Tue, December 10, 2013 • Clear, and 25 ° F.
Devil's Fork Loop Trail
Highlights: rhododendron-lined creek, fossils, natural swimming hole, overnight possibilities
Length: 7.2 miles round trip (optional 1.8 additional miles (or more) up Straight Fork Ridge, one way)
Trailhead: From Ft. Blackmore, head north on Rte 619, turning left at the junction of Rte 619 and Rte 657 to stay on Rte 619. Soon thereafter, take FS road 2631 to the left and bear up the hill to the parking area. (FS road 2631 may not be suitable for two wheel drive vehicles.) Total distance from Ft. Blackmore is about 5 miles.
To reach the other trailhead at the end of Straight Fork Ridge, follow Rte 619 north from Ft. Blackmore for 11.5 miles, winding up the side of High Knob. Turn left onto Rte 237/Big Cherry Reservoir Rd. and drive another 4 miles to the trailhead.
View a larger version of the trail map (1.1 MB, jpg).
Devil's Fork Loop Trail is perfect for the true backcountry enthusiasts who are willing to get their feet wet. All hikers should be prepared to scramble over boulders, and should plan their visit during relatively low water conditions.
This seldom traveled trail runs up Big Stony Creek, where huge boulders match the creek's name. Keep your eyes peeled and you may find fossilized impressions of trees which grew in swamps on this spot 300 million years ago. The swamps were teeming with such life that vegetation fell into the shallow water faster than it could decompose, pressing layers of organic matter down until the plants turned into coal. In fact, Devil's Fork Loop Trail follows the route of a road which was used in the more recent past to mine coal, as well as to remove trees for lumber. An old, rusting coal car is testimony to the area's history.
The highlight of the trail is the spectacular Devil's Bathtub (photo at the top of the page), a naturally smooth swimming hole which is enjoyed by nearby residents on hot summer days. Climb to the top and slide down the rock, pushed along by the rushing creek water. Further up the trail, you will pass a large waterfall at the mouth of Corder Hollow before looping back around to the parking area.
Devil's Fork Loop Trail can be hiked in one long day, but it is even better as part of an overnight hiking trip. Wake up under the rhodendrons with the "Teacher, teacher, teacher" song of the Ovenbird ringing in your ears.
Straight Fork Ridge Trail (optional addition):
About a quarter of the way around the northern side of the Devil's Fork Loop Trail, the Straight Fork Ridge Trail branches off to the right (north.) This trail is even less traveled than the Devil's Fork Loop Trail and is perfect for those seeking quiet contemplation. Beginning at the Devil's Fork trailhead, heading up Straight Fork Ridge, down to Big Cherry, and back is a 10.3 mile round trip with a 1,900 foot elevation gain.
Hikers often set up camp at the junction of Devil's Fork Loop Trail and Straight Fork Ridge Trail, leaving their gear behind while they take a day hike up the Straight Fork Ridge Trail to Big Cherry Reservoir. Much of Straight Fork Ridge Trail follows a wide, gently sloping logging road, traversing 1.8 miles to FS 237 on top of Little Mountain. From the end of Straight Fork Ridge Trail, hikers can follow FS 237 through a little settlement called Cox Place to a road that turns down the opposite side of Little Mountain to Big Cherry Reservoir. A sign on the road down to the reservoir warns against trespassing, but the Town of Big Stone Gap (which owns the land) now welcomes people to hike across the property.