Feral Pony in the Grayson Highlands
I made my first backpacking trip of the year on a loop starting in the Grayson Highlands State Park (at the Backpackers Overnight Parking area). I’ve done this exact trip a couple of times before, and as always I’ve found it to be a great hike if you’re looking for a short, relaxing loop for a one or two night trip. See the exact route that I took in the Hike Planner below.
I got a very late start on Friday evening and only hiked a couple of miles before dark… heading north on the A.T., and camping at Little Wilson Creek. This is a beautiful grove next the stream that can accommodate a lot of tent sites. I must have slept well because I woke up the next morning surrounded by a troop of Boy Scouts. I never heard them come in and set up. They told me that they arrived around midnight.
Day #1 Campsite Next to Little Wilson Creek
Views of Wilburn Ridge from Stone Mountain
On day #2 I decided to make it a lazy day and not get in any hurries since my entire loop was only 12 miles, so I slept in and didn’t get back on the A.T. until 11:00 a.m. Soon, I found myself on the windy Stone Mountain, giving me wonderful views of Wilburn Ridge.
Eventually, I passed by “The Scales” (an old corral with a nice privy), and then made the climb up to Pine Mountain. When the A.T. connected to the Pine Mountain Trail, I took a left on this blue-blazed trail, which at one time was the old Appalachian Trail.
Day #2 Campsite on the Pine Mountain Trail
Vista Near My Campsite
This is another nicely maintained trail with wonderful views, and even though it was only 2:00 p.m., I decided to find a nice spot with a view and set up camp.
This turned out to be a cold, windy night… well down into the 20’s I think. And getting out of the sleeping bag the next morning was difficult. But after finally getting started, I continued my climb up the Pine Mountain Trail to Rhododendron Gap. It was here that I ran into my first Feral Ponies of the trek, and it was also here that I left the Pine Mountain Trail and got back on the Appalachian Trail, crossing the wonderful Wilburn Ridge. Soon after, I descended down from Grandview Peak, passing through “Fatman Squeeze”, and making my way to back into the State Park at Massie Gap. Not long after I got back on the A.T. Spur Trail and retraced my steps back to the car.
This is such a wonderful loop with awesome views, numerous campsites, and the wild ponies are also a neat added attraction.
Feral Pony at Rhododendron Gap
View from Rhododendron Gap
Vista Near Grandview Peak
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 (where I camped) 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. This is also very close to where I camped on the 2nd night. 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.