Category Archives: Virginia State Parks

Visit to Grayson Highlands, Part 2

If you’d like to read about Part 1 to Grayson Highlands, please click here.

Our original plans for Grayson Highlands (other than seeing all the ponies) was to hike to Mt. Rogers.  Mt. Rogers is the highest point of elevation in Virginia. I kept thinking how cool that would be. I have been to Pike’s Peak in Colorado and thought adding another highest peak would be a nice note on my hiking successes.

Monday morning we woke up and waited a bit. It had turned pretty cold and everything had frozen. I wanted it to warm up before we started.  We arrived at the park (after I stopped again for various photos) and we talked about what to do. There was a waterfall that we could hike to or we could try for Mt. Rogers. I let my son decide and he chose Mt. Rogers. Off we hiked.

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Because it had gotten so cold, all the trees had rime ice. It was magical. In one area, the wooded area appeared to be a frosted fairyland. The cold also made it much easier to hike. In many areas, my son just walked on top of the snow. I sank down so I followed footsteps already created. I felt like we were going at a good pace, but, eventually my son started to get tired. Although he’s an avid soccer player, hiking legs are something different. He was having fun but going slow. The snow didn’t help. I would stop and take photos (I couldn’t stop). We ran into some ponies and that took time. We rested and had lunch. We arrived at one point and it said, “Mt. Rogers: 2 miles”.  2 more miles?  That meant we had gone approximately 2.8 miles in 4+ hrs. Go ahead, you can laugh.

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I honestly felt disappointed. I knew that 2 more miles in the snow would be difficult for my son. Did I really want him to be upset? Sad? That wouldn’t make for good memories. My disappointment wasn’t as important. We turned around and headed back. We got passed by two trail runners in shorts and winter coats. At that point, I laughed. My son was decked out in a full snowsuit complete with trekking poles and snowboarding goggles. I was dressed very heavily as well. And there they were… two guys just running down the Appalachian Trail towards Mt. Rogers. I checked our elevation and we had reached almost 5,600 ft. I’d say that’s pretty close considering Mt. Rogers is 5700 and change.

In the end, it was good that we turned around when we did.  It started to warm up. The sun and weather felt really good but that meant slush. The snow became difficult. I grabbed one pole from my son because I was sliding all over the place. To be honest, I don’t have winter, or well, any season of hiking boots. I have a couple pairs of trail shoes that I use.  I was wearing my winter boots. I had nothing else. By the time we reached the car, the knee I sprained last year was feeling really bad. I can’t imagine if I would have had to hike 4 miles in the slush.

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By the time we finished, we were both tired. It had been a quick trip back but the snow was tiring. I know that I’ll go back another time, with no snow, nice weather, and get to Mt. Rogers.  It is just over 8 miles round trip and the hike itself was not difficult. Heck maybe I’ll even run some of it.  The views could not be topped. I have included quite a few photos here but if you’d like to see all of them, click on the link below.  Any photos that you like can be purchased.  I haven’t added any to my website yet but will soon.

If you haven’t been to Grayson Highlands yet, please put it on your list. I think it is quite possibly the most beautiful area of Virginia.

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Visit to Grayson Highlands State Park, Part 1

You know that whole quote about best laid plans… that’s what spring break was for me and my son. As our leaving day grew closer, I noticed that southern Virginia planned to receive almost a foot of snow. I panicked a bit because I wondered what that would mean for our drive, hike, etc. I had rented a cabin near Grayson Highlands and was in contact with the owner. That helped. At first, they maybe suggested to hold off a day. I couldn’t do that as we had reservations elsewhere. Then, they said the roads were clear so off we went.

It was interesting because as we drove south on dreaded I-81 you could clearly see where the storm either stopped or diverged.  Buchanan, VA – clear.  Go just a bit more south and boom, 8 inches of snow. Thankfully, the roads were clear. We made one quick stop in Buchanan so I could show my son the swinging bridge. He made it all the way across. For some reason, I get nervous and don’t venture out too far.  As we exited I-81, the roads were clear. In fact, I think VDOT does a better job clearing those roads than they do the ones near us.

