In Grayson County, Virginia along the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Jefferson National Forest, you can find Grayson Highlands State Park. With alpine peaks over 5,000 feet high and both Whitetop Mountain and Mount Rogers, you can see some of the most unbelievable views from many spots in this state park. And the well-known Appalachian Trail runs through the park, giving hikers and backpackers some excellent land to explore. Many people bring their horses as well since the bridle trails here are some of the best in the state.
Speaking of horses, the highlands is well-known for its wild ponies living freely along the ridges and hills in the park. Although you are not allowed to pet or ride these animals, they are fun to watch as they are used to humans and do not run off when you come near. The herd is maintained by the park and the Wilbur Ridge Pony Association.
The park is also popular for its boating, trout fishing, bouldering, and biking. The trout are stocked annually and offer anglers both wild and rainbow trout as well as other types of native fish. Bouldering in the Grayson Highlands is said to be the best in the state, and there are over 700 named climbing routes from easy to extreme. Some of the boulders are small enough for kids while others can rise to almost 5,000 feet. You can also camp in one of the campgrounds here, so you can stay and have more fun.
In the southwestern portion of Virginia, Grayson Highlands State Park is about an hour southwest of Wytheville between Damascus and Independence. Easily accessed on US-58, you can get to the park from I-77 to the east and south or I-81 to the north and west. The roads are definitely curvy and can take some serious concentration to maneuver in a large RV or when pulling a trailer.
Inside the park, the roads are fairly straight and easy to access as it is made for trailers and large rigs. The only place you may have some difficulty is in the back of the Hickory Ridge Campground where the roads get a bit narrow. This is where the bunkhouse is as well, so you will need to be alert for campers too as you traverse the roads slowly.
Most visitors to the park bring along a separate vehicle so they can get around without having to move the RV from the campsite. This is especially helpful if you want to visit other attractions in the area such as the Jefferson National Forest or Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Other fun places to visit include the Bristol Motor Speedway, the Historic General Francis Marion Hotel, and the Barter Theatre in Abingdon.
Hickory Ridge Campground is a large wooded area with 72 campsites that can accommodate rigs from 30 to 70 feet long. Fourteen of these sites are pull-throughs, while the others are back-ins. Also, 42 of these campsites have 30-amp electric and water hookups. The rest are primitive sites without any utilities, but they have access to potable water spigots as well as comfort stations with restrooms and showers. Whether you have utilities or not, you can always cook outside on the campfire grill and relax at the large picnic table. They even provide a lantern hanger over the table so you can sit outside at night.
The campground is just a short walk from the country store where you can find all kinds of camping needs as well as souvenirs, snacks, and other items. Kids will love the huge field and playground in the middle of the camp. The amphitheater is nearby too, where the park holds interesting programs for kids as well as adults during the summer. The Wilburn Branch Trail, Stamper’s Branch Trail, and Wilson Creek Trail also pass through the area. Keep an eye out for those wild ponies. Reservations can be made online or by phone up to nine months in advance. Pets are welcome but must be well-behaved and supervised during your stay.
If you want to bring your horse and enjoy the many miles of bridle trails, you’ll be happy to know that Grayson Highlands State Park has an equestrian campground just for you. Located all the way across the park in the western section, Chestnut Hollow Equestrian Campground has a stable with 67 stalls and 23 campsites with water and 50-amp electricity. There are also several open stall sites for your four-legged family members. The stalls are five feet by eight feet, and only one horse is allowed per stall. You have to clean up after your horse and provide your own hay and water.
Chestnut Hollow Equestrian Campground is located near the main bridle trails including the 3.7-mile Old Upchurch Road, 1.3-mile Seed Orchard Road, 1.1-mile Horse Trail North, and the 1.7-mile Horse Trail East. There is also a 52-mile equestrian trail that you can take but you will need to bring along some supplies with you. Many people camp along this trail where you will likely see the wild ponies. You can also hike up the Cabin Creek Trail to see the waterfall, but your horse has to stay back at the campsite. Your other furbabies are allowed here too so go ahead and bring your pooch. Don’t forget to make reservations in advance as this is a popular part of the park.
If you have a large family or are bringing a group, the Grayson Highlands Group Campground can accommodate up to 35 people. You will have to leave your rig behind at the parking lot and walk between 20 and 40 yards to the campground, so pack carefully if you plan to enjoy this area. You’ll be parking across from the country store. The campground has five tent pads, three campfire rings with grills, and five picnic tables.
Although there are no utilities, water, or restrooms, it is just a short walk to the toilets and potable water spigots. You have to apply for a group permit at least two weeks before your visit so it can be approved before you go. It is best to reserve your spot well in advance since there is only one group campground. Good news! You can bring Fido as long as you keep him leashed and supervised during your stay.
