Grayson Highlands & Mount Rogers


The Mount Rogers and Grayson Highlands loop hike is an iconic section of the Appalachian Trail, located in the southwestern hills of Virginia within the Jefferson National Forest and Grayson Highlands State Park. Near where Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina borders collide.


I will probably always compare a particularly lousy trail to this one... and remind myself that not all hikes can be sunsets and ponies. The herd came over the hill right as golden hour was commencing. Majestic chestnut brown and blonde hair ponies with a few foals in tow.

Map of 23.5 mile loop around Mount Rogers
Trip Details

Map of Route

April 21-24 2022
Day 1 Orange: 7.4 miles
Day 2 Dark Blue: 11.6 miles
Day 3 Light Blue: 4.5 miles

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To reach our destination we had to drive down long stretches of remote curvy country roads with a few diners, gas stations and not much else. However, Christi and I managed to scope out a Mellow Mushroom about an hour out from the trailhead to eat at on the way home! The first night we car camped at Grindstone Campground. For the remainder of the trip we left the car in the lot for $3 per/night. Access to the trail was just steps away from our site.

Day one of hiking was what we were calling our "break-in day." This was our first backpacking trip of the season for the both of us. The highest elevation gain of the trail was within those first 7.4 miles. The rocky terrain slowed us down a bit. We had seen lots of pony poop but zero wild ponies by the time we set up camp.

The first backcountry camp spot was a little ways past the Thomas Knob shelter. It felt privately tucked away from the trail shaded by pines yet still had sweeping views of the mountains. There was a nice stone fire ring and a sweet "lounge tree". The trunk natural fit the curve of my back. Which provided me with even more comfort during the spa foot bath I treated myself to later that evening.

Leaving our gear and packs at camp, we did a quick summit to the top of Mount Rogers, Virginia's highest point at 5,729'. After gaining some elevation in an exposed hot meadow, a dewy pine mist encompassed us as we entered an alpine-like forest. It felt a good 10 degrees cooler. We enjoyed the dappled shade from the canopy above.

Journal continued below...

Back at "spa camp," sunset was within the hour, I was beginning to think our luck was running out for seeing any wild ponies that day. Regardless, I took my camera out for one last stroll before dark. There was a gorgeous mountain landscape in front of me worth capturing with or without ponies. Right after taking a cute portrait of the two of us, we turned around to spot a herd moving in from the west! There were about 7 ponies, grazing the meadow during golden hour. Life can't always be sunsets and ponies, but when it is, it really is... My heart nearly exploded.

Little did I know, more ponies would make an appearance the next day too. I was woken by nature's alarm song of a robin perched on a pine above our tent chirping at the sun. We were hiking over 11 miles that day and I needed to start on morning chores.

There was a somewhat steep trek behind the

shelter to the bear box and water pipe. I filtered water while listening to more bird melodies.

The second day was more highland meadows with rocky outcroppings. Right after a hot exposed section of trail, we ran into some refreshing trail magic at Scales campground! A couple was grilling ham and cheese sandwiches and passing out cold sparkling beverages out of the back of their vehicle. The Dr. Pepper I drank had me burping for at least an hour after that! Ha! Totally worth it though.

We eventually made it to our second backcountry site near the Old Orchard Shelter. It was a Saturday with beautiful weather, as expected, it was more crowded than the previous night. Our evening was concluded with a pleasant conversation with a man who was halfway through hiking the Appalachian Trail!