An Introduction to My Favorite Hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains

A not-so-hidden gem of central Virginia.

The Devil's Marbleyard is a special place. Located in a stunningly beautiful part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Marbleyard is a massive boulder field stretching up the side of a mountain and overlooking a sweeping valley. As detailed in this hike profile, there are multiple trails nearby, the Belfast trail, the Gunter Ridge Trail, and a connection to the Appalachian trail a little further away. I'm sure there is some great hiking to be done here (and backpacking if you link up with the AT), but to be honest, I've never hiked these trails - the Marbleyard, an enormous climbing playground, has always been the main attraction here for me.

Photo by Daniel Hale

As you may have seen in the Adventure on the Outbound, this is a pretty unique geological landscape, and some of the boulders are indeed as large as a truck. Unlike most typical hikes, your upper body will get a decent workout if you decide to take on the marbles. Logistically, climbing to the top of the Marbleyard and coming back down may take a few hours, and hiking the trail from the trailhead to the Marbleyard takes 30-45 minutes depending on your pace (it's also a fairly rocky trail). You'll cross two streams along the way, and you'll know you're getting close to the Marbleyard when the trail gets steeper and rockier.

East Fork Elk Creek is one of two creeks that you'll cross.

Obviously fall foliage in the Blue Ridge is a sight to behold.

The views as you ascend are amazing, the climb is a fantastic workout, and the location isn't too far from I-81 and a few other towns. However, my favorite thing is simply that you don't have to have a set goal or destination here, you can just explore the vast panorama of bouldering opportunities. I've been to the Marbleyard 6 or 7 times and every trip, every climb is completely unique. Sure, there are some common landmarks, but I've discovered new things - climbing challenges, great resting spots, and even some small caves - on each and every visit.

For scale, notice the size of the people in the lower left corner.

There are endless small bouldering "problems" to solve.

Some quick information

  • The nearest towns are Glasgow and Natural Bridge (I-81), though Lynchburg and Bedford are also less than an hour away.
  • To get to the trailhead, you can come from the Natural Bridge side of the mountains (all paved roads) or you can take Petites Gap Road (gravel road) off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • The parking area is very small, and though most people park alongside the road near the parking area, make sure you're completely off of the road so that your vehicle doesn't get towed away.
  • This is a pretty popular hike, so get in early and carpool if you have a group (especially on weekends)!
  • Fill up your daypacks with water and snacks as you'll be doing a lot more than just walking along a trail, and there are many great spots to sit and rest while enjoying the view. 
  • This isn't the best place for man's best friend, the trail portion of the hike is relatively steep and the boulders will be difficult for dogs. 
  • If you're interested in primitive camping, there are a handful of spots near the trailhead (also near East Fork Elk Creek). 

Be safe and enjoy!

Published: April 10, 2017

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Andrew Todd

Atlanta

Web developer by weekday. Cyclist, hiker, and bookworm the rest of the time.