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Big Devils Stairs - SNP, Virginia


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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
5.5 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
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3.0 hours plus a half hour for lunch
1,055 ft
Shenandoah National Park
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e.g. 12000 Government Center Parkway 22035 or Fairfax VA
Park at the Gravel Springs Gap parking area. 38.767904, -78.233514

The 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.

Turn right downhill on the blue blazed Big Devils Stairs Trail initially passing through an area of Mountain Laurel. In 150 yards there is one camp site on either side of the trail. The trail will then make several switchbacks in the next 0.4 miles to the first small overlook. Steeply descend rock steps and reach the first of the two main overlooks of the gorge and valley.

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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Hiker Reviews For The Big Devils Stairs Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the Big Devils Stairs hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: Paul Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, March 16, 2014
Nice hike. The BDS Trail has a couple of spots for views concentrated above the falls which is a ways down the gorge. Having put on a few winter pounds I wanted a workout, so I descended all the way down to the park boundary. The hike back up was definitely a workout so I would give an extra star for difficulty by completing the entire trail.

By: Mike & Brenda Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 08, 2014
Great hike. There was about a 1/2 inch of snow on the ground. It took us three hours with a short lunch and pictures. The hike in was easy, the hike out was harder due the fact that it was more up hill and the snow had melted from the warm temps and made it some what slippery. Ignore the description and time to do the hike at the trail head. HU is much more inline with the true hike. We will defiantly do this hike again.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 22, 2013
2 Adults and 4 scouts enjoyed this relatively easy hike. A lot of sights to be seen between flora and fauna. Highlight of the hike was at the last view spot we found a pair of Timber Rattlesnakes who had just moulted. Scouts enjoyed observing from a safe distance before hiking back up to the parking lot.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, April 04, 2013
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.

- Richard


By: Rating: 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.

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