Devils Bathtub: Spectacular Hike in Virginia

July 26, 2023

devils bathtub

I won’t lie; hiking is not my superpower. If there’s not a serious reward at the end, count me out. The Devils Bathtub is a strenuous hike, but it did have an incredible motivating factor: an impressive photography opportunity of a natural, deep, icy-cold, and scary-looking rock tub.

The Devil’s Bathtub is a beautiful and deep natural pool of crystal clear emerald/aquamarine water near Fort Blackmore, in Southwest Virginia. It can be reached by an approximate four-mile roundtrip trail that runs through a picturesque forest.

Even though the trail rises to just 250 feet of elevation gain, it is considered to be difficult since it involves lots of boulder climbing. There are also 13 stream crossings on this trail, strewn with slippery and uneven rocks to cross.

Over time, the churning waters of the Devil’s Fork have carved a hole about 20 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 12 feet deep in solid rock. The depression is well-named as it does look just like a bathtub, and there is even a small waterfall that pours into the basin like a faucet.

It is nothing short of spectacular.

Why Do They Call it Devil’s Bathtub?

According to Scott County tourism, the waters of Devil’s Bathtub are “cold enough to squelch the fires of hell.”

The algae on the bottom create the crystal-clear, aquamarine color, luring hikers in for a quick – and I do mean quick – plunge.

It’s also really deep, which was a bit terrifying for me.

In this section of the Appalachian Plateau, the water temperatures don’t get above a teeth-chattering  60°F, even on hot summer days.

Words of Caution

devils bathtub

When it comes to hikes and treks in the region, few have created more cautionary tales than the Devil’s Bathtub.

Not everyone hiking here has prepared for what has been classified as “difficult,” a label placed on the trail by the Virginia Tourism Corporation, required to reach this natural wonder. It’s a rugged hiker’s trail, not an easy groomed trail, with many potential pitfalls such as traversing across narrow ledges and scrambling over creek crossings. At times the path is uneven and slick.

You certainly want to wear appropriate footwear to cross muddy creeks and step on slippery rocks as you negotiate the creek beds. Note: if you find that the water is up to your knees, turn around. It’s too dangerous, and getting hurt will not be any fun.

In May 2020, twenty hikers were rescued from Devil’s Bathtub when the area flooded during heavy rains.

What to Wear/Bring

gear to bring

In terms of gear, I wore my swimsuit with shorts over it, (cute) water shoes with good gripping soles, and used my pink hiking pole on most of the trail. I would not have been able to cross the streams without it.

In our daypack, we a reusable metal bottle (keeps water ice cold), microfiber travel towel, our camera gear, my fleece jacket, and my phone and wallet in a small dry (waterproof) bag– the same one we use for kayaking.

How to Find It

This peaceful swimming hole is secluded from everything and difficult to get to. Located in Jefferson National Forest three miles northwest of Fort Blackmore on State Route 619, the mysterious Devil’s Bathtub is on the Devil’s Fork of Big Stony Creek.

Difficulty Level

devils bathtub

If you look in the AllTrails app, you’ll note that this hike is listed as hard. The hike is mostly uphill, with a final elevation gain of almost 600 feet. The destination ends at 2,046 feet above sea level.

But in my opinion, the elevation was a piece of cake. The more difficult aspect is due to the potentially tricky stream and creek crossings which require clambering over muddy and slippery boulders, and also crossing the cliff edge with only a pretty thin rope to hang on to.

If the water levels are high, it could be difficult as well as dangerous. The day we hiked, the water levels were low but my feet still did get wet.

The Hike to Devils Bathtub

From the main parking lot (almost impossible to park in, see #2 below), you’ll see an ascending set of cement stairs. Climb to the top and walk until you see a rusty iron gate, Walk around it and stay on the trail. In about ¼ mile, you’ll reach a water crossing. Cross the stream and keep walking until you reach a gravel road and a brown sign at the trailhead presenting you with two options: left to Devils Bathtub (1.6 miles) and right to do the Devil’s Fork Loop (7 miles). Go left.

