Great Loop for beginning backpackers looking for a lot of “wow!”.
Virginia State Park, Appalachian Trail, A.T. Shelter, Feral Ponies, Amazing Vistas, Southern Appalachian Balds
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.
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.
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.
1 or 2 night trip. Can also be done on a long day-hike, with a about 7-10 hours.
Loop, with short out and back on a blue-blazed trail.
4.5 – Grand views from many different locations.
Rating (based on a 1-50 scale):
Crossings (one way):
A few (very easy). Bigger streams have bridges.
Only if you want to climb the numerous rock outcroppings.
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.