Grayson Highlands State Park Visitor Center
While the visitors center has the customary gift shop full of all sorts of local artisan crafts, the building also houses a fascinating array of Virginia highlands pioneer history and introductions to the area flora and fauna. Questions are eagerly answered by the knowledgeable and courteous center staff and the southeast view of the valley as taken in from the comfy oak rockers should not be wasted. It also turns out that the center is a good jumping off point for the Little and Big Pinnacle hike but do take our word that the trek is better started from the Massie Gap parking area, as you’ll tackle the hardest uphill climb first.
The Inside Of The Yurt
The inside of our yurt exceeded our expectations. It was very clean, had lots of natural light, and a high domed ceiling made it feel spacious. More importantly, the yurt was sealed tightly to the outside to prevent mice and bugs from grabbing a cozy nights stay.
It has a small dining table with 4 chairs, an arm chair, 3 side tables, and a couch with coffee table. A broom and dust pan was provided for the wood floors, and there were a couple of hooks to hang bags or coats.
The center of the yurts ceiling houses a large dome sky light letting lots of sunshine in and kept the yurt bright during the day.
Meet The Grayson Highlands Ponies
One of the most memorable parts of a visit to Grayson Highlands State Park is the herd of wild ponies that wanders the balds in four seasons. The herd of Grayson Highlands Ponies is about 150 strong and they are charged with keeping the foliage trimmed along the balds and posing for photos.
The ponies are actually feral as they are an introduced species. They are managed by a local nonprofit, which ensures that they get proper veterinary care annually. While petting or feeding the ponies is frowned upon, they are so used to hikers within the park that they rarely shy away from being pet, and they have even been known to raid backpacks that are left unattended.
The best place to see the ponies is on Wilburn Ridge, which you can access from the Massie Gap parking area. They also wander around on the Appalachian Trail, which runs right through the park. You can read more about the Grayson Highland ponies inSmithsonian Magazine.
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Trails At Grayson Highlands State Park
The parks 13 trails lead to waterfalls, scenic overlooks and a 200 year old pioneer cabin.
While hiking inside Grayson Highlands State Park youll also have access to many more trails inside the surrounding Jefferson National Forest.
The most popular trails climb to 4,000 feet in elevation and offer spectacular views.
Keep in mind that weather can be as much as 15 to 20 degrees cooler the higher you climb and dress appropriately.
The park offers backpacking, map and compass skills programs to help you prepare and stay safe while you explore the vast wilderness inside of the park.
Here are a few of the more popular hiking trails:
- Grayson Highlands and Mount Rogers Loop This 13.8 mile trail is rated hard because of its steep incline and boulders. Youll see many wild ponies and breathtaking views on this trail.
- Listening Rock Trail This easy 1.4 mile sloping wooded hillside trail passes Buzzard Rock Overlook and a chance to see a 180-degree view of the mountain range, Christmas tree farms and the farming community of Rugby.
- Twin Pinnacles Trail Another easy 1.3 mile trail with overlooks and a stunning view of Massie Gap.
The park also has 9 miles of bridle trails that are open year round and offer access to the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail.
Unfortunately, no horse rentals are available at this time.
Hammock Camping In Grayson Highlands
Is Hammock camping allowed in the Grayson Highlands area of the AT? I know there are some balds, but what about areas with trees for hammocks?
Originally Posted by 308ShooterIs Hammock camping allowed in the Grayson Highlands area of the AT? I know there are some balds, but what about areas with trees for hammocks?Yes. No problem. Though finding areas to support multiple hammocks can be difficult. No issues around Thomas Knob, or Weis shelters. Also there is a yearly HF’s group hang in the state park.
Hammocks are allowed and I havent had a problem finding a tree. Just be ready for bad weather. Sometimes you luck out. But if you dont it can get crazy up there even in the summer.
Thanks guys…. We’re doing different parts of the AT in a week and wanted to make sure. We don’t have a tent… just hammocks. Thanks,
Originally Posted by 308ShooterThanks guys…. We’re doing different parts of the AT in a week and wanted to make sure. We don’t have a tent… just hammocks. Thanks,JameyIf you go east of Thomas Knob just over 1/2 a mile there is a nice camp site at 36.655208, -81.525740 water is very close at 36.654109, -81.523740. There are actually several nice hammock sites in this area.
Sintax77 has a video on his trip there: That’s his webpage which has video links, map and GPS stuff too.
There’s magic in the woods,if you know where to look for it. -Pete’s Dragon
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Heading From The Parking Lot To Wise Shelter
The journey started by taking the spur trail from the parking lot to the northbound Appalachian Trail.
Heading out, there was snow on the ground, which is pretty exciting to those of us that dont live in the mountains. Thanks to our decision to reverse the route, the wind remained at our backs the entire time.
