Grayson Highlands Backpacking: A.T./Pine Mountain Loop

This is a loop hike in the Grayson Highlands that I tend to do about once per year, so I’ve posted it a couple times before, but not with all the snowy conditions that I experienced this time.

My daughter Taylor and her boyfriend Cameron joined me over their spring break around the end of March.  And the weather surprised us with with up to two feet of snow in many areas, with very icy conditions.  It made for some tough hiking to say the least.

We did my normal route and started at the Backpacker’s Overnight Parking taking the blue-blazed Spur Trail up to the A.T., where we then went north on the A.T.

Things were quite pleasant until we passed Wise Shelter, where we had lunch.  From that point the snow got deeper and all the footprints of previous hikers went away.  We struggled to find the trail in many locations, but eventually made our way across Stone Mountain and to the Scales, where we set up camp.  We built a fire, and had Fajitas for dinnner before retiring early.

After a brutally cold night we continued on the A.T. until we ran into the Pine Mountain Trail, taking it to Rhododendron Gap.  This was probably some of the most difficult hiking on the trip as the snow started to melt… leaving a very slippery, slushy, muddy trail.  Climbing was difficult.    We spent some time hanging out at the big rock at Rhododendron Gap… taking some pictures before getting back on the A.T. (north) and making our way up to Wilburn Ridge.  After descending off the ridge, which took quite a long time due to the snow and ice, we ran into a bunch of feral ponies near Massie Gap.  It was a nice way to end our 12-mile hike.  Please refer to the “Hike Planner” and trail directions below for specific mileages, water sources, etc.

 

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Overall
Recommendation:

Great Loop for beginning backpackers looking for a lot of “wow!”.

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Outstanding
Features:

Virginia State Park, Appalachian Trail, A.T. Shelter, Feral Ponies, Amazing Vistas, Southern Appalachian Balds

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Difficulty:
Moderate.

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Driving:
From Interstate 81, take exit 35 (Chilhowie), turn onto route 762 Whitetop Rd. (at the bottom of the exit turn toward the Hardees). Continue on 762 for approximately 11.5 miles, then take a left on Route 600 (Whitetop Road). Follow this road for approximately 8.0 miles, then take a left on Highway 58. Follow Highway 58 for 7.5 miles, and then take a left into the Grayson Highlands State Park on Route 362. You will soon pass through a toll gate, where you will need to pay $3/night (I think). Follow the signs to the “backpackers overnight parking” area.

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Trails:
From the parking area, you will see an a sign indicating the “A.T. Spur Trail. Follow this blue-blazed trail. After 0.8 miles of ascending, you will come to the junction on the Appalachian Trail. Take a right (heading north) on the A.T., following the white blazes. You will begin descending down in to the Little Wilson Creek valley. After about 2.5 miles you will pass by Wise Shelter on your right. Wilson Creek is about 0.1 miles past this shelter. From Little Wilson Creek, continue on the A.T. heading north and in about 2.5 miles of steady climbing you will reach the grass-covered Stone Mountain offering wonderful vistas. Continue another 0.5 mile and you will reach “The Scales”, and old corral where there is a decent enclosed privy. From the Scales ascend for another 1.5 miles to Pine Mountain, where you will see a junction for the blue-blazed Pine Mountain Trail. Take a left on the Pine Mountain Trail. You will eventually come to a small spring that crosses the trail. If you take a left at this spring and walk down up ridge for a couple hundred yards you will come to a fenced spring that is very nice to draw water from. Continue on the Pine Mountain Trail (which is a total of 1.9 miles long), and you will reach Rhododendron Gap, where you will reconnect with the Appalachian Trail. The big rock at Rhododendron Gap is worth climbing as it offers wonderful views. From here, get on the A.T., still following the north white blazes. You will soon cross Wilburn Ridge, which I think is the highlight of the trek with amazing vistas. In a couple tenths of a mile you will begin descending, and go through the “Fatman Squeeze”… a natural rock formation tunnel. After another couple miles of descending you will come back into the state park at Massie Gap and soon complete the loop at the A.T. Spur Trail. Follow the Spur Trail back down to your vehicle. The entire trip is about 12 miles exactly.

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Needed
Gear & Tips:

Basic backpacking gear. Weather can change dramatically on the grass covered peaks, so take extra clothing and colder rated sleeping bags than expected. There are numerous campsites all along this loop. Here are some with water sources: Wise shelter, Little Wilson Creek grove, wooded area while ascending Stone Mtn, The Scales, wooded area while climbing Pine Mountain, numerous areas on the Pine Mtn Trail, Rhododendron Gap (only in good weather), and some nice spots after the descent down off of Wilburn Ridge.

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Distance:
12 miles.

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Time
Allotment:

1 or 2 night trip. Can also be done on a long day-hike, with a about 7-10 hours.

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Type:
Loop, with short out and back on a blue-blazed trail.

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Vista
Rating (1-5):

4.5 – Grand views from many different locations.

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Waterfall
Rating (based on a 1-50 scale):

None-

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Water
Crossings (one way):

A few (very easy). Bigger streams have bridges.
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Scrambling/Climbing:
Only if you want to climb the numerous rock outcroppings.

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Hazards:
Weather can change dramatically on the grass-covered, exposed ridges. Check forecast for high winds or thunderstorms before attempting to camp on exposed ridge-lines or peaks.

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Maps/GPS
info:

none
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More
Information:

Categories: Apalachian Trail, Backpacking, Vistas | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Iron Mtn Backpacking: TN91 to Wilbur Dam Road

Bill at Nick Grindstaff Monument

I finished up a small section of Appalachian Trail that I had not completed before, covering the Iron Mountain ridgeline from TN91  to Wilburn Dam Road.  This was a southbound 16 mile hike, spending one night.

