DATE:
9-5 & 9-28, 2020

OUT & BACK
~ 3.9 mile

ELEVATION GAIN
~ 590 ft

LOCATION
Fort Blackmore, VA

The Devil’s Bathtub is a well known hiking trail that brings people to Fort Blackmore, Virginia from all over the country. In fact, both times that we hiked this trail we met honeymooners from out of state. It wasn’t until after we completed it the first time that we learned this trail has an unsettling history of hikers getting lost or stranded due to high creeks and flash flooding. Anything can happen in the wilderness, but I feel that planning ahead can give you a better chance of success.

Since this is such a popular hiking trail, I recommend going on a weekday in the spring or fall. Our first trip to Devil’s Bathtub was on a Saturday and there were around 30 people at the swimming hole. There was a constant stream of people in both directions on the trail. We nicknamed the trail “gaiters up” because of how frequently we reminded the kids to pull up their neck gaiters. Thankfully we started our trek a little later in the afternoon so the swimming hole cleared out by the time we finished our lunch.

The second time we went on a Monday at the end of September. It was a completely different experience. We passed maybe 3-4 people on the trail the whole time and there were 4-5 people at most at the swimming hole. This left us with the bathtub all to ourselves for close to an hour. We were truly able to soak in the beauty of nature’s design. Before leaving, we took an icy “dip with devil!”  More to come on that!

swimming hole
Crowd at swimming hole on first trip.
Swimming hole at devils bathtub va
Crowd on second trip.

So let’s go back to the beginning…approximately .4 miles before you reach the entrance to the Devil’s Bathtub hiking trail is a parking lot, (which I failed to take pictures of). There is a bathroom there and sometimes a shuttle that runs to the trail head. The shuttle wasn’t running the second time we went and we did not check for it the first time. We didn’t realize that parking lot existed at first and parked along the gravel road at the trail head. On our Saturday hike this was FULL of cars. It was really tough to navigate and/or turn around if need be. On our Monday hike it was only us and a few other vehicles. After the fact, I read you can get towed if parking here and it is not recommended. So, park at your own risk. We did not have cell service at this point so that would be pretty unfortunate to come out and find the car is gone….

The gravel road leads up to a parking lot that was no longer used at the time we went due to huge pot holes in the road leading up to it. The boys called them dinosaur foot prints because they were so big, ha! I would avoid going up to that lot unless you have some type of off road vehicle. Our mini van wasn’t up for that challenge.

Parking at the Devils Bathtub VA
Old parking lot and one lonely little car that made it up.
Dino prints.

Once you walk past that parking area, you come to the head of the Devil’s Bathtub hiking trail. There are some signs there about being mindful of trash. Due to the frequent traffic on this trail, trash can be a problem. It wasn’t necessarily more of a problem than other trails we have been on but it is certainly there. We made a mental note that we will bring extra bags to pack trash out that we find on our next visit.

This trail has 12 creek crossings. In the “All Trails” app reviews, we saw anywhere from 8-20 crossings listed. It’s amazing how our brains can interpret the same thing so vastly different. We counted there and back on both trips and we got 12 both times. Both times we wore our Keen Solr shoes and the kids wore their Keen Stingray sandals. We have had good experience with these transitioning between water/trail. I would also recommend either wearing shorts or pants that are easy to pull up in the creek. Nothing’s worse than soggy/clingy pants for miles!

One other tip- if you are going to bring lunch, try to find some waterproof containers. We are on the lookout for some good ones. Our youngest got his backpack pretty wet in the creek which led to water in his lunch container…and soggy pretzels…and a hungry/wet/cold 5 year old…not the best combo!

This shoe pic is from another hike but they are on their second round of these shoes. (Why do kids’ feet grow so fast $$??) We love these shoes!

You will come to one creek crossing before reaching a large fork in the trail with this sign:

At this point you have two options:

Left:

– This is the recommended and most common route
– You will have the 12 creek crossings
– 3.9 mile route round trip

Right:

– From what I have read, this route is not recommended due to the trail not being well maintained and this is the route that people tend to get lost on
– No creek crossings
– 7 mile route round trip

We went to the left and the kids’ favorite thing about the trail was the frequent creek crossings. On our first trip the water was fairly low, a little bit above our ankles. The second trip, there had been a small amount of recent rainfall in the area so the creek was just under knee deep but was still not a problem to cross. Most of the creek crossings are short, except for one that I could see being dangerous with high water.