We arrived at our first camp early, but due to the winds and the distance to the next camp, we opted to stay in the area.
It was cold and a little boring, but at least the shelter nearby offered protection from the wind.
So what do bored backpackers do to pass the time? Well, after inspecting the bear locker, hiking around the area, checking out the two privies , and taking some photos, it was 4:30 pm and seemed like a reasonable time to eat.
After dinner and storing the food, we hunkered down. As the evening progressed, the winds started to pick up from the west.
I had been expecting the usual mountains with steep climbs and some means of natural shelter against the winds.
What I didnt realize is that Grayson Highlands Park is pretty much at the top of the mountain. Youre walking along the top and upper ridge so its relatively flat with little shelter.
Another exciting thing about Grayson Highlands is the wild ponies which we hadnt seen yet. In the morning, I noticed a hoof print in the snow nearby so Im pretty sure one of them paid us a visit.
For Waterfalls: Wilson Creek And Cabin Creek Trails
The trailhead of the 1.8-mile Wilson Creek Trail, a loop trail, lies at the Hickory Ridge Campground just across the road from the camp store.
When hiking in a counterclockwise direction, the first part of the hike leads, fairly steeply, down into the forest. Its a nice and quiet woodsy walk.
Once youre at Wilson Creek, the trail follows the stream for approximately 0.5 miles . This is a fun section to hike, leading through and sometimes underneath tall rhododendron bushes and other dense vegetation. Occasionally, you have access to the riverbank and can spot a small waterfall.
Wilson Creek waterfall, Grayson Highlands State Park
The way back up is equally as steep as the way down. However, the Wilson Creek Trail does connect to the Seed Orchard Road about halfway on the way up. This is a multi-use road and is super-easy to walk on.
Trailhead: Hickory Ridge Campground, Grayson Highlands State Park
Distance 1.8 miles
Duration: 1 hour
When facing the hill at the Massie Gap parking lot, the Cabin Creek Trails trailhead lies to the left. Youll reach it via a short bridle path through the grassy field. This hike is also 1.8 miles long and similar to the one above.
Cabin Creek Trail
When hiking this loop trail in a clockwise direction, it first descends into a tall forest, after which it runs along Cabin Creek for a while before it turns sharply to the right and makes its way back up.
Waterfall along Cabin Creek
Distance 1.8 miles
Duration: 1 hour
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Logistics And Resources For Visiting Grayson Highlands State Park
Grayson Highlands State Park is open from 8 am 10 pm (unless you are camping, of course. The park provides year-round access to the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail. It is located in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, about 2.5 hours from Roanoke, 1.5 hours from Winston-Salem, and 1.5 hours from Charlotte.
Admission is $7 per vehicle, $10 on the weekends from April to October, and $8 a night to park in the backpacking lot . Standard campsites are $25 per night and $30 for non-residents. Prices increase to $35/$40 for sites with electric and water hookups. Visit the parks official website to learn more.
Our Grayson Highlands State Park adventure was part of a larger road trip through Virginia:
An Insiders Guide To Virginia’s Land Of High Peaks Grassy Balds And Wild Ponies
Spread over a pocket of Appalachian high country, Virginias Grayson Highlands State Park is an alpine Eden. The lofty landscape is embellished by airy mountain meadows, gushing trout streams, rhododendron-filled forests, and a conglomeration of high peaks. Best of all, more than 100 wild ponies roam Grayson Highlands and the neighboring Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which is a 200,000-acre swath of the massive Jefferson National Forest. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night without camping, the nearby town of Abingdon has a wide variety of options from hotels to bed & breakfasts.
Established in 1965, the 4,502-acre park was originally called the Mount Rogers State Parklong known for providing a portal to the states highest peak. Besides offering a route to the forest-shrouded summit of Mount Rogers, today Grayson Highlands is a lofty trail hub with a network of 13 different trails inside the state park, and access to the 2,150-mile Appalachian Trail and 68-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail.
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Where Can You Camp At Grayson Highlands
Backcountry camping is not allowed in Grayson Highlands State Park, however, you can camp overnight in Mount Rogers Recreational Area. This is why its important to know the boundaries.
The Wise Shelter on the Appalachian Trail is inside the park, but there is mixed information on whether or not you can legally stay there overnight.
It honestly doesnt matter because the shelter is only about 50 feet from the border of Mount Rogers Recreational Area, so there is legal tent space just around the bend.
As you hike, youll find yourself going through fences separating the two entities. Dont assume a fence is a boundary crossing, instead, look for the clear signs that mark every entry into the park.
Lodging At Grayson Highlands State Park
Grayson Highlands State Park has 2 campgrounds, one specially for equestrian campers, plus a Bunkhouse and 4 Yurts.
