Friday, February 19, 2010
Grayson Highlands State Park
To be honest, the wild ponies at the Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia aren't all that wild. Though park officials have policies against visitors petting and feeding the ponies, rustle a plastic wrapper and they'll come right to you. So something tells me that rule isn't strictly followed. One family I saw brought an apple for a treat -- at least it was a healthy snack. There are usually a few small herds of ponies at different parts of the park, so wander around the trails and you'll eventually find them. Once a year the ponies are rounded up and checked out for health problems - but other than that they're pretty much left alone to graze in the beautiful Grayson Highlands.
If visiting the for first time, I recommend driving up to the top of the mountain first to visit the gift shop. From here you can take in the views from Buzzard Rock and Little Pinnacle (both are short walks). Then head back down and park at Massie Gap and take the Rhododendron Trail to where it intersects with the Appalachian Trail (0.8 mi). From here you can turn right and head toward a neat outcropping of rocks -- fun to climb, and great views! Or head left to where I usually encounter the ponies - and then continue heading up to Wilburn Ridge (elevation 5526) (two miles total distance). Another popular hike is to the summit of Mount Rogers (approx. 5 miles).
In the summer months, I highly recommend sunscreen and water! Ninety percent of the trails are out in the open, so the sun can take its toll very quickly! During the winter months some parts of the park are closed. However, the road to the main trail head, Massie Gap, is open all year.
More of my photos of Grayson here.
The Sherpa Guide offers a complete description of the park and various hiking trails.
Visit the official park website for maps and directions.
From Tri-Cities, TN: take I-81 to Exit 19 (Abingdon, VA), go east on Route 58 about 37 miles to the park entrance. It's a very windy, but scenic road, so allow plenty of time.
From Elizabethton, TN: take Highway 91 (Stony Creek Road) approximately 34 miles through Shady Valley and Backbone Rock to Damascus, VA. Once in Damascus, turn right onto US Rt. 58. Follow Rt. 58 signs and proceed 26.3 miles to the park entrance on your left. Continue on this main park road 3.5 miles to Massey Gap. (There's a $3 fee per car).