The hiking trail itself is mostly rocky with a slow steady incline on the way up. There were some fallen trees along the way. One of the fallen trees even had an official trail blaze on it, so my guess is these trees are on the trail to stay. The trail was clearly marked with yellow blazes all the way to the end.

Just before you get to the swimming hole, there is a ridge with a steep descent. There is a rope that has been placed there to assist, however we found it more stable to hold onto the tree roots as we climbed down. The boys were able to navigate this fine on their own but our youngest is 5. You would definitely want to take your child’s abilities into consideration and help them as needed because it is a straight drop down the ridge into the water below.

Another view looking up at the ridge from the bottom. From this angle you can see that the ridge is a little wider than it looks in the first pictures.

Honestly, the hardest part of navigating this ridge was our dog, Ace. In order to alleviate the risk of him pulling one of us down with his 70 lbs of force, one of us stayed at the top and let him go while the other called him at the bottom. We always keep our dogs on leash hiking, but this is a ver short ridge that we were standing on each end of. He didn’t have any opportunity to come in contact with another dog or person in this spot. This method worked well for us, but may not even be necessary if you have a small dog that won’t potentially pull you down the ridge.

Before you actually reach the Devil’s Bathtub, there is a gorgeous large swimming hole with rope swings tied to trees. It was much more breathtaking the second time we went due to the lack of a large crowd and we could really take in the view. The boys found lizards here and had an absolute blast swinging from the ropes and doing cannon balls into the icy water. The water was pretty high here when we went so plenty of room to jump safely.

 

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A lot of people seem to stop at this point but the actual devil’s bathtub is a little bit further along the trail. You can go up an incline just before and to the right of the swimming hole which will take you to a short trail in the woods to get there. You can also go left behind the rope swings and walk along the water. We did it both ways and they were fairly equal in terms of difficulty for us.

On our first trip, the water was lower and you could see all the way down to the bottom of the bathtub through the crystal clear blue/green water. Since the water was higher on our second trip, there was a little more white water and difficult to see the bottom. Both times the water was ICE cold and the boys did not mind one bit.

I decided I couldn’t come here a second time without taking a dip in the devil’s tub, so I packed a change of clothes and went for it….

 

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The water was the kind of cold that *literally* takes your breath. I suggest acclimating yourself slowly to the water temp before jumping in so your body isn’t shocked, putting you at risk of drowning, (yes, the type A worry mom in me is speaking here). But, it is wise to always have a healthy respect for nature’s capabilities in order to make for a fun time in the end.

The bathtub is ~ 20’ long and 8’ wide with a 12’ depth. It is not a huge area and in reviews some people have been underwhelmed. For me, observing the beautiful rock formations and crystal clear water, it didn’t have to be massive to be incredible.

To sum it up, my biggest tips for hiking the Devil’s Bathtub with kids are:

-go on a weekday to avoid crowds
-go left at the Devil’s bathtub sign
-wear good shoes
-wear appropriate clothes
-know the weather for day of and rain levels for days leading up to your hike
-look out for any flash flood warnings in the area
-acclimate body to icy water
-Pack it in/pack it out!

This is one of the boys’ favorite trails because of all the creek crossings. It adds a little extra excitement around every turn in anticipation of splashing in the water. This trail is great for kids in the 5+ range if you are one parent going solo with multiple kids. If you are able to have a one parent to one child ratio then I think you can help a smaller child navigate some of the more difficult parts. You are always the best judge of you and your child’s abilities and comfort level. We have some friends that we know would not be comfortable helping their 3 year old down the steep ridge at the end and some that would be fine with it. This trail could go either way. I love this hike so much and think that people of varying hiking abilities can have a great time if they come prepared!

Even though our 5 year old had a couple of tough moments, he still had so much fun overall. The Greer boys rated this one a 10/10 unanimously!

Nature finds to look for:

DISCLAIMER: We use the “Picture This” app to help identify plants we find along the trail combined with our own nature books and study. We are by no means experts and might get it wrong sometimes! Please do not take any of our suggestions as text book or ingest anything based on what we share. Our nature finds are also based on the season in which we did our hike. If you hike the same trail in a different season, you might find totally different plants. If you notice any mistakes in our identification, please feel free to contact us and let us know so we can update it ASAP! Thank you and happy exploring!