Little Devil's Stairs

 

Description: This is a strenuous 5.4 or 7.8 mile loop in the Shenandoah National Park. Most of the work comes early on as you climb steeply up and over rocks, gaining 1500 feet of elevation in about1.8 miles (1000 ft over a mile). If you think your buttocks muscles need some tightening-up then this is your hike! But honestly, once youíve gained the ridge top almost all of the strenuous part is over. The short version of this hike utilizes a fire road as a return route and passes a graveyard along the way. The longer route follows Piney Branch with several nice little falls and cascades along the way. Youíll have to cross it twice but usually without much difficulty.

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Printable/Downloadable Map!

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Trail notes: From the parking area follow the blue blazed Little Devilís Staircase Trail North. At first the gorge is wide and the tread is rocky. As you proceed along the gorge will get much narrower and steeper Ö and, of course, rockier. Youíll cross Keyserís Run several times as it percolates between all of the rocks and boulders. Be sure to look behind you as you climb for partial views. Near the end the trail gets very steep and then makes a hard left and reaches the ridge on a much more gradual pitch.

 

At 1.88 miles from the start reach a 4-way intersection. To the left and right is yellow blazed Keyser Run Fire Road. Straight ahead is blue blazed Pole Bridge Trail. If you opt for the shorter route turn left onto Keyser Run Fire Trail. In about 2.2 miles pass Bolen Cemetery and arrive at the intersection of Hull School Fire Road. Turn left, remaining on Keyser Run Fire Road and follow it back (1 mile) to your cars.

 

For the longer loop, continue straight through the 4-way intersection onto blue blazed Pole Bridge Tr. In about 0.93 miles turn left onto blue blazed Piney Branch Trail. Descend 2.8 miles to the intersection of Yellow blazed Hull School Fire Road. Turn left here.

 

At 0.78 miles from the last trail junction arrive at the junction of yellow blazed Keyser Run Fire Road (left and straight). Proceed straight on Keyser Run Fire Road for about another mile to get back to your car.

Printable/Downloadable Directions and Trail Notes

Critique this outing!

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Name:   Jeremy
Date(s) of Hike: 06/26/15
Hike Name:  Little Devil's Stairs
Ranking (1 to 5 with 5 being the best): 4
Photo


Outing Critique: Hike of Little Devil Stairs in Shenandoah National Park.  I extended the hike and also did the Piney Branch Trail to make it an ~9 mile loop.  Only saw one other person in the 6 hours that I was hiking and that was within 0.25 miles of returning to the parking lot on the fire road.

The initial 2 miles of Little Devil Stairs was rough but I would not consider it to be scrambling. The stream was ever present with cascades the length of the hike.  Nice waterfall at the very end but no vistas.

I had planned to do take the fire road back to the parking lot but felt like adding a few miles so took the longer Piney Branch Trail.  The trail was nice but lacked any major features.  From about the midpoint the trail begins to follow a stream but stay maining above and a couple hundred yards away from it.  I found the trail posts confusing with some indicating Piney Branch Trail in all directions.  Since I had not planned to do this as part of the hike I had not brought directions and was off the edge of the map I had brought.  Ultimately you just keep turning left and will end up back on the fire road at the cemetery.

Watch a video of the hike.

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Name: Joanne                                                                                                          Hike: Little Devil's Staircase
Date: Nov. 20, 2011                                                                                                Rating: 4

Critique: Too late in the season for good leaf color. Cool overcast day - a good thing - no insects. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS HIKE ALONE. BE SURE YOU ARE ABLE TO DO THE 5.4 MILES. THERE IS NO TURNING BACK IF YOU WIMP OUT. THE REVERSE ROUTE IS TOO TREACHEROUS. Take the fire road route back to your car. Get an early start - allow at least 4 hours. Bring a sufficient water supply. But if you use a camelback do not fill the bladder so full that the weight pulls you backwards. The water crossings can be treacherous - slippery rocks and wet leaves. Bring at least one hiking pole to help you. Rest along the way. This is a challenging hike even for the sure-footed. The fresh air and solitude were welcoming. Do it!

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Name: Joseph Dooley                                                                                            Hike: Little Devil's Stairs
Date: 8/26/2011                                                                                                    Rating: 4

Critique: I did the 7.8-mile version of this hike on the Friday afternoon ahead of Hurricane Irene. The best part of the hike was the solitude. I encountered only one group, and they were just leaving as I parked in the gravel lot. The climb is not so bad as long as you take your time and enjoy the scenery. I'm 25 and I made the ridge in 1 hour 40 minutes. It's true there are no vistas on this hike, but climbing out of that well-shaded gorge is pleasing enough. NOTE: The Pole Bridge Trail forks twice; take the left fork each time. The cemetery was neat. The only downside to this hike was the spider infestation on the Pine Branch Trail. Unsuspectingly I walked into a hundred webs cast across the trail, and I was bitten three times. Other than that, a great hike.

