Hiking Shenandoah National Park
by Bert & Jane Gildart (Falcon Guides)
© 2016 Bert & Jane Gildart/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.
This was a very enjoyable, though strenuous, hike. We went in the fall, and the foliage was stunning. The portion of the trail that is on the fire road is very smooth and easy, but the portion that is the little devil stairs is, as the guide notes, strenuous. I am 33 years old and reasonably in shape, and I found that portion of the hike to be quite tiring due to the steepness of the incline. All in our party agreed, however, that the little devil stairs portion, while the most difficult, was the best part of the hike, as you are crossing over the falling stream many times.
One thing to note, which we did not notice until after we were finished: in the trail guide, it shows a path that looks like a figure eight, and it seems to indicate two places where you can start - either from the Keyser Fire Run Road parking lot, or from the parking lot just after the Hogback mountain overlook. The trail then lists the length as 7.5 miles, which we assumed meant that the whole figure eight was that long. However, the 7.5 mile distance is accurate only if you start at the Keyser Run Fire Road lot and skip the upper left portion of the figure eight (including the Sugar Loaf trail portion and Hogback mountain), against what the map seems to suggest. We parked in the other lot and did the full figure eight. We were using GPS to track our progress, and we were surprised to find in the end that we had walked 13 miles. Only then did we realize how the guide was measuring a 7.5-mile trail. By the end of the 13 miles we were pretty wiped out, and it was almost dark, since we expected to be done much earlier. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful hike. The only reason I gave four stars instead of five is because there weren't too many vistas to look out on, though there were some. All in all though, it was a beautiful hike, especially due to the fall colors.
This trail was a fun combination of nature walk + interesting hike. The description is a bit of an exaggeration "scrambling and boulders" etc however, the stream crossing were exciting and somewhat strenuous and the gain on the last mile is a bit steep. We have moved from Seattle to DC so we're used to more rugged terrain and certainly more elevation gain, but across the board we had a wonderful time in the woods getting around on this hike. 3 hours round trip with one sprained ankle and a very leisurely pace. Have fun!
The Little Devils Stairs portion of this loop is excellent (5 stars) while the Keyser Run portion is o.k. (earning only 2 to 3 stars) for an average of a great hike. You can start this trail from Skyline drive and hike either down the stairs and up the run or vice versa. My friend and I did the former, but the view from the later may be better. The Stair case runs along a creek with numerous waterfalls providing excellent scenic views and great opportunities to boulder off the trail to up and down the falls. In addition, if your going down you'll have great views from the peaks, if you head up the Stairs expect an impressive view of the valley early on. In short, you win either way and the falls are really the highlight of the day. Physically the Stairs are somewhat strenous, but thats half the fun and the scenary is well worth it. Keyser Run Fire Road is just that, a fire road and rather unexciting. You'll get a good view of the local landscape from the higher altitudes, but a couple hours on a fire road isn't really worth it. It may make a good cool down if you start from the bottom of valley and hike up Little Devil Stairs first.
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