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Hiker Comments for the Piney Branch Hike - 1 to 19 of 19   
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By: Tom and Katie Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Note error on parking directions: Keyser Run Road is VA 614, not VA 670.

From HikingUpward: The road number has been updated. Thank you.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, August 3, 2019
We added Little Devil Stairs to end of our hike to make this about 13.2 miles (about 2 miles of this was due to backtracking). It took us about 5:15 hrs with :45 minutes for lunch and a quick swim. Our elevation change was about 1700ft up then down.

We started up keyser road, stopped at the Bolan cemetery. We then went down Hull School Trail and unfortunately, we thought we had gone too far and missed the trail for Piney Branch trail so we backtracked to the cemetery to start from scratch. Headed back down only to find out we were about .2 miles from the intersection with Piney Branch Trail. This trail was lightly trafficked and we fought our way through some spiderwebs that were strung up by their owners hoping to catch an insect meal. I've dealt with much much worse spider infestations but it still annoying.

On the righthand side, about 5.5 miles in (or probably 3.5/4.0 miles in had we not backtracked) there was a cascade of small falls and swimming holes. We stopped here, cooled off from the 90 degree heat, and ate lunch. This was our favorite from the hike. Following the trail up river, we saw several large piles of bear scat but not bears.

We finished by taking LDS down. I had never done this before but my lord was it tough - and this was with very low water levels. My knees are barking a bit a day later.

Very quiet hike. Only saw a few people on Keyser, a young couple posted up on a nice campsite on Piney Branch, and then a small group heading up LDS. If this hike had any views built into it at all, it would be a top 3 hike for me. Great nonetheless.

By: David Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, September 2, 2018
Went for a Sunday day hike to escape the mugginess of D.C. Arrived around 10 am and started hiking, following the route Upward's laid out. Nice steady incline on the fire road got the blood flowing, and once entering into the single track area, the greenness of the hike took over.

Hiking along the Piney Branch trail, we got to cross several beautiful streams and take in the view. The best spot was a cascading water fall, where we saw a beer and her two cubs! Even with a full sun out, the shade and stream kept us cool.

Highly recommend this hike to anyone wanting a solid 9+ miles of day hiking. We even saw a rattle snake on the fire road heading back to the parking lot.

Easy trails to follow, and no issues with markings.

By: Sean Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, November 2, 2017
I hiked this as described. I've hiked dozens of trails in this area and have never seen so many downed trees on a hike, but they were no big deal. The Piney Branch Trail portion has nice views of the stream along much of its length. I like fire roads for a change of pace. The Keyser Run Fire Road portion is shared with the Little Devil Stairs hike, also on this site and which I also recommend. While a very nice hike in the woods with not many people there is not much in the way of vistas. Going down the Keyser Run Fire Road from the top, about a half-mile down to the left, is a nice small outcropping with a great view. It's pretty easy to see the outcropping from the road and the short trail leading to it.

Previous reviewers reported hike times much shorter than 7 hours. I took 6 hours using a very leisurely pace, doing some off-trail exploring, taking a few breaks to catch my breath, and spending about a half-hour at the rock outcropping.

By: aldikuma Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, April 8, 2016
I'd done the Little Devils Stairs Hiking Upward loop clockwise last year, doing the ravine on the decline but on this hike, I decided to start going up LDS and complete the circuit from there. Took 4:10 with several stops for photos - this hike should not take you 7 hours unless you are doing A LOT of exploring. Didn't see anyone else all day, despite a few cars in the parking area when we started. Though you won't find views from the elevation on this hike, the scenery is beautiful nonetheless, as is most of SNP! Some of the stream crossings were slower due to higher water, but not difficult as there are plenty of rocks to navigate. Pretty hike.

By: Suzy and Tom Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, January 2, 2016
Hiked this trail as detailed. Keyser Run Fire Rd/Hull School Tr/ Piney Branch/Poll Bridge Link Tr/Keyser Run Fire Rd.  Total of 9.68 mile with a moving time of 4 hours and stopped time of 1 hr 6 min. (Not sure why the description of the hike says to allow 7 hours).  Piney Branch section nearest the river very scenic but overall the hike was too much on the Fire Rd.  The first 1.2 miles up the Fire Rd is very steep and next time I would put that energy towards climbing Little Devil Stairs and doing the hike in reverse.

By: Ryan Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, September 19, 2015
This ended up as a great hike even though we were woefully lost barely two miles into it.

Upon arrival in the parking area, you'll walk about a mile up a gravelly path to the graveyard. From there you can descend down a more proper trail, at the end of which you will find yourself at a crossroads. Go right, and you will find yourself on the path described above. Go left - as we did - and you'll eventually hit a dead end as the trail stops at a private property marker/barrier.

Tracking back, we found the Hull School trail and took it up 2-3 miles until we found a sign marker for Piney Ridge Trail. Following that path took us another 2 miles higher up until we reached another split - one way taking us to the AT, the other back to Piney Branch. We elected the former and descended back to the intersection where we took our wrong turn and made our way back up to the graveyard and then down to the car. All told it took us about four hours. The trail isn't much for views but if you're keen on a walk in dense woods, it's great.

Two things should be noted about the alternative route we took, however.

One, the trail is clearly not hiked all that often and is at points overgrown. The trails are all marked but they don't look like they're maintained all that often. We had to climb through, over and around a lot of flora as we walked.

Two, spiders. Perhaps because it is so rarely traveled, spiders have taken to building their webs along and across the trail. We could not walk ten feet without having to disentangle or check ourselves. It got so bad that one of us walked ahead of the group with a large stick, clearing the webs as he saw them. If you're afraid of spiders, this hike might not be for you.

All told though, I'd highly recommend this hike. Occasionally difficult but unique and rewarding.

By: Greenfoot Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 20, 2015
Took LDS to the AT then to Piney Branch, Hull School, and Keyser Fire Road back to the parking area for about 13 miles total. Since it was July, it was a bit swampy along Piney Branch trail. I got started early enough that the LDS were fun and challenging rather than miserable. Great hike for wildlife. Was lucky enough to see a young black bear about 200 feet away on the LDS, and there were a number of Peregrines visible along the AT.

By: Michelle Roberts Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 10, 2014
My son and I did this hike plus the Little Devils Stairs. Instead of coming down the Keyser Run Fire Rd at the 5.5 mile mark, we came down the Little Devils Stairs. The first 1.2 miles up the Keyser Run Fire Rd was a little strenuous, and we ran into a few people here and there. We stopped at the Bolen Cemetery to check it out, and ended up with ticks. A LOT of ticks! Crawling up our legs. From here to the next intersection is actually yellow blazed and not blue. We didn't run into anyone else from this point until we got to the Little Devils Stairs trail. We pulled ticks off our legs the whole time. The waterfalls big and small on this trail make it well worth dealing with the little blood-suckers! It took us about five hours to do the combined trail (about 7.5 miles), and that includes stopping to eat, taking our time to enjoy nature, and time for taking pictures.

By: Dustin Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, March 3, 2013
**The directions are wrong when they say to stay on piney branch trail towards sugar loaf. Ignore that and turn right instead. I didn't read other comments and ended up going 1.5 miles before I realized it was wrong.** Great relaxing hike if you're looking for a semi-long day hike. The uphill at the beginning is the most strenuous part. Crossing the river/stream is harder in the winter, but doable if you get creative. The worst is the end of the hike where you are just basically going down hill for 3.3 miles. That is hard on my feet!

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, March 16, 2012
I did a modified version of this hike. Starting at the Piney River Parking area on Skyline Drive mile marker 22. Take Piney Ridge trail until it intersects at Piney River with Piney River Trail. Hang a left and head back up to Skyline Drive. This was a 8.80 mile hike with a special surprise. The waterfalls on Piney River trail just after the intersection were incredible. This is a must do!!!!

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, October 16, 2011
8 hikers did a different version (11-13 mi) of this hike. We started up Little Devil Stairs.  I've been on LDS many time but this is the first time the waters created quite a challenge. At Keyser some of us turned Right heading towards the AT. A left onto the AT took them to Piney Branch where we then picked up Hull School. It was the first time I've seen the waterfalls on Piney Branch.  they were beautiful and the two river crossings were more challenging than LDS.  It was best to just get our feet wet.  Great day perfect fall day.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 8, 2011
We (me, sister and the dog) did a modified and shortened version of this Piney Branch hike. We started around 10:15am at the Piney Branch trail head off Skyline Drive (across from Mathews Arm Campground where we were camped). We descended the Piney Branch Trail down to the AT, then turned right on the AT for about .4 miles.  Then we turned left onto the Piney Ridge Trail for the next 2 miles. The trail was very flat and pleasant and seems to follow a saddle the entire time. We had a lot of company on this part of the trail with a couple of really nice backpackers and a couple of medium sized groups of day hikers. Shortly before reaching the Piney Ridge/Fork Mountain intersection, we saw a side trail to the right that was marked only with a rock cairn. We scampered to see where it went and in about 50 yards discovered the 2nd cemetery that is shown on the Piney Branch area maps. The readable stones were marked with last names of Dwyer, Curtis and Payne. Back on the Piney Ridge Trail, in about another 50 yards, we then turned left to continue on the Piney Ridge Trail (continuing to the right would lead you to Fork Mountain Trail). We knew this part of the Piney Ridge Trail would take us straight downhill for about a mile. And it was a pretty steep downhill. We were passed on this downhill by a group of 4 trail runners, one of which seemed to be training for the military with his gov't issued gear. We finally (FINALLY) bottomed out shortly before reaching the Piney Branch Trail intersection. This was about the halfway point for us, so we took a short lunch break here. We then turned left and continued up stream on the Piney Branch Trail. It was a constant ascent and got very rocky in places. The trail also meanders from being close to the river to going uphill and away from the river. We knew even going uphill that the river would eventually rise up to meet us each time. We followed the Piney Branch Trail upriver like this for the next 2.7 miles (or so). At some point, we crossed Piney Branch from the left bank over to the right (going upriver). It was about the halfway point of this 2.7mile stretch when the rocks and constant ascent finally took it's toll on the feet and the wheels started to fall off. We met quite a few hikers along the way that were coming down to find the falls and were inquiring "how much further?" to us.  :) There are a couple of small waterfalls on the Piney, but both of them require a little bushwacking to get down to and up close. We didn't see any social trails leading to the falls and we were too tired at this point to bushwack. We finally reached the Piney Branch/Pole Bridge Link Trail (leads to Sugarloaf) intersection and took another break. Since we were so close to Skyline at this point, we saw lots more day hikers, most of which looked a little less than "prepared" for a moderately strenuous hike. We turned left to stay on the Piney Branch Trail and crossed over Piney from the right side back to the left in about .2 miles. Then it was 1.2 miles uphill back to the AT and .1 on up to where we parked. This uphill wasn't quite as severe as I thought it would be. By doing this route, we shorted the hike to about 7.5 miles or so. We started at 10:15am and didn't finish until about 5:15pm for about 7 hours of hiking. We didn't see a lot of wildlife, mostly strange bugs and a cute frog along the Piney. We did see some bear scat along the Piney Branch Trail, but alas no bears. Temps were in the mid-60's and perfect for hiking. Fall colors seem to be around 30%. This wasn't a spectacular hike, but it was a challenging walk in the woods for us.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, July 31, 2010
Thought I'd get the last mileage out of my annual pass which expired this weekend.  Decided to make the Piney Branch trail my goal. Now in wetter seasons, there is a 3 ft deep little hole on the Piney where Hull Road crosses the trail, but this year has been very dry. Anyway, since this was an over-nighter for me, I parked at Elkwallow Wayside (thinking about lunch the next day when I came back out), and headed across Skyline to catch the AT headed NE. Its a nice little trudge up this portion of the AT until you get to Pole Bridge Link Trail, but I considered it a nice warm-up. Once you get to Pole Bridge Link Trail, its all down hill (more on this later), and I quickly warmed up to the trail.  I took a right at the Piney Branch Trail (not to be confused with the Piney Ridge Trail) and spent the next hour trying NOT to fall on my face while navigating the rocky downhill. Other than my footing it was a VERY pleasant walk, very quiet with no one on this portion of the trail.  Not to say I was alone on the trail since I spotted two black bear, who were busy eating the raspberries that were ripe at the higher altitudes, about midway along the Piney Branch Trail. Actually it may have been the same bear since the sightings were within a half mile or so of each other, and I think he might have been a bit fractious that I was interrupting his dinner. Anyway, I managed to reach the more level ground of the lower Piney about 4:30 and started looking for a campsite.  There are several in this area. The first was a stone circle to the right of the trail just a few hundred yards S of the link trail to Piney Ridge, the second was a nice pine needle covered spot where the trail crosses the Piney, and the third is usually my favorite and is about 100 yds west on Hull School Fire Road from the intersection with the Piney.  However, since I was meeting several groups hiking up from the lower parking lot, I decided to spend the night at the stone circle since its a little more "off the trail".  This meant backtracking a bit, but I was still set up by 5:30.  It was a beautiful night, even though it apparently rained at some point which I didn't even notice, and I was warm, dry and cozy in my hammock anyway.  The next morning was great, everything fresh from the nighttime rain, quiet, still, and peaceful shattered only when I realized that my water bladder had developed a leak.  Well, nothing much to do, but hike back to a deep pool in the Piney, refill the bladder using my filter pump and make breakfast.  After a nice filling breakfast, I refilled the bladder as best I could, and started UPHILL.  Now here's the problem with hiking DOWN from Skyline, you gotta go back UP to get to your car. I took the link trail between the Piney Branch and Piney Rodge Trails. Not sure this was such a great idea. One, the link trail is pretty steep, two, I was the first one on this portion of the trail and managed to break all the spiderwebs with my face, and three, I had a leaky water bladder dripping on my butt the entire way. By the time I reached Piney Ridge, I was almost dry except for an emergency 16.9 oz plastic water bottle (that I thank GOD I carry to mix Gatorade in).  The last few miles to the AT intersection was a battle of mind over matter.  My mind kept telling me that once I reached the AT, I'd have a quick mile hike DOWNHILL to the wayside and my car, and my matter (body) telling me that 16 oz of water was not NEAR enough.  Being the cerebral individual that I like to think I am, my mind was actually correct, and it was with joy that I crested the ridge and saw the trail marker for the AT. Swallowing the last dribbles of my water, I briskly set out for Elkwallow arriving maybe 20 minutes later.  After dropping my pack at the car, I availed myself of a large Gatorade and a can of my favorite "adult beverage" purchased from the wayside.  Whereupon I congratulated my foresight in parking next to such a remarkable store/landmark.  If you want a workout, I highly recommend this trail, I know that I really enjoyed it, but make sure you check your water supply THOROUGHLY before you embark.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, January 23, 2010
We hiked up #18 Little Devil Stairs and down #19 Piney Branch (reverse directions). It's about a 9 mile hike 4 hours for us. 1.5 hours up icy LDS was not overly difficult to navigate because it was thawing. The fun part was Piney Branch trail at the beginning. No one had hiked it since the snowstorm of a couple weeks ago. It was fun crunching along the trail and finally got a chance to try out my yak trax although I really didn't need them.  As Tony's pictures show, it was definitely challenging to cross the streams along Piney Branch today. We couldn't at the trail but with some creativity were able to stay dry.  It was not all that strenuous (last weekend's up #39 Cedar Run down White Oak Canyon was much more challenging) but this was definitely enjoyable.  Rae's in Sperryville VA is closing anyone know of other good restaurants in the area or on the way back to DC?

