horse gate and follow the trail to the left. Cross Little Hellgate Creek, and in 0.5 miles the Gunter Ridge Trail ends at the Glenwood Horse Trail (GHT). This section of the GHT is an old forestry road.
Turn left on the orange GHT. There aren't any trail markings on the GHT at this point, so don't be concerned if you don't see any. The GHT will wind around the mountain, then in 0.8 miles stay right following the orange diamonds where a side FS road leads uphill. In 0.3 miles pass another FS road that turns back to the left, and 200 yards further make a sharp switchback to the left continuing to follow the orange diamonds. 0.8 miles from here the GHT reaches the intersection of the Belfast Trail you ascended earlier.
Turn right, and in 60 yards stay right again following the orange diamonds. In 240 yards turn left at the arrow and orange diamonds, cross a small stream, and in 300 yards reach the intersection of the Belfast Trail. Turn right on the Belfast Trail for 100 yards re-crossing the east fork of Elk Creek and arrive back at the parking area.
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Reviews For The Devil's Marbleyard Hike (5 Most Recent)
My wife and I hiked the loop in a counter-clockwise direction because I was afraid that the Gunter Ridge trail was grown over and we wouldn't be able to find it from the campsite. The trail was a little grown over, but overall in nice shape. There's a new sign from the Glenwood Horse Trail to the start of the Gunter Ridge trail which was helpful. We didn't see anyone until we began our descent on the Belfast Trail. I had hiked this five years ago and was amazed by the views on either side of the ridge line while on the Gunter Ridge trail. Five years of growth have impeded the views somewhat, but they were still beautiful. Climbing down the Belfast trail was a bit of a rock scramble. In hindsight it probably would have been easier doing the loop counter-clockwise. Overall it was a great hike. A lot of people were climbing up the marbleyard and also there wasn't much solitude on the Belfast Trail, but my wife loved it and I'd recommend it to anyone. It took about 6 hours with 1/2 hour for lunch.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 23, 2014
Took a small group of Boy Scouts. Camped at old Camp Powhatan, then hiked the next morning. They loved the Marble Yard. From there we continued up the Belfast Trail, but based on the info reported below about conditions on the Gunter Ridge Trail, we made a different loop. We took the spur trail over to the Appalachian Trail, turned right, then in a few miles, right again on the Sulfur Spring Trail. (Actually we stayed on the AT for about ten minutes past the Sulphur Spring Trail to visit Marble Spring, then doubled back.) After a few more miles Sulphur Spring Trail takes you to Petite's Gap Rd, then turn right and about 1.5 miles back to the parking area. The Sulphur Spring trail is an old road bed so easy to hike and easy to follow with no intersecting trails. It is blazed blue, and a wooden sign on the AT points the way.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, August 06, 2014
This was (note past tense) one of my favorite hikes in the region. I've been to the marbleyard 5 or 6 times and finally convinced the family to go with me, but I now need to send a warning to future hikers. Today, we experienced our first rock fall at the marbleyard. A good sized boulder (about the size of a refrigerator) about 100 feet uphill from our position partway up the first ascent came loose and tumbled about 10 or 15 feet. It wasn't initially apparent that it would stop and regardless would have been a dangerous situation for anyone in the vicinity. Fortunately, no other hikers were climbing the marbleyard at the time and we were able to move safely to the side of the field. This was on 8/6/2014 at about 9:45 AM. I'm curious if anyone else has experienced a rock slide at the marbleyard. This was a first for me and I'm hesitant to return.
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Overall this hike was decent, but I'm not sure I'd do it again. The boulder field was FANTASTIC, hands down. It is the sole reason I'd do this hike again. There are no trees growing where the huge boulders are, so the sun illuminates them and makes them look that much more brilliant. Boulder hopping was easier and more fun than I anticipated. I hiked it solo and wished I had someone to take a picture of me in front of the boulder field for scale. My picture of the boulders themselves just doesn't do justice to their size.
I decided to do the long version of this hike and met up with the AT, and then followed the hiking directions to the 'helicopter pad,' all the while very excited for the 360 view. Found the spot and there was NO view! All of the trees/plant life seem to have fully recovered from the lightning strike fire years ago, and completely obstructed any view there was to be had. I was totally bummed. But, hey, Nature prevails. Got to appreciate the forest's recovery.br>
I attempted to follow the Gunter Ridge Trail, but I could not track the trail. It was completely overgrown and after doubling back two or three times, decided it wasn't worth getting lost over. It appears that this trail is not maintained in any way, shape, or form. I turned around and went down the Belfast Trail, past the boulders, along the same path that I went up. It was pretty rough on the knees, as the slope is steep. I would definitely not attempt to hike down the Belfast Trail way in rain or if the rocks were slippery. Fortunately I had my hiking poles.br>
Most of this hike is very rocky - you will hike on little rocks, medium rocks, and big huge rocks. I would not try this hike in running shoes or wearing anything but rugged hiking boots. The bottoms of my feet are sore from teetering on and hopping from rock to rock.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 05, 2013
This was my first time back to the Marble Yard since 2009. When I was there in 2009, apparently it was not too long after a fire had ravaged the area at the top of the boulder field. So, this time, the terrain looked different and somewhat unfamiliar. I wanted to take a group there that had never been to the Marble Yard, so the intent of our hike was just to go to the boulder field, up, and come back. One of these days, I would like to do the complete loop.
Getting to the parking area: I definitely suggest taking a route from the west since Petite Gap's Road from the Marble Yard to the BRP is a narrow gravel road. The route coming from the west is a paved road. On a nice weather day in October, I expected the parking area to be full, and it was. There were many cars parked on the north side of the road. I found a relatively safe area to the west of the parking area so I could park my car completely off the road. There were a few cars with their tires on the road, and I told my companions that they might get towed. I don't think they did this time, though.
The hike to the boulder field: there are a few easy creek crossings that might be more difficult during the rainy season, but they were no problem for even those in my group with tennis shoes. The hike steadily increased upwards and got more rocky, but since I knew the base of the Marble Yard "sneaks up" on you, I got to see the reaction to the people in my group that had never seen the boulders. It's quite a priceless look when you see someone see the boulders for the first time, so that's a good time to video someone if you can catch them. The hike to the base took about 45 minutes from the road.
The hike up the boulder field: this is where it gets interesting. There are so many different ways to get up the rocks, many easier than others, and many much more dangerous than others. I scraped my shin on a shifting rock, so that was slightly painful. But just be aware that getting up the rocks will put a lot of stress on your muscles and joints. I remember this being easier four years ago! Be sure to bring sunscreen even during the cooler months because there isn't any shade out there on the rocks. The trip up took around 2 houlrs, I think. I didn't time the hike since we weren't going on distance.
At the top of the boulder field: we brought some lunch and snacks and decided to eat, but it was almost unbearable because of the amount of stink bugs this time of the year. The area at the top was definitely not as enjoyable as I remember. Going when the leaves are off the trees might give a better view.
Getting back: I wanted to boulder back down the rocks, but the rest in my group wanted to take the Belfast trail back, so we ventured south from the top of the boulder field over what appeared to be a trodden path towards the trail. If you want to do this, just keep heading downwards to the valley and you will eventually hit the Belfast trail. From there, it's about 15 minutes to the base of the boulder field and 30-45 minutes back out.