Big Devils Stairs hike is one of the more overlooked scenic gorge hikes in the Shenandoah National Park. With two nice overlooks of the gorge and valley below, this 5.5 mile out and back hike is a nice alternative to the more crowded hikes in the northern section of the SNP.
From the parking area at Gravel Springs Gap, pass the chain gate and follow the wide yellow blazed fire road as it heads downhill. The white blazed Appalachian Trail will follow the fire road on the right for the first 200 yards. The fire road will begin to descend more steeply before making a hairpin turn to the right at the first intersection.
Turn left following the narrower yellow blazed horse trail towards Big Devils Stairs (the fire road will now become blue blazed as it heads towards Gravel Springs Shelter). Follow the yellow blazed horse trail for 0.1 miles to the next intersection. Turn left remaining on the yellow blazed trail (again the blue blazed trail to the right goes to the shelter). In 200 yards the yellow blazed trail arrives at the intersection of the yellow blazed Bluff Trail.
Turn left on the yellow blazed Bluff trail towards Big Devils Stairs, as it heads north around the mountain for 1.4 miles to the intersection of the blue blazed Big Devils Stairs trail.
Continue down the trail for another 120 yards to the second overlook. Be cautions to watch your footing as the trail is narrow and passes close to the ledge in this section. The second overlook is the turn around point. From here the trail continues down to the stream and park boundary. There is no public access from the lower section of the trail.
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Reviews For The Big Devils Stairs Hike (5 Most Recent)
Hiked this on probably one of the last few 'cold' days of the season, and I have to say I Loved It.
The caveat is, if you just hike this as an 'out and back' to the viewpoints on top of the canyon, it's not that great. Yes, the views of the canyon are incredible. But that's is. It's a pretty easy, mostly downhill stroll all the way to the lookouts and then a nice uphill hike all the way back to the trailhead.
However, if you take the advice of another reviewer and follow the trail all the way to the bottom, to the edge of the park, and scramble your way back up through the middle of the canyon - amazing, fun and challenging hike.
The scramble up the canyon is literally on par with Old Rag! It was a blast made all the more fun by the fact that you are finding your own way. You can, as I did, criss cross the canyon 20 or more times looking for good lines, hopping from boulder to boulder, crossing the myriad of fallen trees and looking for the best, easiest or even most challenging way to make it up that next waterfall. And, oh yes, there are I don't know how many falls flowing right now as the snow melts off the top of the mountain, making for views every bit as impressive as Cedar Run, but with the built in fun of challenging scrambles.
The entire trip from trailhead down to the bottom of the canyon, and back up to the parking at Gravel Springs took me right at 3.5hrs, but I tend to move pretty quickly on the trail.
I'll definitely be back to do this again, but I would advise doing it before summer (or even warm spring) as come summer time these rocks will probably be a haven for mocassins, rattlers and copperheads. It would still be fun, but you'll need to be on your guard with every step and every reach for a handhold.
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 10, 2012
Overall nice hike. Little confused regarding the total distance, elevation gain & hiking time. HU review reflects 5.5 miles, 3.0 hours with 1/2 hr for lunch, and elevation gain of only 1,055 ft. Sign in the parking lot prior to the hike says 5.7 miles to the park boundary and estimated hike time 5.0 hours. We hiked down to the park boundary and back, taking 30 min break for lunch and two other 15 minute breaks and it took us about 4.5 hours. HU states the second overlook as the turnaround point, and I can only assume this is where the gain in elevation stops. The distance from the second overlook to the park boundary is about 0.5 miles, with a fairly significant descent. On the other side of the gorge, at the park boundary, we noticed some trees that appeared to have red blazes on them and wondered if another trail existed... Obviously, the ascent was equally significant, and really made the hike worthwhile, from an exercise standpoint. However, I'm not certain the additional 1.0 mile down and back to the park boundary is included in the elevation gain. In fact, I'm almost certain it's not. This was a very nice hike and the views of the gorge definitely made the hike special. We stopped at the first overlook (with best view of gorge) on the way back and enjoyed lunch. My 7 y/o had no problem with this hike, so I encourage it for families. For a more leisure hike, turn around at the second overlook and head back.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 29, 2012
We hiked this trail following HU guide to a &ldquoT&rdquo. We finished it in 2.5 hours and ran some of the trail back. Very nice hike with some good views and only ran into about 7 other hikers. This was a very easy hike with a little elevation gain, but nothing too much for a beginner hiker. The leaves are already starting to change color which added some beauty to this trail.
Date of Hike: Thursday, September 13, 2012
As for the hike down, I have nothing more to offer than has already been written. The overlook IS worth the hike. I am writing this to account our hike UP - via the creekbed, not the main trail. Firstly, I consider us to be average hikers. We hike every chance we get and have logged hundreds of miles however, there are better hikers than us and living in the flatlands of North Carolina doesn't afford us many opportunities for daily challenging hikes.
We had a book that mentioned that in the dry season, you could hike back up the rocky creekbed instead of the trail. With September being the dry season and our LOVE of rocky trails, we decided to take the main trail all the way to the park boundary and hike back up via the dry creekbed. We LOVED this trek back up! We had to scale several rock "walls" that were 15 feet tall, but were doable (without climbing gear) with a little bit of forethought.
1) There is no trail. At no point is there anything to tell you that you are on the correct path and the creekbed can be difficult to follow at times (because of fallen rock) however, you ARE in a canyon and cannot veer too far off. It is a constant climb - no flat areas and 99% rock. The book we had mentioned that the path had a few rocks to climb, but we later noticed that it was written 6 years ago and the creekbed now has nothing BUT rocks to climb. There are a handful of places where you are climbing a rock knowing that if your foot slips, you will get injured. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, there is no relief from climbing on this way back up. It is constant and we became fatigued toward the end of the climb - which is dangerous when climbing large rocks/boulders. The book mentioned that only experienced hikers should attempt this path upward, which we normally take as a challenge and don't hesitate to go however, I would definitely take heed here. If you are in very good shape and love hiking/climbing rocks - you'll love this path however, there are dangers here and after you've climbed a couple of those 15-foot walls, there's no turning back. Great hiking shoes are an absolute must!
2) The stinging nettle here is unavoidable. There are places where you can choose different paths upward in order to avoid a large field of them, but sometimes you are forced through them. Considering all the cuts we had and the nettle we had to endure, we should have worn long-sleeves and long pants, but it was 80 degrees.
We absolutely LOVED this hike upward, but given our fitness level, it may not have been the smartest thing. Don't get me wrong, we are not in poor shape (the hike up the main trail even from the park boundary would have been fine for us) but it IS quite a workout climbing those rocks.
Date of Hike: Thursday, March 22, 2012
Took the day off and spent a great day in SNP. I have not spent a lot of time in the North section of the park and this was a chance to explore. It was a very warm day for mid to late March. The gorge is very impressive, its size and depth, something that you can't get from looking at pictures. Had lunch at Gravel Springs shelter and had a great time reading the shelter log book. I would recommend to anyone that they put this hike on their list just to see the gorge for themselves.