 

We arrived at the cabin and unpacked. There is no true driveway to the cabin. It is grass. And it hadn’t been shoveled or plowed but my little car made it up there okay. Having grown up in Michigan I was confident that I wouldn’t get stuck (mostly). The cabin itself was amazing. My son instantly fell in love with it.  The size of it was perfect for us. There was one bedroom, an open space with a tv, small kitchen, a bathroom, and a loft bedroom.  One heater was enough for the whole space.  If you are headed to Grayson Highlands and want a cabin, I highly recommend Highland Hideaways. They have a number of cabins available.

When we arrived, we drove over to Grayson to check it out. I wanted to check the conditions for hiking and see how the roads would be. I stopped twice on my way there because the views are incredible. Mountains for days.

beautiful pano in grayson

One of the views located on the way to the park

When we finally arrived at the park, the road had been plowed – at least for one car. We got to the parking lot and the ponies were close by. I flipped. Thankfully, it wasn’t too cold because we didn’t exactly dress for too much walking around. When we got near the ponies, one basically came running up to me. I scratched it on its nose a bit and then realized that wasn’t allowed. It was hard to resist petting it more because it was so friendly. I spent some time taking photos. I seriously want to be a professional pony photographer now. They are extremely photogenic.

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The pony loved me

pony longhair

I loved all the different hair styles worn by the ponies. I used to feel like this before getting my hair cut.

We walked up the Rhododendron Trail a bit and found even more ponies. Another came over to us to say hi. As I reviewed photos of the ponies on Instagram, I see why they come running. There are a lot of photos of people feeding, petting, and hugging them – all illegal and fineable. They are wild and hopefully, if you are reading this, you’ll know not to do that. The ponies have to rely on eating from the park – not people.

I will keep saying beautiful, incredible, amazing… over and over. I guess I could go with outstanding, phenomenal, or another word to describe how the mountains looked covered in snow. I was not thrilled with the idea of hiking in snow but had to admit the mountains looked… gorgeous.  We made our way back down to the car.  I hadn’t had service in quite some time but Grayson does have a little bit. I did what I had to do to let people know we arrived safely and we made our way back to the cabin. We played games, watched tv, and turned in early to prepare for the next day’s adventure.

Breaks Interstate Park Hiking

Wow. That’s my response to Breaks Interstate Park in Breaks, Virginia. My son and I showed up last weekend after a quick stop at Dismal Falls in Bland, Virginia. Our plan was to get there in time for the Elk Tour we had signed up for that was to take place that evening. The drive into the park was pretty amazing and then you turn the corner and there is this overlook that can almost take your breath away. They call it the “Grand Canyon of the South” due to the deep canyon that has been carved out by the Russell Fork River. We showed up, checked in, and made our way to the Catawba lodge. We were told by the woman at the front desk that our room had the best view out of all of the rooms. After walking in and looking over the balcony I’m sure she wasn’t lying. It was so impressive. We had a wonderful view of the river and the mountains over in Kentucky. We headed to the Visitor Center to prepare for the Elk Tour. In the last few years they have worked to reintroduce elk to Virginia. They hang out in an area that has been set aside for them. They ring 25 a year and the herd has grown to 400 elk.  We rode in a van with others to the location. We could get out and walk around to see the elk and rode further around the wildlife management area. The elk did not care about the van but were skittish with people. It was impressive to see them so close, though.  And we were treated to a beautiful sunset that evening as well. The tour provides you with a sack lunch. It was a very good tuna on croissant sandwich with an apple, chips, cookies, and a bottle of water.  I think for the adult price of $25 it was well worth it. elkbuckclose

 

elkgroup-notclear elktreeinsunset

The lodge room was very comfortable. Because it is still low season the place was virtually empty. We heard nothing during the night (which is how I like it). The next morning we got up and went to the restaurant for breakfast. They offered a buffet or ordering off the menu. We chose the menu and had a yummy start to our day.  Our day was supposed to be an easy hike day. We started out on the Geological trail and were immediately impressed. The rock formations were exciting. We had so much fun exploring and climbing on rocks.

