State parks had not been on my radar as I tend to focus on national parks. Out of no particular reason other than the national parks tend to be better known. It’s not to say I don’t go to them.. I just haven’t gone out of my way to make them the primary destination.
Enter Grayson Highlands. Again, no the ultimate destination, as my focus was to get my summit in and I settled with Mount Rogers, highest natural point of Virginia. When someone heard of my plans to summit Mount Rogers, he said to focus on nearby Grayson Highlands.
What a wonderful recommendation it ended up being. I spent two whole days in the park, walking every single marked trail. Had I more time, I’d start venturing more off the trails. Weekdays, it also felt like I had the whole place to myself, a wonderful bonus in pandemic times.
Grayson Highlands sits between Virginia’s two highest peaks, Mt Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, elevated at over 5,000 ft above sea level. Grayson features a striking landscape of the balds, crests covered by low vegetation and wild grass instead of the more typical woods of the mountain ranges.
Because of its elevation, it has a whole different climate. Swaths of the land are the balds, grassy treeless rolling fields so wind is pretty blustery. By the end of my trip, I had wished for my fleece beanie and gloves.
The popular attraction is probably the “wild” ponies. “Wild” because they have no fear of humans and are released deliberately to graze on the balds and keep vegetation under control. But the park itself boasts a range of activities including trout fishing and horseback riding. Trails are designed to accommodate mountain bikers along with hikers and riders.
I caught the fall foliage by chance and what a gorgeous view. The park offered multiple view points of not just the balds but the series of peaks all around. Being in a mountain range doesn’t hurt one’s appreciation of the dramatic surroundings. The variety in the landscape was astounding – each trail featured something different.
This is probably the wettest hiking trip I’ve had in a long time. Which made me realize how fortunate I have been all these years. Fortunately, most the rain came in spurts, even when heavy. So I was able to try to squeeze the trails inbetween during the lulls. It sure felt like I had mud in my ears by the time the trip was done.
I made the disgusting mistake of trying to take a horse trail. Ugh. No amount of stomping in running streams could help my sense of gross. Even the dog wasn’t impressed. Sticking to the foot trails from this point, thankyoueverymuch.