Yurts are an interesting way to camp, and although you will have to leave the RV in the lot, this unique experience is something you may want to try. A yurt is like a cross between a tent and a cabin with heavy canvas over a wooden frame. The floor is wooden and there is a dining table, deck, and beds provided. They can accommodate up to four people with a queen bed and a twin trundle bed. You have to bring your own blankets, pillows, and other linens. No AC or heat is included and there are no bathrooms, kitchens, or water.
Out on the deck, you will find a BBQ pit and rocking chairs, and there are a picnic table and a fire ring in the yard. Potable water and restrooms are within walking distance. The yurts are located near the bunkhouse, and you will have access to the country store, playground, and shower house. If you brought your furbabies along on your trip, you will have to wait until your next trip to Grayson Highlands State Park because pets are not allowed in the yurts. Reservations are required since there are only four available.
The Bunkhouse (also known as the Camping Lodge) is more of a camping facility than a lodge. It is actually a trailer with two rooms, seven bunk beds, a coffeepot, microwave, and air conditioning and heat. Although you can use the microwave or coffeepot, cooking indoors is prohibited, so you have to use the BBQ grill outside on the deck. Two picnic tables are also provided on the deck so you can enjoy the beautiful scenery while eating. There is no bathroom, water, or kitchen. However, there is 50-amp electric service.
Located at the back of the upper loop of the campground, you are allowed to use the restrooms and bathhouses at the campground. Bedding and other linens are not provided so be sure to bring your towels and blankets. Only available for rent during the camping season from May through October, you can reserve it up to nine months in advance, and there is a two-night minimum.
Make sure you hook up the bike rack to the rig so you can do some biking while you are at Grayson Highlands State Park. They have four mountain biking trails totaling about 10 miles of riding from moderate to difficult. The 2.3-mile Wilburn Branch Trail is the most difficult one. It starts out at the Hickory Ridge Campground parking lot and takes you around to Upchurch Road with an average grade of almost 10%. You’ll drop about 500 feet right away and zip through the forest into the homestead area. The other three rides are moderate at 1.2, 3.2, and 3.3 miles.
Pack all your fly-fishing gear in the RV so you can hook some of the hungry trout in the wild trout streams. Fishing in the streams requires that you only use artificial flies and single hooks. Anything less than nine inches has to be thrown back. You can also try Big Wilson Creek, which has over three miles of fishing for all kinds of fish. Below that is the stocked trout section where you will need a trout stamp. Wilburn Branch, Mill Creek, Quebec Branch, and Cabin Creek all have some awesome wild rainbow and brook trout just waiting for you to toss in a line.
Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned climber, Grayson Highlands State Park has some of the best bouldering, rock climbing, and mountain climbing in the state. With over 1,000 named climbing paths ranging from VB to V13, nobody will be left out of the fun. You can even take the kiddos up on some of the smaller boulders. Summer is the prime time to enjoy this activity as the winds up on the boulders tend to stay in the low 70s even if the temperatures are in the 90s. Make sure you wear proper gear and stop by and register at the contact station just in case of an emergency.
Grayson Highlands State Park is famous in these parts for its bridle trails and an equestrian campground. The main bridle trail is the 52-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail that takes you through the mountains and valleys along the prettiest sections of Virginia. Most of the trail is in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, and you are likely to see quite a variety of wildlife including the wild ponies that live up there. Your horse must have a negative Coggins Test result, and you should be aware that there are others along this trail such as hikers, bikers, and even ATV riders.
With 17 different trails ranging from an easy .6 miles to the 2,150-mile Appalachian Backpacking Yrail, it would be a shame to forget your walking shoes. If you are going to do some backpacking, you should bring more than just the shoes though. You’ll need a sturdy backpack with all of the backpacking essentials such as plenty of water, energy bars, a compass, a map, and a first aid kit. Seven of the trails are less than a mile but some are a bit more difficult than others due to steep hills or rocky terrain. Take a look at the trail map and descriptions online before heading out.
If you are planning a visit during the off-season, try to plan it during a nice snowfall so you can enjoy some cross-country skiing. The two designated ski trails in Grayson Highlands State Park are fantastic for all skiers. Starting in the southeast area of the park, you can take Upchurch Road Trail by the picnic area and into the woods. It is just over three miles to the Seed Orchard Road Trail, which is about 1.2 miles and starts at the parking lot across from the Camp Store. You'll also find many more ski trails in the nearby Jefferson National Forest. Make sure you dress warmly in layers, and let someone know when and where you are going before you leave.