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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:
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: aldikuma Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, October 27, 2014
Normally I avoid SNP because of the crowds and head to GWNF instead. However, it was a Monday and I wanted a quick nearby hike, so this was it. And it was very much worth it! It was a beautiful day to be outside, and aside from the bugs making their last rounds, this hike was awesome. The trees were so colorful and sun was shining through them - many nice photo opps. I didn't have time to make it to the boundary, so I would rate this as a very easy, scenic hike and the directions above are perfect. I would like to return to get a workout going to the bottom and back up. The views from the overlooks are absolutely amazing and the best part was that I didn't see another person the entire time. I did spot a beautiful, large black bear just before the Big Devil Stairs Trail turnoff - he or she was drinking water from the stream there, but ran when he saw me and my dog. Looking forward to coming back.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 25, 2014
The two of us hiked the trail to the park boundary and then returned up the canyon. Certainly, the overlook view of the canyon is one of the most spectacular God-given features of SNP. Since our prior hike here in late 2012, we had read reviews (two from HU and a couple of others that we found on the internet) regarding the option of returning from the park boundary up the canyon, in effect making your own way. After lunch at the park boundary by the creek, we began the trek up. We are 30 and 66 years old, respectively, and in good shape. The reviews that we had read prepared us mentally that this would be a very different and difficult hike as we sought our way, step-by-step up and along the creek bed, over and around rocks (often loose and slippery with autumn leaves, water, and/or moss) and large downed trees. It was interesting to see that in a couple of sections, the water disappeared and went underground. We completed the canyon part of our journey in 2 hours, 30 minutes when we rejoined the trail in the mountain laurel section. We had enough left to make it to the Gravel Springs trailhead. Quite a workout, putting it mildly. In returning up the canyon, we would raise the "difficulty", "stream", and "solitude" ratings to "4". For the average hiker including us, we would rate this a strenuous hike, both physically & mentally, physically because the ascension up the canyon is steep at times, and mentally because every ten paces or so the hiker must make a plan and decide what course to take up the canyon due to there being no set path. In retrospect, we particularly think that the Sep 13, 2012 HU review is well-stated. We also note that the map display board at the trailhead is gone - see the November 10, 2012 HU review commenting on what appear to be inconsistencies between its numbers and those of HU.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, October 12, 2014
OK. This sounded a bit daunting for me as the last couple 4 hr hikes killed my knees. On the way down it was clear that coming back up was going to be the challenge for this senior citizen. The parking lot was full but we got the guy who'd just arrived to move his car over a bit to fit us in and, mid-hike, passed one guy who said he saw a young bear running away on the trail and two girls who said they'd spotted a young bear where we'd parked - two different young bears separated by at least a mile and a couple hours. We saw no bears, even though rain and fog should have muffled our silent hike. We made it all the way to the bottom of the gorge, to a beautiful, clear stream where there were park boundary markers, a small "Trail End" sign and plenty of Posted signs. We returned, retracing our steps up the canyon and made it back to the car just before my legs gave out - 5 hours total. Well-marked. We enjoyed the hike in the cool rain with the leaves changing, even though we only saw a few birds and maybe more people than we would have liked. More hikes to do in the future here - Gravely Springs Trail and Browntown both from the same parking lot.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, September 22, 2014
The parking lot is about 13.8 miles from the Shenandoah gate. Once you're there, follow the instructions and hike for just under 2 miles to get to the trail from the parking lot. Bring directions because it's easy to get lost, we almost did. The trail is exactly like it's shown on the map. Descend for 1.5 miles then come right back up, the ascent according to the map is about 700 feet, which doesn't sound like much, but you feel it. My girlfriend and I were annoyed by all the rocks on the way down, they take their toll on your feet and ankles after a while. I remember commenting that it was more of stepping around rocks and strolling through the woods than hiking. There's only one good view on the entire hike, and that's shortly after the beginning. It's a great view though. Once at the bottom, the trail just sort of disappears and you run into a private property sign and barbed wire fence. We kept a pretty good pace the whole time and we did the trail itself in an hour and 50 minutes with several small breaks to catch our breath on the way up. The ascent is a great workout. On the way back up, we ran into a black bear at the gravel springs shelter. Big bastard was just sitting there at the hut, probably looking for food. Which means it may have been hungry, which is the worst time to run into a bear. Either way, after poking our heads around the corner several times and waiting half an hour the beast went away and we hurriedly went back to the car.

Overall it was a great experience, but the hike itself is lacking, and I give it three stars because we both felt that a day could be better spent on another hike. However, I would still recommend doing it at least once.

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.

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