About 3 miles into the hike my first stop was the Nick Grindstaff Monument.  This is very eerie place with a unique story…

Nick Grindstaff was born in 1851.  At the age of three he was orphaned.  Rumor has it that he later moved out west where he was robbed and severely beaten, along with suffering other financial difficulties.  He soon returned to Tennessee where he lived out the final 45 years of his life in total solitude (except for his dog “Panter”) in a very small cabin on Iron Mountain.  Supposedly, in 1923 a man went to visit Nick and found him dead in his cabin.  Some stories say that Panter watched over Nick’s dead body for days and had to be overpowered and tied to a tree so that his body could be buried.  Other stories say that Panter had to be killed and was buried alongside Nick in the chimney-shaped grave, which was once his cabin’s brick fireplace.  To this day many hikers that camp near this area report the spine-chilling howls of a dog late at night.  A few years ago I also had a scary encounter with dog near this very spot. Read more »

Categories: Apalachian Trail, Backpacking, Historical, Lakes, Vistas | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Rocky Fork Backpacking

Located along the TN/NC border in Unicoi County, TN is the newly purchased U.S. Forest Service property known as Rocky Fork.  This 10,000 acre tract is very rugged, with unmarked trails and very limited trail maps.  My good friend Jimmy Humston and I decided to do some exploring along the northern-most sections of the tract with our ultimate goal being “Buzzard Rock”… a wonderful, but extremely well-earned vista at 4,600′ elevation that overlooks the majority of the property. Read more »

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Dennis Cove Falls

Upper Dennis Cove Falls

If you’re looking for a beautiful and adventurous hike, then check out out upper and lower Dennis Cove Falls in the Dennis Cove Recreational area.  This hike is not overly strenuous and the trail is well-marked, but it does require three creek crossings that can range from moderate to extremely dangerous… depending upon the water level in the Laurel Fork stream.  Staying dry can be a challenge. Read more »

Categories: Day-hike, Waterfalls | Tags: , | 1 Comment

White Rocks and Sand Cave (Cumberland Gap)

On Top of the White Rocks Cliff

Near the Cumberland Gap, and located on the long Cumberland Mountain ridgeline, are two awesome formations known as White Rocks and Sand Cave.  Both of these can be visited in the same day with a strenuous, ~9 mile hike within the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park from the trailhead in the Thomas Walker Civic Park.  This is a tough hike with about 1700 feet in elevation gain, but the trails are well maintained and contain lots of switchbacks that make the climbing a little easier.

I decided to make a loop out of the hike, visiting Sand Cave first and then heading down the ridge to White Rocks.  If you use my route, review the trail directions below carefully.  The trails are in good shape and have signage at trail junctions, but they aren’t blazed, and  I found some of the sign posts uprooted, which could leave you a little unsure at times. Read more »

Categories: Day-hike, Historical, Rock Formations, Vistas | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Watauga Dam

Watauga Dam Vista

Watauga Dam was completed in 1949 by the Tennessee Valley Authority, creating a very beautiful lake at 2000′ elevation.  At the time of its construction, it was the highest elevation earthen dam in the world, and  today it still remains as the highest in the eastern United States.  What makes this area so picturesque is that much of the lake is surrounded by National Forest and the towering ridgelines of Iron and Pond mountains. Read more »

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Whitetop Mountain & Buzzard Rock

Buzzard Rock

Whitetop Mountain is the State of Virginia’s second highest peak at 5525′, along with having the highest maintained road in the state.  You can make this a very short and easy day-hike by taking this road all the way to the top of the mountain, but I decided to climb it on foot instead… starting at highway US600 at Elk Garden and heading south on the Appalachian Trail. Read more »

Categories: Apalachian Trail, Day-hike, Rock Formations, Summits, Vistas | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Rocky Fork to Birchfield Camp Lake – Mtn Bike

Rocky Fork Trio Waterfall

A few months ago I found Birchfield Camp Lake (elevation 4000′) in the Rocky Fork Tract via the Higgins Creek route.   This time I decided to see if I could find it coming in from the main gate at Rocky Fork.  This is a longer route, and since my knee is still tender, I decided to give it a try on the mountain bike. Read more »

Categories: Day-hike, Lakes, Mountain Biking, Waterfalls | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Grassy Ridge

Sunrise from Jane Bald

Grassy Ridge is a prominent peak in the Roan Highlands sitting at 6180 feet in elevation.  This expansive Southern Appalachian Bald offers 360 degree, unobstructed views, which are undoubtedly some of the best in the eastern U.S.  This is also the highpoint of Avery County, NC.

I left the house very early in the morning and arrived at Carver’s Gap around 5:00 a.m.  I hiked by headlamp for the first mile, crossing the summits of Round Bald and Jane Bald, where I stopped to set up my photography equipment.  This happens to be my favorite spot for capturing sunrises in the east, and this morning’s sunrise did not disappoint me… Read more »

Categories: Apalachian Trail, Day-hike, NC County Highpoint, Rock Formations, Summits, Vistas, Wildflowers | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Grayson Highlands State Park – Rhododendron Trail

Dad Taking Photos on the Appalachian Trail Near Massie Gap

First, I want to apologize for the lack of posts lately.  I went on a 4-day backpacking trip about a month ago and injured my knee, so I haven’t been out much since that trip.  I hope it is healing up so I can get back out on some longer hikes very soon.

I’ve made it a little tradition to go hiking with my dad on Father’s Day for the past few years, and this year we decided to drive up to the Grayson Highlands State Park in southwest Virgina and hike up to the A.T. from Massie Gap.  Dad had never seen the feral ponies in this area, so I figured Massie Gap would be the best chance of that. Read more »

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