Grayson Highlands Hike – Your Adventure Guide


If there’s one state park hike in America that can compete with its national parks, it is none other than Grayson Highlands hike in Virginia. Situated high in the Virginian Appalachians, the Grayson Highlands state park is home to lush green pastures and meadows, wild ponies, pristine water streams, high mountain peaks, and vibrant rhododendrons.

Throughout the Grayson Highlands Hike, you’ll spot spectacular views, beautiful trails, and massive boulders. There’s something special for everyone here. In this guide, we’ll discuss the Grayson Highlands Hike in detail. Keep reading to plan your adventure hike wisely.

Grayson Highlands State Park – An overview

Spread over a pocket of the Appalachian Mountains, the Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia is a high-altitude Eden. The soaring landscape is embellished by spouting streams, airy mountain paddocks, a collection of high peaks, and forests covered with bright rhododendrons. If you’re lucky, you could spot over 100 wild ponies grazing the lush green pastures.

The Grayson Highland State Park was established in 1965, and the 4500-acre park was originally known as Mount Rogers State Park. Apart from offering a scenic route to the forest-covered summit of Mount Rogers, Grayson Highland is now a high-altitude hiking route with a network of 13 trails inside the park.

You can also access the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail and the Appalachian Trail from Grayson Highlands State Park. So, if you’re planning a hiking adventure anytime soon, why don’t you explore the Grayson Highland Hike?

If you’re not too fond of camping, you can spend the night at a hotel or bread and breakfast in the adjoining town of Abingdon.

Grayson Highlands Hike – One of the most rewarding hiking adventures in America

The Grayson Highlands Hike is one of the most soul-satisfying hikes in North America. Yes, we’ve been there and done that. Nothing is more pleasing than hiking through the lovely green mountain meadows, crystal clear streams, stunning mountain peaks, and wild ponies.

Even though Grayson Highlands is not a national park, the experience is great. All in all, the Grayson Highlands Hike is worth every penny you spend to get there.

Who is going to love Grayson Highlands Hike?

Adventurers, backpackers, and hikers will fall in love with the Appalachian Trail and many other trains inside the Grayson Highlands State Park. All trails provide different scenic views and a chance to explore diverse flora and fauna.

If you’re a climber, you’ll enjoy the unique bouldering experience. And, if you’re a camper, you can make the most of campgrounds or pitch your tent or hammock anywhere you like in areas where free camping is allowed. Families can pick the creek trails for daytime picnics.

The best hiking trails in Grayson Highlands

The Grayson Highlands State Park is the entry gate to the Appalachian Trail in south Virginia, Grayson Highlands, and Mount Rogers, the tallest mountain in Virginia. As already mentioned above, there are numerous hiking trails inside the Grayson Highlands State Park. However, all of them are short.

Overall, the Grayson Highlands is a small park. But, if you’re looking for a longer hiking route, you can club different trails. While all the trails are beautiful, each has something special for you.

Let’s discuss the best trails in a little more detail.

For the wildlife enthusiasts – The Appalachian, Appalachian Spur, and Rhododendron Trail route

This combination trail begins in a counterclockwise direction at the Massie Gap parking lot. It is the perfect combination to introduce you to Grayson Highlands. The first brief section traverses through the road and ends at the Overnight Backpacker’s destination which marks the beginning of the Appalachian Spur Trail.

The 1.3-kilometer long Appalachian Spur Trail continues upwards along a rock-covered woodland. This is the area where you can easily spot wild ponies. Spotting a snowy pony amidst the dense tree cover feels dreamlike. After crossing the forest, the trail comes to an end at a T-shaped junction which marks the beginning of the Appalachian Trail.

From there, you take the trail on the left and track the Appalachian. This is where you will find the most spectacular views. The trail travels through blocks of rhododendrons and giant boulders.

