Sunday, June 27, 2010
Grayson Highlands State Park and Mount Rogers (Mouth of Wilson, VA)
ABOUT THE PARK:
Grayson Highlands State Park: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
Mount Rogers: Wikipedia
Grayson Highlands State Park Trails: Online Map
National Geographic Map Covering Entire Hike: Purchase
From Hungry Mother State Park - 40 miles, a little over an hour on scenic hilly, winding country roads
Highway 16 south through Marion for about 25 miles, right on Route 58 to right on Route 362 into Grayson Highlands State Park.
GPS coordinates to visitors center: 36 37.4950 -81 30.0349
Follow Route 362 until you reach the Massie Gap Parking area on the right.
HIKE DISTANCE: To the summit of Mount Rogers and back, 10 miles. You can turn around at any point to shorten the distance.
SOME THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND ABOUT THIS HIKE: This is a hugely popular hike and is supposedly very crowded on weekends. I did this hike on a Monday and there were a lot of hikers for a weekday. There will be no shade for about 95% of this hike. Plan on bringing twice as much water as you normally would or a pump and filter to get water from the spring about 4 miles out at the end of the blue-blazed trail behind the Thomas Knob shelter. Bring a high SPF sunblock and plan on reapplying.
As you drive in on Route 362, you will pass Sugarlands Overlook on the right which is worth stopping at.
From the Massie Gap parking lot, follow the blue-blazed Rhododendron Trail for 1/2 mile to the white-blazed Appalachian Trail towards Mount Rogers. Intersections are well marked with signs heading you in the right direction.
Before leaving the gated park boundary you should see some of the wild ponies that live in the park. You will later pass another herd in Jefferson National Forest.
My dog is exceptionally good with other animals so I allowed this adult male pony to approach her as he was showing an interest. He wanted nothing to do with me, only my dog and they ended up licking each other's faces.
You will come to a fork where the blue-blazed Wilburn Ridge Trail splits off from the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. These trails run parallel and meet back up so it's your choice which one to take. The Wilburn Ridge Trail is less heavily traveled but it has some steep rock scrambles. The payoff is incredible 360 degree views. For this hike I took the Wilburn Ridge Trail out and the Appalachian Trail back.
Heading out on the Wilburn Ridge Trail:
I tried to capture the 360 degree views in a movie. Sorry it's a little shaky. I was perched up high on a rock trying to slowly pivot in a circle with a dog leaning into my legs...
Meet back up with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail and continue towards Mount Rogers passing the Thomas Knob shelter.
Note the items hanging from the roof of the shelter. These are called "mouse hangers" where Appalachian Trail thru hikers hang their backpacks so mice cannot climb down the ropes beyond the obstacles to get into the backpacks.
To the left behind the shelter you will find a blue-blazed trail leading to the fenced area where the spring is. You will need a pump and filter to refill water bottles from the spring.
Continue on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail turning right on the blue-blazed Mount Rogers spur trail. You will soon enter a dark, cool, mossy, fragrant spruce-fir forest that feels like you have stepped into another world.
When the blue blazes end, start looking around for the summit benchmarks. There are supposed to be 4, I only found 1. You will be at the summit of Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet. There are no views but the forest you are standing in is worth experiencing.
From this point simply retrace your steps back to the parking lot following the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.
Another herd of ponies with some adorable babies: