Hiking Little Devils Stairs at Shenandoah National Park

Last Updated on August 22, 2021 by Erin Gifford

There are lots of different types of hikes. Some are historic hikes, like the two loop trails at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Other hikes, meanwhile, are all about the views, like the rugged hike to the summit of the Molly’s Knob Trail at Hungry Mother State Park in Marion.

Little Devils Stairs-Small Waterfall

A couple of weeks ago, I tackled Little Devils Stairs (blue blazes) at Shenandoah National Park. This nearly 6-mile hike had been on my must-do list for some time.

I’d read up on the hike online but wasn’t prepared to be as utterly captivated by this hike as I was, largely because it is so much more than just a waterfall hike or just a scenic hike.

Trail Stats 
Length6.0 miles
DifficultyModerate
Trail TypeLoop
Elevation Gain1,506 feet
Duration3-4 hours
TerrainRock scrambles, stream crossings, some dirt & gravel trails
Dog-FriendlyYes
FeeFree (trailhead is outside the national park)
Driving DirectionsClick Here

Arriving at the Trailhead

Interestingly, the Little Devils Stairs trailhead is located outside the national park.

Well, it may be more accurate to say that the trail is in the park, but you don’t need to enter through an official park entrance to reach the start of the trail.

Little Devils Stairs-Pine Needles

The last two miles of the road (Keyser Run Road) to reach the trailhead are almost entirely gravel.

As you bump and bounce along this gravel road, passing private homes on large swaths of land, you may wonder if you’re going in the right direction.

Then, you will dead end into the trail parking lot. You have arrived. The parking lot has room for no more than a dozen cars.

This means, of course, that you should plan to arrive early, especially since there is nowhere else to park beyond this lot.

The First Steps

This hike is a loop, but I can’t stress enough the need to start at the physical marker for Little Devils Stairs (as opposed to the Keyser Run Fire Road).

So, counter-clockwise. You will thank me because doing this hike in reverse would not be nearly as enjoyable.

The first two miles of this hike is all about stream crossings, rock scrambles and waterfalls. This section of the trail is very leafy and shaded.

The forest is quite dense, so no need for sunglasses. I didn’t see much of the sun, but did enjoy the water views all along the trail.

Little Devils Stairs-Water Crossing

I started to count the water crossings on this trail, but I quit after a half-dozen. They were fun to hopscotch, but many required well-placed steps on rocks to cross the stream.

The first two miles of this hike are largely a steady incline, though I will say that the second mile was most challenging thanks to fairly steep rock scrambles.

The first mile took me 25 minutes, but the second mile took me nearly 50 minutes. In some spots, I had to grab onto tree roots to help pull me up onto the boulders.

Little Devils Stairs-Waterfall

As you continue to ascend, the waterfall views are spectacular. You’re constantly looking at rushing water plunging into a gorge as you climb and criss-cross over the tumbling water.

Near the top, you’re treated to a trio of small flowing waterfalls.¬†Between the falls views and rock scrambles, you’ll quickly realize counter-clockwise is the way to go.

As in up, instead of down. I couldn’t imagine taking on these two miles alongside the gorge as a descent. Yikes.

Little Devils Stairs-Fire Road

Once you reach the top of the gorge, the trail levels off and you will reach the fire road. From here, you may not know what to do since it’s essentially a four-way stop.

Worse, there is no cell service (at least not with AT&T) so you cannot re-visit maps or trail descriptions to help guide you in the right direction.

Thankfully, I turned left and began to walk down the Keyser Run Fire Road (yellow blaze). From here, the trail is not nearly as interesting or challenging (it is a fire road.

Once I had hiked around 2.7 miles, there was an opening on the left of the fire road that revealed fantastic wide-open, east-facing views across the Shenandoah Valley.

Little Devils Stairs-View

As you continue along, the trail changes from dirt to gravel to dirt. There’s even a section of trail that runs through a pine forest.

The layer of soft pine needles on the trail is welcome. It’s also unusual after spending so much time among rocks and water the first two miles.

Keep walking down the fire road back to the parking lot. After hiking 4.5 miles you’ll spy a family cemetery with a wrought-iron gate on the left-hand side.

Little Devils Stairs-Cemetery

Those buried in this cemetery were no doubt among the 450 families that lived within the park boundaries in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

A plaque in the cemetery shares a poem called “Why the Mountains are Blue” that describes the sadness that lingers here on account of the families forced to leave their homes.

In the last 1.5 miles, the trail veers left and takes on a fairly steep descent, but nothing overly challenging (though my shins did hurt a couple of days later from the steepness).

You may feel unsure whether your car will appear, but shortly the parking lot does come into view.

Wrap-Up Notes

With this trail, there aren’t any options to shorten this hike. You really need to be in it for the entire six miles. This hike took me nearly 2 hours, 30 minutes.

You won’t find a port-a-john. There really is just a parking lot and a trailhead. So make sure you have water and are ready to commit to nearly three hours on the trail.

I also can’t recommend more highly the AllTrails PRO app if only because the app allows you to download the trail map to have in case you get lost.

There was a point near the end of the first two miles where I lost the blue markers. As I noted, I had no cell service, so I would have loved to have the map on my phone.