Big Devil Stairs

  • Highlights: AT shelter, mountain and gorge views
  • Distance: 7.5 miles out and back
  • Elevation change: 1,237 feet
  • Difficulty level: Strenuous
  • Trailhead Parking: Keyser Run parking area, Skyline Drive mile post 19.4, park entrance fee required
  • Website: AllTrails
  • Beer Pairings: Tap 29—Are We There Yet? IPA & Pit Stop Pilsner

The Hike:

Big Devil Stairs is one of the less crowded hikes in Shenandoah. On busy weekends, this hike is a great way to find both solitude and outstanding views of the gorge. This hike has two popular routes. We like the longer version which includes a nice stretch on the AT. For a shorter version (5.5 miles) which begins at the Gravel Springs parking area, see Hiking Upward. We always like to spend as much time on the AT as possible so we opted for the longer version.

From the Keyser Run parking area, cross Skyline Drive and follow a short connector trail .1 miles to a junction with the Appalachian Trail. Turn right and follow the white-blazed AT north. At .4 miles, cross Skyline Drive again and continue on the AT as it begins a gradual descent.

At 1.7 miles reach a trail junction with a cement post. There are several trails here and this area can be a bit confusing. Bear right as the trail descends steeply to the Gravel Springs shelter. Shelters or huts are located every 10 miles or so along the AT. Each shelter has a logbook and the entries from hikers make for interesting reading. A yellow post by the stream indicates the water must be treated before drinking. 

Cross the stream and then in a few hundred yards bear right at the first junction on the yellow-blazed Bluff Trail. Follow the Bluff Trail as it winds through the forest with several small stream crossings. At 3.5 miles reach a cement post and a junction with the Big Devil Stairs Trail. Bear right and follow the blue-blazed trail as it begins to descend through an impressive section of Mountain Laurel.

The trail descends steeply with a series of switchbacks for the next half mile or so until you reach the upper overlook. Listen carefully for sounds of a stream cascading over rocks in the gorge below. On the right find a series of stone steps and continue down the stairs to reach the main overlook. Below is the Big Devil Gorge and vistas open up to the south and west.

While AllTrails shows the trail continuing into the gorge, the rest of the trail is unmarked, very steep, and difficult to follow. It is best to turn around at the overlook and retrace your steps back to Skyline Drive and your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing: 

There are two breweries located in Sperryville (Hopkins Ordinary and Pen Druid) and Hawksbill located further west in Lura. All are great post-hike options and are located close to the trailhead. We went a little further east to Tap 29 Brewery, located on the grounds of Prince Michel Winery in Leon VA. They have indoor and outdoor seating and a variety of food options.

Kathy tried Are We There Yet? (6.8% ABV 49 IBU) an American IPA brewed with Chinook, Centennial, and Mosaic hops. She liked it but would have preferred  more bitterness and hoppiness on the finish. Pete liked Pit Stop (5.1% ABV 22 IBU) a Belgian-style Pilsner brewed with Hallertauer and Saaz hops. It is crisp and refreshing as a good pilsner should be.

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe, be responsible, and leave no trace.