The Hickory Ridge Campground, open between May and October, has 36 campsites with electricity and water connections plus another 28 standard campsites.
Each site has a picnic table and fire ring. A modern bathhouse and country store are located nearby.
Group camping is also available in this area, with space for up to 35. These sites are tent-only and do not have electricity or water.
The nearby Bunkhouse sleeps up to 14 in a 2 room trailer with outside deck area. It has 7 bunk beds, a refrigerator, microwave, coffeepot, electric outlets and is climate controlled.
The bunkhouse doesnt have a bathroom and no linens are provided. It does have 2 picnic tables and a grill outside.
The 4 yurts are also located in this main camping area. Each yurt has a bunk bed that sleeps 3 plus a dining table, chairs, sofa, large wooden deck, 2 picnic tables, a grill and a fire ring.
The yurts do not allow pets, smoking or cooking inside and also do not have electricity, water, heat, air conditioning or linens.
On the other side of the park is the equestrian camping area, Chestnut Hollow Campground.
This campground is close to the horse trails and has stables and parking for trailers and access to pit toilets. These 23 campsites have electricity and water between May and October.
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Grayson Highlands Backpacking Loop
The Grayson Highlands area of Virginia is a must-see. Not only are there endless panoramic views, but there are also wild ponies! Follow this itinerary for an enjoyable three day, two night backpacking loop.
Begin your hike at Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park. Before doing so youll need to pay a parking fee and file a trip plan with the state parks main office. After that, drive up the road and park at the backpackers lot. From here the Appalachian Blue Spur Trail leads up and to the Appalachian Trail. Once at the AT, take a left and head southbound. The next few miles are the most spectacular as you wind your way up Wilburn Ridge. Enjoy the views, be on the lookout for ponies, and dont be afraid to take one of the several short side trails. This area also has many large rock formations that make for a great place to try your hand at bouldering.
Before you know youll arrive at Thomas Knob Shelter. It has a capacity of 16, and there are many great tent sites nearby. Spending a night here is highly recommended. Water is also available at this shelter .
Continue along the AT southbound. Old Orchard Shelter is next, and it is a good option if you are looking to make this a four day, three night trip. If not, its recommended to continue on a bit further. There are some good campsites between here and the next shelter.
Where To Stay In Grayson Highlands State Park
There are several options for camping or lodging at Grayson Highlands State Park. There over 80 campsites to choose from, including options for equestrian campsites with horse stalls. Additionally, there are options for reserving a bunkhouse and even glamping accommodations, with 4 yurts available at the park. These options fill up fast, so be prepared to book early when openings are made available in January.
If youve had your fill of outdoor activity for the day, Smyth County makes the perfect base camp for your outdoor adventures. Choose your preferred stay, from familiar hotel options, to boutique hotels like the General Francis Marion, and unique stays at our various Air BnBs.
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Does Grayson Highlands State Park Allow Backcountry Camping
Backcountry camping is not allowed within Grayson Highlands State Park, including at Wise Shelter, but camping is allowed in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area . Consider setting up your camp away from the A.T., perhaps off a horse trail or a foot trail in the area.
How To Get Tograyson Highlands State Park
Grayson Highlands State Park is located in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, midway between the towns of Independence and Damascus.
From Interstate 81, take exit 45 at Marion and then turn south onto Route 16. Drive 24 miles until US 58 in the community of Volney. Turn right onto US 58 and drive 8 miles before reaching the parks entrance.
Address : 829 Grayson Highland Lane, Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363
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Camping And Hiking In Grayson Highlands State Park Va
One of the most popular Virginia State Parks, Grayson Highlands State Park is in a fantastic location.
Its set in the beautiful high country in Mouth of Wilson VA, close to some of the states most renowned natural wonders.
Adjacent to the park are Mount Rogers, Virginias tallest mountain, and Whitetop Mountain, the states second-tallest peak.
In fact, Grayson Highlands State Park frequently operates as a gateway to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, where both of these mountains are located.
Park visitors can also access the 2150-mile Appalachian Trail, which when combined with sojourns to Mount Rogers explains the immense popularity of Grayson Highlands hiking and backpacking.
Grayson Highlands offers equestrian facilities, as well as a quick jump over to the 68-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, one of Virginias numerous high-quality saddle trails.
Originally established in 1965 as Mount Rogers State Park, Grayson Highlands State Park encompasses just over 4,500 acres and spans nearly 1,400 feet in elevation, from the entrance to the Little Pinnacle .
Visitor Center Gift Shop
The visitor center is open daily from mid-May through mid-October from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Beside the summit of Haw Orchard Mountain, the center has exhibits on pioneer life and plant and animal life of the area. The visitor center also houses the Mountain Crafts Shop, which features crafts made by local artisans.
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