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, December 13, 2009
Nice hike. Liked the uphill early on and found I made great time on the way out on the fire road. One word of caution: the directions have a mistake. The Poll Bridge Link Trail enters from the right, not the left, and hikers should turn right on the Poll Bridge Link Trail instead of staying on the Piney Branch Trail. I followed the directions and found myself re-crossing the Piney Branch and headed up to Skyline Drive. Luckily it was a nice day and the extra mile or so didn't hurt,

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, September 4, 2008
Solitude, Solitude, Solitude.  As stated in the write up, there is not many vistas to look at, but the trail was great and I did get a good workout in.  When I arrived at the parking lot at 10:30am there was 10 to 15 teenagers sitting over in the grass area.  Oh boy this is not starting out to good.  Well once I left and started up the Keyser Run Fire road I did not see another person.  The trail does have long vertical ascents, but it is well maintain and there was no over growth on the whole trail.  I think descending the Keyser Run Fire road was just as hard as going up.  Overall great hike.  If you want solitude, and a good workout, this trail is for you.

By: Jessica Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, July 15, 2008
This was a good hike.  Not too much water in the stream in July -- we were hoping for more of a swimming/wading/drinking spot for the dogs, but no luck there.  We did see a mama bear and two cubs which was pretty exciting as well as tons of bear droppings. 

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, December 31, 2007
Cool site.

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