As I was beginning to plan a trip to Virginia, Devil’s Bathtub was a trail that kept floating to the top of the list. I’m guessing this trail will only become more and more popular due to its very Instagrammable destination waterfall. It is a relatively small cascade, but the pool immediately beneath produces shocking shades of blues and greens that are rather unusual for the area.
Estimations of this trail’s difficulty vary widely. First it must be noted that there is a loop trail that passes the devil’s bathtub feature and then climbs to a ridge for what is supposed to be a great view. This trail is listed as 7.3 miles. But the famous bathtub feature is about 2 miles in along a relatively flat trail. However, the trail crosses the stream anywhere between 11 and 18 times in each direction. We hiked during a dry period in September and only experienced 11 crossings and we were able to complete them all by relatively easy rock-hopping. Other reviews report fords of waist-high streams. So I think the ease of this trail would greatly depend on water levels and one’s degree of comfort with rock-hopping or general stream crossing.
Accessing the trail is the first obstacle. There is no cell service in the area and others reported getting lost quite easily. We were fortunate to have excellent written directions obtained at the camp store at Natural Tunnel State Park. But the last quarter mile or so is nearly a 4×4 road. We had heard of the trailhead filling up so we got an early start. We were one of one three trucks when we arrived. We were shocked to return to the lot at the end of the hike to still find it nearly empty, but it seems most were wary of making the last couple hundred yards of road. Many were pulled off the shoulder of the access road, but I will caution the road was papered with no parking signs and a number to call for when your vehicle is towed. A better option may be the lot situated on 619/High Knob Rd. This “park and hike” will add a mile to the route, but seems to be safe and even features a toilet. We also saw signs for parking at a shuttle spot, but never clarified where that left from.
The trail departs the parking lot from a steep set of wooden stairs. It soon goes around a gate and then descends to the first of the stream crossings. Shortly thereafter, the loop begins. The first of the crossings is almost immediate. The trail is mostly a very gentle climb as it follows the stream. It should be noted there is a tricky stream crossing about 3/4 mile into the trail. Looking rather far upstream, you will see the yellow blaze. Alternatively, a blaze notes a side trail that climbs steeply to the right, bypassing the rock-hopping section. We took the side trail, but witnessed plenty traveling by stream.
About 1 3/4 miles in, the trail follows a very eroded bank. There are ropes strung to provide assistance, but I found the roots on the bank to be more sturdy than the paracord. Immediately after is a large swimming hole that would have been very inviting (and I imagine crowded) on a summer afternoon. Note that this is NOT the Devil’s Bathtub, it is certainly pretty in its own right, but the trail continues to climb along the bank. In sight of the bathtub, you can descend to the stream and cross near a log.
We got an early start on a Sunday morning and arrived by noon. There were already several crowds. This area is getting some very heavy usage that I cannot imagine will be sustainable. My hope is that the area remains open because it is truly spectacular.