Best Cold-Weather Camping Sites East Coast with iSportsman
November 28, 2023 •iSportsman Staff
A couple weeks ago, I shared my experiences with kayaking and canoeing, today I wanted to share my favorite hiking experience at Devil’s Marbleyard. As an Eagle Scout, I’ve hiked my fair share of trails across the Appalachian Mountains and the east coast. Devil’s Marbleyard is a highly rewarding, yet admittedly strenuous hike, that offers some of the most impressive vistas and fun rock scrambling on the east coast. If you’re looking for an exciting and adventurous hike that isn’t too extreme, then you should definitely try hiking up to Devil’s Marbleyard. It’ll be an experience you never forget!
Located in Rockbridge County, Virginia, and close to the nearby Natural Bridge Station, the Devil’s Marbleyard has an elevation gain of 1,510ft and should take between five to seven hours, depending on how quick you are and how long you break for. What I call the Devil’s Marbleyard hike is actually a few different trails that circle around the Devil’s Marbleyard rock field.
The trek starts off as a fairly flat and basic hike on the Belfast trail, crossing a few streams before transitioning to a slight uphill incline. After about a mile or so, the trail leads to the bottom of the Devil’s Marbleyard, a gigantic field of boulders that reaches further than can be seen at the base. The trail continues up the mountain parallel with the boulders on the left-hand side. It takes around two hours, give or take, to reach the top where there are some spectacular views overlooking the boulder field.
At this point the Belfast trail ends and becomes the Gunter Ridge Trail, which will bend its way around the mountain to the north as it begins to descend (follow along with this useful map from Hiking Upward). After crisscrossing back and forth on this trail down the mountain, it will eventually reach the Glenwood Horse Trail at the base, taking about 90 minutes. From here on out it’s a pretty easy and straightforward path, following an old forestry road back to where the Belfast Trail began. Congratulations, the hike is complete!
There aren’t many comparable sites to the Devil’s Marbleyard, with its huge field of boulders, of nearly pure white Antietam quartzite, covering the entire side of the mountain. It’s hard to convey to those I suggest this hike to just how big and expansive both the field itself is as well as the boulders that make it up.
I can’t even see the top of the Devil’s Marbleyard from the bottom, and there are multiple points where I would reach what I thought was the peak, only to find another field of boulders hiding right behind the previous one. The boulders themselves range from about three to eight feet tall on average, though the sizes can vary greatly.
While the trail guide doesn’t consider the yard itself as part of the Devil’s Marbleyard hike, my favorite part of the experience is going off trail and clambering up the rocks the entire length of the mountain. Something about this side-path fulfills that childhood dream of becoming an Indiana Jones-esque archeologist.
I usually stop for a water break about halfway up the mountain, where I also do a bit of fun exploration, before continuing up to the top. Once at the peak, there’s a majestic view that I often refer to as my own little hidden valley, due to the amazing scenery of mountains surrounding me in every direction.
Once reaching the top by climbing the rocks, it’s important to turn around and climb down a few boulders to rejoin the true trail on the right side of the field (left side if you are facing down the yard), since there’s no official trail connection past the top of the boulders. This tip comes from experience, since the first time I ever came here with my Boy Scout Troop, we made the mistake of continuing onwards and ended up going completely off-trail. After bushwacking our way through brush, with the cuts on my legs to show for it, I recommend against making the same mistake.
The Devil’s Marbleyard is a strenuous hike, even more so if you decide to clamber on the rocks like I did. The trail itself isn’t too bad, but make sure you start early in the day, have plenty of food and water, and don’t overstep your capabilities. The hike is fine for children above a certain age, but I would be careful about bringing any that are too young. Either way, if you do decide to bring kids, make sure you’re watching them closely — especially near the Marbleyard itself.
While the Devil’s Marbleyard is the perfect length for a day trip hike, my favorite way to experience it is to turn it into a weekend trip. This way you can relax and prep at a campsite without having to worry about driving too much in one day. As a bonus, camping means you can invite more people on the trip, and they would have somewhere to hang out even if they couldn’t handle the hike.
I recommend the Cave Mountain Lake Campground. It’s a car camping experience that is very affordable and only six minutes away from the Devil’s Marbleyard. It is a very cool area covered by trees and even has a recreational field for fun and games, in addition to a lake open for swimming. I usually dive in after a long day of hiking on the trail, as a way to cool off and relax.
One last tip is that I recommend going to the Devil’s Marbleyard in late spring or early autumn. Winter is only fun if you’re up for cold weather camping, and summer is just too hot and humid. Aim for a weekend where it’s warm enough to swim, but not too warm to be uncomfortable and the experience will be perfect.
Plan your trip to the Devil’s Marbleyard today and embark on one of the most fun hiking experiences you can have!