Last weekend Dave and Garrett headed to Red River Gorge to backpack with friends, so the girls and I headed to Virginia to see the Grayson Highlands State Park ponies. I’ve been wanting to visit Grayson Highlands for a while, so I was excited to spend the beautiful fall weekend camping with my girls. And I was definitely not disappointed! Good company, beautiful weather, amazing hiking and finally getting to see the famous Grayson Highlands State Park ponies made for a fantastic adventure!Grayson Highlands State Park is located in the town of Mouth of Wilson in the south west corner of Virginia. We left Cincinnati after the girls got out of school on Friday, and drove the 6 hours to the park where we planned to camp at the main campground. Since the weather was so beautiful and the park is very popular, I had made reservations to camp a couple of days earlier. Due to traffic and a pit stop at one of downtown Charlottesville best restaurants, it was after 11 before we pulled up to the park gate. I had read a few reports that said the park gates would close and lock at 10, so we were a bit worried we wouldn’t be able to get inside. No worries, an envelope was waiting for us at the gate with site information and a park map. Because all of the tent sites were taken, we had reserved a standard electric site. At the campground, this type of site is marked with a red post and you can pick from any available, so we drove through the campground and parked at the first red posted site we came to. As we were camping in our van, set up was fast and easy and we quickly settled in to sleep.We woke up to clear skies and crisp temperatures the next morning. Looking around the campground, we could see that the campsites were fairly small but beautifully wooded. The colorful fall leaves were breathtaking. A very well taken care of campground, it wasn’t long before the camp host came by in a golf cart to say good morning and to see if we wanted any of the firewood he had available for purchase. We purchased a nice sized bundle for $5 to use in the fire ring that night. Getting ready for our day, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the bathrooms were as clean and tidy as the rest of the campground.
On the Trail With the Grayson Highlands State Park Ponies
After breakfast, we made the quick drive to Massie Gap where we planned to start our hike. Heading out on the Rhododendron Trail, it was only a short walk before we caught sight of the famous Grayson Highlands State Park ponies! Released in the park in 1975 by the National Forest Service to help control overgrowth of brush on top of the balds, the Grayson Highlands State Park ponies are wild in name only. Very accustomed to hikers, the ponies grazed nonchalantly while we walked right by them. They didn’t even budge when Luna went crazy barking at the first pony she saw while they just kept placidly munching on the grasses underfoot. We saw people petting them and even feeding them, and many of the ponies acted like greedy begging chipmunks you come across on many trails. But they are beautiful to look at and it’s wonderful to be so close to a wild(ish) animal. Our plan was to hike on the Rhododendron Trail to the Appalachian Trail through the State Park to Mount Rogers Recreation Area where we climbed Mount Rogers. The highest peak in Virginia, Mount Rogers, at 5,729 feet, was a beautiful climb that was only mildly strenuous. The rocky areas did make for occasional steep areas though. One of the highlights was passing by an Appalachian Trail Shelter where we filled our water bottles and read the hiker journal. Since Naomi is planning to thru hike next summer, this was especially exciting for her. A privy was located here as well. While not crowded, people were definitely out enjoying the day and we saw many backpacker campsites along the way as well as numerous hikers. I was quite happy to see many families out hiking together. Kids of all ages will love visiting here if only to see the Grayson Highlands State Park ponies. And since it is only a short hike from Massie Gap until you see them, even little ones can get there. From the breathtaking mountain views to the frequent pony sightings, hiking in Grayson Highlands made for a magical day.
Things to Know to See the Grayson Highlands State Park Ponies For Yourself:
While appearing quite tame, please keep a safe distance from the Grayson Highlands State Park ponies. A swift kick would definitely hurt!
There was no food service available in the park, so make sure to pack enough food for your visit. We enjoyed a picnic lunch halfway through our hike where we lounged about and read for a couple of hours among the beautiful scenery and ponies.
Dogs on leash are allowed in both Grayson Highlands State Park and Mount Rogers Recreation Area and Luna definitely enjoyed hiking and camping here. We saw many dogs out enjoying the trail that day.
There is a Visitor’s Center for Grayson Highlands State Park, but it is only open seasonally and was closed during our visit.
If planning to backpack through Grayson Highlands to the Mount Rogers Recreation Area, arrive early to the overnight parking area as the lot was quite full during our visit. Located near the Massie Gap parking area, the overnight parking fee if $3 a night. There are several backpacking routes through the area that are on my list when we have more time.I was so excited to finally visit Grayson Highlands, and it was well worth the wait! I am looking forward until the next time we visit and Naomi is really looking forward to seeing the ponies again during her upcoming A.T. thru hike. Happy Travels!