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Name: carolyn                                                                                                         Hike: Little Devils Stairs
Date: 7/16/11                                                                                                         Rating: 4

Critique: We started at the parking lot on the boundary of the park and began the circuit on the LDS trail. It was a beautiful hike next to a stream and very peaceful. There are several pools of water to stop and soak your feet (bring a towel) and cool off. We didn't see anyone as we hiked up the stairs only when we got to the top. It is a strenuous hike up the stairs. I'm a 45 year old woman whos main exercise is walking so I'm not in great shape and I did alright. I stopped several times up the stairs to catch my breath and drank plenty of water. We ended up taking the yellow trail down to save time, but it felt like we were walking forever. The cemetery towards the end of the fire road was a great treat.

Overall this was a great hike. It's challenging yet still enjoyable. My calf muscles hurt for 3 days after! Total time was approximately 4 hours (2 hours up the stairs and about 1.5 hours down the fire road with breaks). Next time we'll stay on the blue trail instead of taking the fire road back to the parking lot or just take the stairs back down.

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Name: Ethan                                                                                                            Hike: Little Devil Stairs
Date: 4/28/2011                                                                                                    Rating: 4

Critique: Great hike for the exercise, and wonderful waterfalls! Not much in the way of valley views. The trail notes says you will cross Keyser run several times; with the amount of rainfall the last couple of days, the trail was Keyser Run; if you don't have Gortex, be prepared for wet feet! While I hiked this alone and was totally alone for I didn't hear anyone, see anyone, or find any sign that anyone else was in the general area the whole time I was there, I would strongly recommend hiking this with someone. DO NOT HIKE THIS ALONE. There are too many places to slip and fall and with NO CELL reception, who knows when someone will come along to help. It is also the kind of hike where it would be a better experience to share with someone. I hiked it alone because it was hard to find someone to hike on a Wednesday on short notice.

The written directions to the hike parking lot were right on the money, with exception that Rt. 211 is already a double lane road both ways when you turn on Rt. 622. (Looks like up grades have taken place since directions written.) For anyone that likes road names, Rt. 622 Is Gid Brown Hollow Rd. and Rt. 614 is Keyser Run Rd.

The only problem I had with the hike was the park service markers did not match the written directions or the map I had printed, maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere, but I have a feeling I was on the correct trail.

When I got to the four way marker at the top, I went straight across the fire road on the blue trail, in about .4 miles there is a concrete post, right said to go the AT and straight was the Pole Link Bridge Trail and then in another .4 miles there was another post that had Piney Branch trail straight and to the left. From the map, I knew I had to turn left to get back to the fire road; however I didn't understand how the Piney Branch trail went straight too. Because the tail notes said there would be a marker in .93 and I had only gone .8, plus it was still early and a nice day, I decided to go straight, which when I started climbing, I knew I was going the wrong way, but wanted to see where I would end up. I ended up at the AT trail marker (top left in the map). I turned around and went back the way I came and then went down the Piney Branch Trail. That added almost 4 miles to the 7.8 mile loop.

I now see the two markers that I encountered. It is clear from this map what I did, even though the trail names are not well labeled. I didn't find this map until after returning home. Not sure when the single .93 marker became one at .4 and another at .8, but it is clear on this map how the markers are. The important thing is to keep going DOWN and to the LEFT, which is what the trail notes say anyway!

Before reaching the Hull School Tr., there was a rather WIDE stream, probably isn't as wide normally, but there was only one way to get across it, walk through it, hence another reason to have Gortex boots.

The next unexpected thing on the longer loop, the trail notes say to turn left at the Hull School Fire Rd. Not only is it not a Fire Rd and cannot be due to the boulders in pathway, the trail marker is labeled, Hull School Tr. I knew there was an incline at the end, both the topo and the elevation map showed it, but that 800 ft climb in .8 miles was a killer after walking almost 9.6 miles and not having much in the way of energy bars and little water.

I was able to do the 11.5 miles in about 4.5 hours. I am a fast walker, about 3.5 miles per hour on good ground. The 1.88 hike up Little Devils Stairs took me 1 hour and 10 minutes with breaks. To say the least I was ready for some food and energy bars when I got to the top of the stairs!

