browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.

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

Posted by on April 28, 2013

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.




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.

12 miles.


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.

Rating (1-5):

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.




10 Responses to Grayson Highlands Backpacking: A.T./Pine Mountain Loop

  1. Robert Loyd

    When first I saw your pictures, I thought surely a professional has dressed these up, Was the shot of the pony near the scales an actual undressed pic ? If so – wow. I’ll be coming from Ohio to there next spring w/great anticipation & excitement. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Teresa Burke

    Thanks for the great trail route description. I went this weekend and followed your route. It was a very beautiful place! I never found the fatman squeeze, but I did have to go a little on the side of trails due to high levels of ice, so perhaps I went right around it without realizing. When you reach the large fire road looking trail at Massie Gap, do you take that down to Massie Gap or continue on the AT just past there? I went down to the Massie Gap parking lot and then took the road the very small distance back to the backpacker’s lot.

    • Bill Fuller

      I’ve done it both ways, Teresa. If you go down the Rhododendron Trail back to the Massie Gap parking lot, or just follow that road you mentioned too… then either way is definitely shorter than going on down to the AT Spur Trail back to the Backpacker’s Parking Lot. I’m glad you had a good hike!

  3. Duke Quarles

    I have done another loop starting at Greyson Highlands that is a very pleasant 2 -3 day hike. I got on the AT using the spur at GH. Hiked north on the AT, spent the night at Old Orchard Shelter. Got up the next morning, went north on the AT until I went left on the Lewis Fork Trail. The Lewis Fork is a difficult walk because it is a horse trail as well. I stayed on the Lewis Fork trail until I got two the Mt Rogers spur trail which is a rather steep climb.turned left on the Mt Rogers Trail. Stayed on that until I hit the AT at Deep Gap. Headed north on te AT. I have spent the night both at the Thomas Knob Shelter and on Wilburn Ridge. Good springs at both. Stayed on the trail the next morning until I got to Massey Gap where I took the connector trail back to the parking lot at Greyson Highlands. VERY ENJOYABLE 3 DAYS ON THR TRAIL.

  4. bambi

    I plan on making this hike in a few weeks. I was thinking of hiking it backwards from how you described it. Only because if there’s any problems once I get to the scales I can take the scales trail out. I believe it takes off about 3 or so miles.I haven’t hiked in a while,Will aim for two nights three days What do you think?

  5. Kim Black

    Thanks for the great detailed info-it made for a great trip and helped a lot with planning

  6. Patrick

    Thanks, inspired us to Grayson Highlands backpack 10/28-30, still fall colors but much was prairie. Incredible views,lotsa wild ponies, no bugs.

    Check water, low this time (despite Matthew,) just mud at the Scales, none at a couple AT points. Got thirsty at Rhody Gap, could have hiked out but great spring half mile down Rhody trail, pouring out of ground, didn’t filter.
    Don’t know if Natl Geog map (avail at park) named the spots you mentioned, my map app (Backcountry) didn’t. Kept seeing signs to the Scales, all trails lead there? can get confusing but we couldn’t get lost.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *