Can you guess it?
I have been through a lot of Virginia. All of it? No, of course not. There are some famous places I haven’t been yet. But I have been to Shenandoah National Park (numerous times, obviously, if you read this blog) and to parts of Southern Virginia. When my son and I went to Grayson Highlands State Park back in March of 2018, I was blown away. I knew I would need to return, multiple times, to experience the area.
The day after we hiked The Channels, we drove over to Grayson. My daughter was a big jealous we had gotten to see the ponies who live in the park. Keep in mind that she was feeling jealous while visiting The Galapagos in Ecuador… (insert laugh here) I told her we’d go and check another box before she leaves for college. When we first arrived to the park, we headed straight for the visitors center so my girl could get a shirt. I told my daughter that I expected to hear, “Wow!” at least once, unprompted. That’s how beautiful the area is and if she didn’t notice it, I’d be mad. And then we had to go to the camp store to get some pain medication for my son. Finally, we arrive at Massie Gap to start looking for ponies. We climbed up the Rhododendron Trail and on to the horse trail. We saw a white spot out in the distance and got excited. The climb seemed so easy. When my son and I hiked the area it was thick with snow and seemed to take us forever.//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
We got closer and closer to the white spot and then…. it was a steer. Cows also roam the highlands and we got fooled from far away. Thankfully, as we looked over to the Appalachian Trail we saw more! Off we went! We were treated to a group of about 5-6 ponies who were happily munching on the grass and vegetation. We stood for awhile watching them. It is always a thrill to me to encounter animals on a trail and ponies are no exception.//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Finally, we decided to hike back. We still had to drive 5.5 hours back home on a Sunday on the dreaded I-81. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to climb higher elevation and see the mountains go on forever. I wanted to hike on to Mt. Rogers and finally stand at the highest elevation in Virginia. Basically, I didn’t want to leave. I see a lot of mountains from blogs that I read. I have visited the Rocky Mountains. The Tetons. The Great Smokey Mountains. I have been in Arizona and Yosemite. All beautiful. The Blue Ridge Mountains, though, give me a feeling I can’t quite describe.//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Just two weeks left before I take her to college…. *tears*
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.