This is one of the most rewarding hikes in the state of Virginia–you get vista after vista AND wild ponies! I spent May 29-31 in southwestern Virginia backpacking a 21-mile loop through the Mt. Rogers Wilderness and Greyson Highlands State Park with the fabulous DC UL Backpacking Meetup group. We had an awesome time. Here are the highlights and a map of our hike:
Friday, May 29, 2015
We drove for 5 hours down towards Marion, VA to the Grindstone Campground. Arrived around 10pm when the camp gates had already closed, but the kind camp hosts let one of our group members who had arrived early keep a gate key and open for us. Thanks Grindstone! Hiker’s midnight quickly approached and we were quick to set up camp and get to sleep.
Saturday, May 30, 2015
I never can sleep in much when backpacking especially when I bring my trail dog Buddy with me, so it was an early morning. We ate a quick breakfast, discussed the route, and hit the trail.
Finding the start of the Mount Rogers Trail from the Grindstone campground proved easier than we originally thought it was going to be and we were quickly on our way. The trail ascends quite a bit at the beginning–remember you are hiking to the highest point in the state of Virginia–but the trail is very well graded and your early morning legs shouldn’t be barking too much as you make your way there. After ascending on the Mount Rogers trail we turned north to join the Appalachian trail as it winds its way through this part of Virginia.
The top of Mt. Rogers at 5729 ft is a bit of a let-down after you experience the scenic open hill tops just a few hundred feet from its peak. Go to the top of Mt. Rogers and take a picture anyway if only to say that you have done it (a small circular metallic plaque marks the top of the mountain), but linger at the top of the open hills of Mt. Rogers. The top is accessed from a side trail off the AT. Go up, take a pic and then get the real views from the open mountain tops below the peak. I don’t know about you, but the first thing I thought about was Maria in the Sound of Music singing, “The hills are alive with the sounds of music…”
After descending Mt. Rogers, you’ll ascend again to the Thomas Knob Shelter on the AT. This is a crowded location, but a good place to get water. Water can be found about 150 feet downhill from the shelter trickling out of a man-made sieve.
From there you’ll stay on the AT and walk through Rhododendren Gap where, if you are lucky enough to come in June when the Rhodos are at their peak, you’ll marvel at the beauty of these majestic pink flowers.
From there, you’ll find several more vistas as you make your way to Greyson Highlands State Park where you’ll inevitably come upon one of the wild ponies. Because my dog was acting a bit skittish around the ponies, I myself did not approach, but several in our group were able to come up to and pet the ponies who seem quite docile despite the warnings that they kick and bite!
Once through the Greyson Highlands, we the descended, still on the AT, towards the Scales where many trails converge and you find yourself at a major parking/trailhead area. We then ended our 16 mile day with an ascension up Crest trail to our campground for the night on an open dell near a level spring. The wild ponies roamed our camp all night giving Buddy the trail dog plenty to growl at throughout the evening.
We were blessed with the most magnificent sunset. Our camerawoman, Hua, took this great photo of the sunset as seen just feet from our camp. You can see from the timestamp that it was 8:29PM and still light. We had put in a long day of hiking and this was our reward.
The 5-mile hike was completed in just two hours. While we enjoyed our time in the Mount Rogers Wilderness, we were eager to get washed, eat, and head back home. On the way back, we stopped at Due South BBQ in Christiansburg, VA. I had a wonderful pulled pork sandwich and others thoroughly enjoyed the Sunday special–beef brisket. We were pleased to find ourselves the audience of live country music in the outdoor seating area. This couldn’t have been a better ending to an already over-the-top fabulous weekend.