My husband and I recently took a trip to Mouth of Wilson, Virginia to visit the Grayson Highlands. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb (which I strongly recommend) that was just minutes from the park. It was a fantastic vacation.
On our first full day in the park we hiked just shy of 14 miles. The contact station has maps available detailing how to get to Mt. Rogers, so be sure to grab one.
Once we got past the contact station, we stopped at Sugarland’s Overlook to take a few pictures of the mountains. It’s definitely worth the brief stop!
Starting The Trail
After the pull off, we went to the Massie Gap parking lot. There are two separate lots in this area so be sure that you are going to the Massie Gap lot and not the backpacker’s parking lot. The backpacker’s lot is for overnight visitors and a permit is required to park there.
From the parking lot, we picked up the Rhododendron Trail. To start the trail, we passed through a wooden gate and started up a dirt path. We followed the trail makers that were leading us to a section of the Appalachian Trail. Be advised that continuing onto the AT will take you out of the state park and into the Jefferson National Forest. The AT has white blazes on the rocks so be sure to look for them.
On The Appalachian Trail
I had never been on the AT before, so I was excited to be able to do part of it. This particular portion of the AT also has two herds of feral ponies! While we here hiking we saw 12 in total (including 2 foals). We were very careful to give them plenty of space. They may look like regular ponies, but they are wild animals. These ponies are not afraid to bite or kick anyone that gets too close! They should not be fed human food for any reason as it can make them sick.
Part of the way to Mount Rogers, you come to a fork where you can do Pine Mountain. We chose not to do this to spare our legs.
After we passed by the branch for Pine Mountain, we briefly got on the wrong trail and started towards the Crest Trail. There was a group of Longhorn Cattle grazing the trail, so we got turned around trying to give them plenty of space. We quickly realized our mistake and got back on the right course (while avoiding the cows of course!).
Later on we passed by the Thomas Knob Shelter on the way to the Mount Rogers Trail. This area also had a bear box, a place to get water, some campsites and a privy. The trail is very well marked here so it was easy to find our way to the summit trail.
Mount Rogers is actually the tallest natural point in Virginia. The mountain is strenuous in sections, but it is such an interesting peak. Part of the way up the trail, the forest becomes a lush green. The trees are all moss-covered and the ground seems like it is perpetually wet. There is no real view at the summit, but the terrain change partway up paired with the trail leading to the mountain makes it worth it. I have never personally been to the Pacific Northwest, but this section of the trail seems like the pictures I have seen of the PNW. The spur trail is an out and back, so we made sure to be careful navigating the rocks on the way down.
Our trail map has a small deviation on the way up to the summit because there was a group of ponies on the trail that would not move.
The Rest Of The Loop
The terrain varied significantly after the mountain. We went through open fields, dense forest, rhododendron groves and even went over some stream crossings. It really was something else.
When we had finished the mountain and gotten back to the trail junction, we went to the Crest Trail again, this time on purpose. We had an interesting time on this section as it was covered in small to medium rocks. We almost lost our footing a few times, so watch your step if you go this way. This portion is mostly open fields so once again, we got different landscapes.
Eventually, after going downhill for some time, we got to a bit of a confusing junction. The Crest Trail met up with the AT and the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail. We started going down the Horse Trail and quickly realized this was wrong. The correct way was taking the Scales Trail. We had to go through a metal gate to get to the trail.
While on the Scales Trail we saw an American black bear! As I have stated previously, I have been terrified of bears for a long time. When I saw this one however, I actually got excited! It was more afraid of us and it sprinted across the trail out of sight. However, as a precaution I took my bear bell out of it’s case. I was excited, but not eager for a longer encounter.
After the bear, we saw more cows and some deer. The Scales Trail eventually ends and turns into the Wilson Creek Trail. We were only on this section for a short time before we met back up with the AT. We took the AT until we re-entered the state park and reached a spot where we could meet back up with the Rhododendron Trail. At this point we were getting fairly tired and we had to regain some elevation, so we did not enjoy it as much as we probably could have.
Overall, this was probably the best hike I have done so far. The terrain changed frequently so it kept the hike from getting boring. If you are in the area and have the means to do it, I would recommend this spot! I would also suggest booking a stay with Highland Hideaways if they have availability. The owners are absolutely amazing.
If you go, please plan accordingly and know your limits. Conditions at this altitude can change quickly and a good day can turn terrible fast. Know your limits and do not try a trail that it is out of you ability level. Also, be respectful to the wildlife in the area. Humans and wildlife can be very detrimental to each other. Do not attempt to pet or feed any wildlife.