Cautionary Note: This trail is extremely challenging, with as many as 18 stream crossings (at the height of the winter thaw), a 1,200-foot elevation change and many opportunities to lose the trail. There are also no facilities (such as drinking water) on or near the trail.
The Devil's Fork Loop Trail provides an impressively beautiful route through an old-growth hemlock and rhododendron forest. Amazing rock formations, waterfalls, swimming holes and mountain views give you plenty to see and do, but keep one eye on the trail, as the going can be rough. Although the trail follows yellow blazes for its entire 7 miles, poor maintenance means it is often difficult to find the blazes and the path, which, in several places, scrambles over large rocks or up very steep cliff faces.
The western leg of the loop follows the Devil's Fork, and your first crossing is about 0.25 mile from the parking lot. Be prepared to get your feet wet. This, like many of the trail's water crossings, has very slippery rocks and seasonally changing water levels. After this, the trail breaks in two directions. The less strenuous route is to the left, following the loop clockwise. This also lets you hit the highlights of the trail much earlier.
The only hint that you are on a rail-trail is the abandoned coal car that sits on the trail about halfway up Little Mountain. In fact, the western side of the loop is the only portion on an old rail bed. This railroad was used to transport logs and coal, and thus the corridor is not as wide as a standard-gauge railway, and the grade is much steeper, which provided the trains with better access to these resources.
The trail's main attraction is Devil's Bathtub, located just 1.5 miles from the start. The rushing water of Devil's Fork shoots out of the soft sandstone and swirls quickly through this stone luge, plummeting into a beautiful pool of blue-green water. Another trail highlight, shortly after Devil's Bathtub, is the 50-foot waterfall at the mouth of Corder Hollow. The trail enters a very different landscape as you leave the Devil's Fork and begin hiking along the ridges of several mountains. The forest has little underbrush and the path can be easily lost.
Your adventure concludes on an old logging road with about a mile of steep switchbacks to the loop's end, where you cross Devil's Fork for the last time. There are primitive camping facilities near the parking lot. You can continue hiking by taking the Straight Fork Ridge Trail (1.8 miles) via the parking lot. The scenery on Straight Fork Ridge is similar to the Devil's Fork Loop Trail, but the latter is considered the more interesting of the two trails.
From US 58 Alternate, take State Route 72 south toward Fort Blackmore. In Dungannon, SR 72 merges with SR 65. Just before they separate in Fort Blackmore, take SR 619 to the right. Alternatively, you can take US 23/58/421 (Daniel Boone Heritage Hwy.) toward Gate City. In Gate City, continue going straight as the road becomes East Jackson Street and, ultimately, SR 71. Head east on SR 71 for a little over a mile. From here, take SR 72 to the left toward Fort Blackmore. Shortly after SR 65 and SR 72 merge, turn left onto SR 619 then follow SR 653 for a short segment; when they break, look for the Devils Fork sign where SR 619 takes a sharp left and becomes Forest Road 619 (there is no street sign).
Travel over the one-lane bridge and turn left just before the abandoned white house. Follow this unmarked dirt road to the end, where you will find parking for the trail. The road to the parking lot is very rutted and may not be accessible by all vehicles. You will pass the trailhead on your right just before you reach the parking lot; there are also stairs up to the trail from the parking lot.
Note: There are only 14 parking spaces (via the U.S. Forest Service) presently serving this trail. Please be courteous and respectful to all adjacent landowners (do not park on private property or block local access routes), and if you get to the trail and find there's no parking available, be sure you are equipped with information on other great local spots to try!