Breaks Interstate Park Breaks Interstate Park

Breaks Interstate Park And then we decided we’d hike to the river. Oops. I guess I didn’t think it would be that bad. I mean it looked like a long ways down there but I didn’t anticipate heading straight down the side of the gorge. And yes, we just kept going. We are experienced hikers. We knew we’d have to go back up but I kept telling myself it wouldn’t be so bad. We found a nice big rock near the river for lunch and I realized my son had drank all of the water. Normally, we have two bladders for water but my other one was leaking. That left us with one Gatorade for the rest of the hike. Ugh. Breaks Interstate Park

We continued on and the sights were still amazing even at the bottom. We spent some time next to the river and decided we should start the hike back up. At first, we wound through rhododendrons and the climb was not bad. I thought, “Yes! We can do this!” And then the trail turned and it was straight up. By this time, the Gatorade was gone and we still had almost a mile to go. My breathing started to get worse (asthma) and my son was fading. At one point he exclaimed, “This is the worst hike I’ve ever done.” That felt really great even though I knew he said it in the moment.

Breaks Interstate Park Although the hike was incredibly hard, it was still beautiful. I was very happy to start seeing the very large rock formations because I knew that meant we were close to the top. When we reached the Geological trail again we opted to walk to the road. We still had more elevation to climb before reaching the car. What a wonderful sight that was. I checked my phone and it said only 3.3 miles. However, we had climbed 1600 feet in elevation.  We had a nice big dinner of pizza and we drank a ton of water to make up for the lack of it over the hike. That evening I headed to Stateline Overlook to catch the sunset. I allowed my son to just chill in the room considering he was still a bit frustrated with me about the hike. Unfortunately, this meant we would not be able to complete the Sand Cave hike the next day. That hike is 8 miles with 2000 feet of elevation and I didn’t think I should put my son through that. Breaks Interstate Park

I really hope to get back to Breaks again in the future – perhaps in the summer so we can enjoy the lake and step foot in the river without freezing. The scenery is some of the best I have ever seen in Virginia. There is a nice run that feeds into the river and I’d love to take time to photograph that.

Breaks Interstate Park

Spring Break Planning

For the past two years my kids and I have gone hiking for a couple of days during spring break. This is the only time I get to spend uninterrupted time with them as they are both so busy with their sports. This year, unfortunately, it will just be my son and I. My daughter will be visiting Peru during spring break and doing both volunteer work and visiting Machu Picchu. I am incredibly jealous because Machu Picchu is number one on my list of places to visit. Alas, I could not afford to go with her as her trip will cost plenty. I am, however, very happy that she gets to go and experience that culture. Hopefully she realizes just how lucky she is.

So my son and I have been working out where we want to go. The places that have crossed our lips are The Grayson Highlands, New River Trail, Kentucky areas, Sand Cave in Virginia and others. I think we are finally narrowing it down.  The sand cave is number one on our list. I’m not sure if we’ll make White Rocks as well but the cave is a sure thing.

Next on our list is Mammoth Caves. I have to remember to ask my parents if we visited there when I was little. I remember a cave of some sort but am unsure of which one it was.  We have now added Breaks Interstate Park to the list. The park looks amazing and they have a lodge where we can stay and it is pretty inexpensive.  In talking to my son the other evening he said he is ready to have “legs of steel” after this hiking trip.  What he doesn’t realize is that it is a lot of driving but I’ll manage. I want him to have a memorable trip and I want some amazing photos as well.

A couple weeks ago my son declared, “No!” to camping in a tent. Just yesterday he changed is mind again so I guess we’ll be planning something for that next spring/summer.