The day was cool but humid and I went through 2 liters of water. If hiked in any heat, I would strongly recommend 3 litters of water.

I do not say the previous items to criticize anyone, just for the next person to have a better experience. I am grateful for the previous comments posted and glad someone is keeping a great web site. Part of the fun in hiking is figuring things out and exploring areas one hasn't been too. Enjoy our National Parks!

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Name: Kristin Wilcox                                                                                               Hike: Little Devil's Staircase
Date: 8/7/10                                                                                                           Rating: 4

Critique: I did this as a solo hike, staying on the blue-blazed trail to complete the longer loop. About half a mile after passing the yellow-blazed loop, I saw a black bear and a cub crossing the trail about 50 feet in front of me. They disappeared up the embankment into the woods, and I yelled loudly and clapped, hoping to scare them further into the forest. As I continued down the trail, though, I realized they were just 20 feet or so off of the path and the mama bear was standing her ground. She ROARED at me as I passed her! I don't think I'd complete this hike again without bear spray. Other than that, it was a beautiful hike, although trees had fallen across the path in several places and proved difficult to maneuver around.

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Name: Brett                                                                                                              Hike: Devils Stairs
Date: 08/07/2010                                                                                                   Rating: 4

Critique: We did the short route and it was pretty fun. Lots of steep rocky climbs. The fireroad back is sort of boring but gets you back fairly quick

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Name: Allen Keeney                                                                                                Hike: Little Devil's Stairs
Date: 07/18/2010                                                                                                   Rating: 4

Critique: We did the Piney Branch version, which is definitely nicer than walking on the fire road, but adds not only distance but also another uphill section. We found this trail to be less strenuous than described here; although it is clearly steep at the 1 to 1.5 mile point. The canyon on Little Devil's Stairs is impressive and nice. Piney Branch was hidden most of the time and the water was low, but still a nice hike. The only issue was a swarm of annoying gnats on the bottom 0.5 mile of the Piney Branch trail before turning onto the Hull School trail. A big plus: only saw 1 other hiker on the trip, even though it was a summer Sunday.

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Name: Darlene                                                                                                         Hike: Little Devil Stairs
Date: 9-15-09                                                                                                          Rating: 4

Critique: We started our hike from the boundary off of 614 which is better because you can go up Little Devil Stairs in the beginning and have a mostly downhill hike coming back. We did the Piney Branch Trail semi-circuit, so we didn't have to walk as far down the fire road which can be a little boring. We saw a mama bear and cub, a few chipmunks and lots of spider webs and only saw one person the 6 hours we were hiking. We accidentally added on an extra mile because we took the Piney Branch trail in the wrong direction so had to hike down again, so did a total of about 9 miles. This is definitely one of my favorite hikes.

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Name: Kevin                                                                                                             Hike: Little Devil Stairs
Date: August 16, 2009                                                                                           Rating: 4

Critique: A very nice hike! The directions to the start and the description of the hike are very accurate. The beginning is tough but enjoyable. I brought my two sons, Ryan-12 and Shane-9 and they had no problem. They enjoyed the small waterfalls and pools. Lots of neat rock formations. Saw many fat red centipedes and butterflies but no other wildlife. We took the short way back on the fire road which they thought was sort of boring. The oldest wished he had lugged a folding bicycle in the backpack to ride down, which you could have done. You can also run down if you pack running shoes. I am going to hike it again during rainy season to see some faster running water.

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Name: Josh                                                                                                               Hike: Little Devil's Staircase
Date: 7/5/09                                                                                                           Rating: 5

Critique: This is my absolute favorite hike in Shenandoah National Park. Though you don't get the views that Old Rag or Hawksbill Summit offer, you get an enjoyable hike, a bit strenuous at times, with an active stream. The pools of water are populated by several species of salamanders, frogs and snakes, so enjoy looking under rocks. You will likely pass other hikers on the trail, but it will be quiet for the majority of your time. Wear sturdy shoes, as the rocks on the 'Devil's Staircase' are often slippery/slimy from the stream and can result in tumbles. My six and eight year-old completed the hike today (5.4 miles), so take your kids!

