The Little Devils Stairs
The Little Devils Stairs was the first trail Brian and I hiked in the Shenandoah Mountains.
It was about 11:30 AM on a fine spring morning in 1977. We parked the car at Hogback Overlook on Skyline Drive and headed down the road to trail head. The 7.5 mile loop trail (plus 2.6 more to get back and forth to the car) is rated "Strenuous," with an 1,800 foot elevation change over scrambling, slipper rocks and boulders along a lovely waterfall and stream.
I shudder now to think back on our naiveté at that time. The hike was a spur-of-the-moment decision. We were wearing our everyday street shoes and carried no water and only one candy bar each.
It was nearly four when we reached the top again, the sun had set on our side of the mountain, and I was more tired than from any other hike before or since -- including Old Rag Mountain.
Little Devils Stairs Loop Trail
Finding the trailhead: From Skyline Drive, park at the Keyser Run Fire Road on the east side of the drive at Mile 19.4 and descend at the kiosk.
The hike: The trail passes Bolen Cemetery toward the end of the fire road. The final part of the loop climbs through a magnificent wild canyon and gorge that requires boulder hopping and rock scrambling, so wear good boots. The rocks are slippery and dangerous when wet or icy, so use caution.
Walk 1.0 mile to reach Fourway junction and a cement post. Continue straight on the fire road. The road descends into a large area of huge, sentinel-like trees that lend an aura of mystery to the woods.
At mile 3.3, the trail passes Bolen Cemetery on the left. A beautiful, peaceful place surrounded by a rock wall, the cemetery contains about 45 gravestones. Just beyond the cemetery is a cement post. Turn left, still on the Keyser Run Fire Road, marked with a yellow blaze. Still descending, the road winds by remnants of old stone walls from the long-ago farming era. The route then passes near Pignut Mountain and a forest of pignut hickory trees.
Nearly a mile past the cemetery, the fire road ends at the park boundary as it meets Virginia 614. Go around the chain and turn left, following the gravel road 0.1 mile to a parking lot. The trailhead for the Little Devils Stairs Trail is at the north end of the lot at a cement post.
Follow the blue-blazed trail, which immediately crosses Keyser Run in the form of two small streams. The trail begins a gentle ascent, winding as it passes through the woods. As views of Keyser Run open to the right, look to the far bank for a magnificent rock wall, a remnant of an old bridge. Traces of the road can be seen above the bridge wall, and without too much difficulty you can imagine the back-breaking work involved in clearing the rocks from the land and in building the various structures.
The trail becomes rocky, and it will only get worse! Look for the rock piles and walls scattered throughout the woods. We encountered a timber rattlesnake spanning the 4-foot-wide trail; it was in no hurry to move, but it finally crawled to the side, curled up under a fern, and, apparently, went to sleep.
After the rock walls, the trail begins a series of stream crossings. In summer, the stream sometimes only contains a trickle. The rocky trail continues climbing and crisscrossing the water on boulders, which you must hop. The trail becomes quite steep, and there is more boulder hopping as the trail enters the ravine. Blue blazes on the trees and rocks guide you through the labyrinth.
At the top of the ravine, after a series of hard switchbacks, you finally emerge at Fourway Junction. At the cement post, turn right and ascend the Keyser Run Fire Road for 1.0 mile to return to your vehicle.