After this point, the way to the Devils Bathtub is well-marked with yellow tree markers, and since it goes along the Devil’s Fork Creek, it’s almost impossible to get lost.

devils bathtub

Continue on a gradual uphill climb through a beautiful lush cove forest with so much eco-diversity it impressed even me.

crossing streams

Keep following the yellow markers, crossing another 12 creeks and streams and other obstacles, like massive downed trees that you can either go over or under to keep on the path. You’ll pass amazing rock formations and waterfalls. The trail itself is gorgeous.

devils bathtub

About two hours into the trip, you will reach the most challenging part of the hike – a precarious ledge. You’ll need to use the hand rope that has been pinned to the trees to keep your balance over the slick ledge. It’s quite a deep drop on your right, but this is the only way to reach the swimming areas.

walking the ledge

After the ledge, the first thing you will see is the picture-perfect swimming hole with a small cascading waterfall.

swimming hole

This is where we encountered the other couple. They thought they had reached their goal until I told them the “actual bathtub” was just over the steep bank and large rocks to the left.

So… make sure you keep walking to the second pool—the Devil’s Bathtub is about 100 yards beyond the swimming hole.

devils bathtub

The Devil’s Bathtub was indeed shaped like a bathtub and is totally mesmerizing. Stacked, moss-covered rocks surround the crystal-clear, emerald-colored water created by the algae on the bottom. From the top of the ledges around it, the water looks more aquamarine.

devils bathtub

I tentatively stepped out onto the slick rock. I was too scared to jump from one of the walls into the deep, cold water, so I just kind of squatted and “hopped” in that way. It was bloody cold, but in full transparency, my polar plunge in Alaska was colder.

Patti in the waterfall

Since we had the site almost to ourselves (the other couple had followed us there by this time, but they were really nice so we didn’t mind), there was ample time to experiment with photos and videos. There were two waterfalls cascading water into the tub and we took photos of those as well. And of course, I took a video of Kary jumping in from the “high” cliff – he’s so brave!

It was a ton of fun and ranks among my favorite hikes from all over the world.

Know Before You Go

devils bathtub

  1. The Devils Bathtub is in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes your GPS will not work so make sure you chart it out before you go.
  2. Parking is a challenge. Once you arrive, parking for 60 cars is available at 331 High Knob SC, Dungannon, VA 24225. But if you don’t have a four-wheel drive, don’t attempt it. The road is filled with gigantic potholes that will swallow your vehicle, or get it stuck, especially if it’s muddy. Many people opt to park along the road to the parking lot. Just be sure you don’t block the road or you will get towed.
  3. It gets crowded. If you don’t get there early, you won’t find a parking spot and you may end up walking a very long way down the road. Plus, as the day goes on, more and more people show up on the trail and the swimming hole and tub get very crowded. We started the hike at 9 a.m. on a Friday and we did not meet anyone on the trail, and only encountered one other couple. On our way back, though, we passed a ton of people heading to the tub.
  4. The terrain is rugged. It is not advisable for the very young or very old, and can even be a challenge if you are not in decent physical shape or have poor balance.
  5. The entire hike will take three-to-four hours depending on how quickly you can navigate the creeks, boulders, and cliffs, as well as how long you stay at the swimming areas.
  6. Your feet will get wet. You will be trekking over a lot of streams and creeks, some of which are impossible to cross without getting your feet wet, so wear footwear that is comfortable to hike in and you won’t mind getting wet.
  7. The water is COLD. But don’t let that stop you. I absolutely despise cold water, but I wasn’t going to endure all that hiking and then not get my photo op. It was so worth it!

The Devils Bathtub is definitely a must-do if you’re in southwest Virginia!

Photos by Kary Kern.

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About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and the southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.


  1. Comment by Supraja Lakshmi N

    Supraja Lakshmi N Reply August 25, 2023 at 6:46 am

    I loved reading your post about the Devils Bathtub hike in Virginia. It sounds like a spectacular and rewarding adventure. You described the trail and the scenery very well, and I enjoyed the photos you shared. The pool of emerald water looks so inviting and refreshing.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply August 29, 2023 at 4:44 pm

      I’m so happy to hear you liked the article!

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