If you want to have some fun while hiking, you can climb these boulders and enjoy the scenic views around. After approximately 800 meters, the Appalachian Trail will cross the Horse Trail. This section is exceptionally beautiful with stunning views and is a famous picnic spot for people.

When you’ve consumed the magnificent views of the Blue Ridge Mountain, turn left and begin walking toward the Horse Trail down North. If you keep moving along the left trail, the Horse Trail will continue, and if you take the right trail, you’ll get back to the Massie Gap parking lot after about 800 meters.

Trail summary:

  • Trail start – Massie Gap parking lot at the Grayson Highlands State Park
  • Overall distance – Approximately 3 kilometers
  • Overall duration – 1 to 3 hours depending on the number of stops and time spent at each stop

For fairytale like streams and waterfalls – Cabin Creek and Wilson Creek Trails

Cabin Creek Trail

When looking toward the hill at the Massie Gap parking lot, the Cabin Creek Trail hiking route will lie toward your left. To reach the trailhead, you need to cross a brief bridle trail through a lush field. The overall hike is about 3-kilometer long.

When walking along the Cabin Creek in a clockwise direction, it first moves down into a dense forest after which it traverses along the Cabin Creek for some time. After a point, it takes a sharp right turn and leads back to the starting point. The upward climb follows an old road covered with logs.

Along the Cabin Creek Trail, you’ll spot a few small as well as tall waterfalls. However, none of them is uniquely impressive.

Trail summary:

  • Trail start – Massie Gap parking lot at the Grayson Highlands State Park
  • Overall distance – Approximately 3 kilometers
  • Overall duration – 1 hour depending on the number of stops and time spent at each stop

Wilson Creek Trail

The Wilson Creek Trail begins from the Hickory Ride Campground in a counterclockwise direction. The first section of the hike is very steep and leads to a forest. It’s a comfortable walk.

Once you reach the Wilson Creek, follow the stream for about 800 meters. This hiking trail leads through dense rhododendrons bushes and trees. On and off, you’ll get access to the riverbank where you may spot a few small waterfalls.

The hiking route back is as steep as the walk down. Nevertheless, the Wilson Creek Trail meets the Seed Orchard Road midway. The road is used for climbing, hiking, cycling, etc.  

Trail summary:

  • Trail start – Hickory Ridge Campground at the Grayson Highlands State Park
  • Overall distance – Approximately 3 kilometers
  • Overall duration – 1 hour depending on the number of stops and time spent at each stop

For spectacular views – Mount Rogers Trail

For us, Mount Rogers Trail is honestly one of the best hiking trails on the East Coast. It has everything. There are deer, wild ponies, expansive landscapes, panoramic mountain views, and what not. It’s a heavenly experience. And, if you like camping, you’ll love this trail even more.

Mount Rogers Trail Hike also begins from Grayson Highlands’ Massie Gap parking lot. You can turn the hiking adventure into an overnight trip or a day-long hike with overnight camping under the star-lit sky.

The first 1.6-kilometer stretch lies in Grayson Highlands State Park, while the second 5.6-kilometer stretch lies in Mount Rogers National Recreational Area. So, you’ll have to pick your camping location wisely.

If you plan to camp in the first section in Grayson Highlands State Park, you can only camp in the campgrounds. However, when it comes to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, there are no such rules and regulations. You can pitch your tent anywhere you like.

The overall hike is about 8-9 hours long, and we completed it in about 6 hours without stopping much. We literally had to pull ourselves from making unplanned stops to experience the breathtaking views around us.

The hiking route is mostly along the Appalachian Trail with the initial section on the Rhododendron Trail and the last part on the Mount Rogers Trail. You can even reach the Mount Rogers Summit from here. But, it’s important to note that you won’t get any views from the summit.