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Name: Kelly                                                                                                               Hike: Little Devil's Stairs
Date: 9/23/07                                                                                                          Rating: 3.5

Critique: The hike will work your legs in the first few miles as you ascend the stairs. The view of the rock formation was very cool as the beginning of my hike there was little in the gorge. The hike isn't difficult physically demanding but watch your footing, as the rocks if damp can be a bit slippery. I took the short version and found a rock outcrop that I was able to sit and enjoy my break while taking in a view. The path is about 1/4 mile down on your left not marked but was easily found. The cemetery was a look back into the   past of the Blue Ridge Mountains as there is a plaque in the family cemetery. The plaque describes a bit of history of the Shenandoah National Park and how it came to be. The overall hike was enjoyable would visit again in the future.

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Name: Liz Hester                                                                                                     Hike: Little Devil's Staircase
Date: 7/8/07                                                                                                            Rating: 4.5

Critique: I just discovered your website and this was the first hike I decided to try. I'm certainly glad I did! This was a great hike that should not be missed! The first part of it was by far the most rewarding due to the magnificent scenery.

We decided to take the extended version of this hike and in my opinion this is the only way it should be done. If you opt for the shorter route you will miss out on a lot of the beauty this hike has to offer. The graveyard is at the crossing where the two trails intersect so you don't have to worry about missing it if you take the longer route.

To the people who plan on trying this one out in the middle of summer as we did, make sure to bring plenty of bug spray!! We let this little detail slip our minds and paid the price. That being said, this was a wonderful hike that makes for a rewarding day!

Also, as a side note, I was a slightly worried I was being too ambitious when deciding to choose a hike with an *S* rating for my first time out, but in my opinion it wasn't nearly as difficult as I was expecting from the other testimonials. Newbie's as I am, shouldn't be concerned. It wasn't that bad. It was a blast!!!

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Name: Ryan McKinney                                                                                            Hike: Little Devils Staircase/ Piney Branch
Date: 10/7/06                                                                                                         Rating: 4.5

Critique: WOW!  What an incredible hike so close to Washington DC.  This hike is perfect if you are looking for solitude, the soft sound of running brooks, challenging terrain and dozens of water crossings.

This is one of the best all around hikes I have done in my many years of hiking The Blue Ridge.  The area of the hike is far enough away from Skyline Drive that you don't get any heavy foot traffic from above and the parking area is far from the main roads so you get little traffic from below.  The Piney Branch section of the trail is amazing.  There is a Bear Transect area where the park service does scientific research on the bear population.  This section of the trail is fantastic.  Dense old forest with Piney Branch running through to add jus the right amount of noise.  We didn't see any bears, but we did see a lot of bear scat.

Do this hike!

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Name: Carol  Branscome                                                                                        Hike: Little Devil's/Piney Branch
Date: 10/7/06                                                                                                          Rating: 4.5

Critique: Did this the day after rain in the fall on a cool day..

Con - Lots of water crossings due to the high water. Used water shoes for the first crossing on Little Devil's and the two fords on the Piney Branch trail since the water was so high (over boot tops for the smaller hiker).  Probably had over a dozen substantial water crossings on Little Devils and at times the water was simply flowing down the normal trail.

Pros - Absolutely spectacular especially if you like to hike near water, love waterfalls and gorges.  Saw no one on the Piney Branch section and it's also gorgeous.  Much better than the fire road down the hill though you do connect for the last mile.  We'll be back with our waterfall-loving hiking companion who missed this trip.

Recommendation - Spectacular hike especially the longer version but be prepared for the water crossings after rain
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Name: Jean-Louis Ecochard                                                                                  Hike: Little Devil Staircase

Date: 06/04/05                                                                                                       Ranking: 4

comment: Hiked after a rain. The rocks can be quite slippery but the sounds of the brook are even more magic.
Saw a Red Spotted Newt on the way down.

 

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Name:Mike G.                                                                                                           Hike: Little Devil's Staircase
Date:12/4/05                                                                                                          Ranking: 4.5

Critique: This was a great hike, and for those of you out that are a bit out of shape...mind that strenuous classification MR Hyker's given this one. While during the hike itself I did not feel fatigued, I sit here two days after the fact wondering how much longer my glutes are going to be sore. Butt burner indeed. I did an extension of the longer route, opting for a return via Piney Ridge trail. I was lucky enough to have the entire hike to myself, the only exception being two black bears I saw half-way down Piney Ridge. The canyon through which Little Devils Stairs goes up is particularly scenic, and there are a couple of big ol' trees that are rather impressive.

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Name: Salomeh                                                                                                       Hike: Little Devil's Staircase
Date:07/23/05                                                                                                        Ranking: 5

Critique: Took the shorter route this time-never saw another soul except a large bear :> Awesome hike! I am doing the long route this time. The cemetery is also very cool. The first couple miles is a butt-burner.

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