Little Devils Stairs is a moderate 6-mile loop hike at Shenandoah National Park. It’s got it all too, including rock scrambles, waterfalls and mountain views.
This hike begins on the blue-blazed Little Devils Stairs Trail, then connects with the yellow-blazed Keyser Run Fire Road for the return hike.
The trails for this hike are best accessed from a park boundary trailhead at a small parking lot at the end of State Route 614 (Keyser Run Road).
The last two miles of Keyser Run Road are almost entirely gravel road. There is room for no more than a dozen cars at Little Devils Stairs trail parking.
You can also start this hike from the Keyser Run Fire Road on Skyline Drive, near the pull-off for the Little Hogback Mountain Overlook.
|Elevation Gain||1,506 feet|
|Terrain||Rock scrambles, stream crossings, some dirt & gravel trails|
|Fee||Free (trailhead is outside the national park)|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
Little Devils Stairs Trail
This hike is a loop, but I can’t stress enough the need to start at the Little Devils Stairs Trailhead (as opposed to the Keyser Run Fire Road).
So, counter-clockwise, starting on the Little Devils Stairs Trail. You will thank me because doing this hike in reverse would not be nearly as enjoyable.
The forest is quite dense, so no need for sunglasses. I didn’t see much of the sun, but did enjoy the water views and natural beauty all along the trail.
I started to count the water crossings on this trail, but I quit after a half-dozen. Many require well-placed steps on rocks at the creek crossings.
The first two miles of this hike are a steady incline, though the second mile was most challenging thanks to fairly steep rock scrambles. It was a great workout.
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.
The waterfall views along Keyser Run are spectacular. You’re constantly looking at rushing water plunging into an impressive gorge as you climb the hiking trail.
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 large gorge as a descent. Yikes.
At 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 a fourway junction.
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.
Keyser Run Fire Road
I turned left and began to walk down the Keyser Run Fire Road (yellow blazes). From here, the trail is not as interesting or challenging (it is a service road).
Once I hiked 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.
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.
Continue on the fire road. After hiking 4.5 miles you’ll spy the Bolen family cemetery with stone walls and a wrought-iron gate on the left-hand side.
Those buried in this old cemetery were no doubt among the 450 families that lived within the park boundaries in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
A plaque shares a poem called “Why the Mountains are Blue” that describes the sadness that lingers on account of the families forced to leave their homes.
Take a moment to think about the original property owners in these mountains. Their way of life was a challenge, as was having to leave this life behind.
In the last 1.5 miles, the trail veers left and takes a steep descent, but nothing overly challenging (though my shins did hurt later from the elevation gain).
You may feel unsure whether your car will appear, but shortly the parking lot and trail head do come into view.
The Little Devils Stairs hike took me nearly 2 hours, 30 minutes to hike the six miles. There aren’t any options to shorten this day hike.
However, you can add on a few miles by tacking on the Piney Branch Trail or the Piney Ridge Trail, essentially making large hike loops.
You won’t find a port-a-porty, only a parking lot and a trailhead. Be sure you have water and are ready to commit to nearly three hours for the entire hike.