Trail summary:

  • Trail start – Massie Gap parking lot at the Grayson Highlands State Park
  • Overall distance – Approximately 14.5 kilometers
  • Overall duration – 8 to 9 hours depending on the number of stops and time spent at each stop

For Mountain Summits – Twin Pinnacles Trail

The Twin Pinnacles Trail is a short hiking route. However, you’ll find splendid mountain views here. The beginning of the trail lies behind the Visitor Center. Even though the trail spans the 2 highest points in Grayson Highlands, the hike is not very difficult. It would be a good idea to hike the trail in a clockwise direction.

The first stop would be Little Pinnacle at 5089 feet. Even though it has “Little” in the name, it is higher than Big Pinnacle. The views from both Pinnacles will blow your mind provided the clouds are clear. The hiking route follows through a section of the boreal forest, a type of forest that’s typically found in Alaska or Canada.

Trail summary:

  • Trail start – Visitor Center at the Grayson Highlands State Park
  • Overall distance – Approximately 2.6 kilometers
  • Overall duration – 45-50 minutes depending on the number of stops and time spent at each stop

Things to remember when visiting the Grayson Highlands State Park

  • The park timings are 8:30 AM to 8:30 PM daily.
  • You’ll have to pay $4 in cash at the park’s parking lot on weekdays and $5 in cash on weekends.
  • The park has 96 camping sites including fire pits and picnic tables, and the charges are $20 per night.
  • You can also reserve horse facilities and a bunkhouse.
  • You can camp at no cost in the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area.

Check more details here

Quicks tips to make the most of Grayson Highlands Hike

  • If you’re planning your hiking adventure during the summer or early fall, make sure you’re well in time as these are the peak seasons. The park’s campground is bustling with people during both seasons.
  • You won’t find any backcountry camping inside the park. However, you’ll find many options for overnight stays.
  • The weather conditions inside and around the park can change rapidly, so make sure you have extra clothing and warm clothes irrespective of the season to protect yourself from hypothermia.
  • September to May is the best time to enjoy snowfall.
  • Parts of the park devoid of trees are easily prone to powerfully unconstrained winds.  
  • Preferable seasons – Summer, Spring, and Fall.

Bouldering at the Grayson Highlands State Park

Most of the bouldering areas in the Grayson Highlands State Park are properly shades which implies that you can climb the boulders all through the summer without worrying about sunburns and the toasty weather. All the bouldering areas have unique features.

The Listening Rock Trail is the densest bouldering area and provides a good share of the park’s boulder climbing. You can also check the Boneyard and AVP areas. Also, make sure you don’t miss the Highlands Bouldering Area as it provides climbing enthusiasts with beautiful scenic views and one of the highest problems, the Highland Highball.

Wild Ponies – One of the most significant attractions on the Grayson Highlands Hike route

The herd of ponies wandering around in the Grayson Highlands State Park was introduced in 1974 to prevent the replantation of the mountain pastures. You can spot the wild ponies in both Grayson Highlands State Park and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

The wild ponies are managed by the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association. They are presented for annual auction during the fall season and their health is monitored regularly. The auction is held on the same day as the Grayson Highlands Fall Festival.

While it’s a surreal experience to walk with them, remember that you’re not allowed to feed them or pet them. Also, since they are feral animals, it’s best to stay away from them if you don’t want to be kicked or flipped in the air.

So, what do you think?

Now that you know almost everything about Grayson Highlands Hike, which trail do you find most attractive? It doesn’t matter if you’re a nature lover or a climbing enthusiasts, the Grayson Highlands State Park has something special for everyone.

Known for its breathtaking mountain views, child-friendly trails, and wild ponies, this park in Virginia provides a variety of outdoor activities for all age groups. The serene atmosphere, snow-clad peaks, lush green pastures, gushing streams, beautiful waterfalls, wild ponies – everything about the Grayson Highlands State Park is simply remarkable.

So, if you’re looking for a fulfilling place to hike and camp, no place can beat the Grayson Highlands State Park on the East Coast. If you have any more questions on Grayson Highlands Hike or the Grayson Highlands State Park, feel free to post them in the comment section below or contact us. We’ve got all your answers!