One of the most popular Virginia State Parks, Grayson Highlands State Park is in a fantastic location.
It’s set in the beautiful high country in Mouth of Wilson VA, close to some of the state’s most renowned natural wonders.
Adjacent to the park are Mount Rogers, Virginia’s tallest mountain, and Whitetop Mountain, the state’s second-tallest peak.
In fact, Grayson Highlands State Park frequently operates as a gateway to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, where both of these mountains are located.
Park visitors can also access the 2150-mile Appalachian Trail, which– when combined with sojourns to Mount Rogers– explains the immense popularity of Grayson Highlands hiking and backpacking.
Grayson Highlands offers equestrian facilities, as well as a quick jump over to the 68-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, one of Virginia’s numerous high-quality saddle trails.
Originally established in 1965 as Mount Rogers State Park, Grayson Highlands State Park encompasses just over 4,500 acres and spans nearly 1,400 feet in elevation, from the entrance (3,698 feet) to the Little Pinnacle (5,089 feet).
Grayson Highlands State Park VA Info
ADDRESS: 829 Grayson Highland Ln., Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363
OFFICE HOURS: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm daily
ENTRY FEES: $7.00 Mon-Fri, or $10.00 on weekends (April-October)
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
RESERVATIONS: Reserve Online or call 1-800-933-PARK
DIRECTIONS TO GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK:
From Marion (north), take VA-16 S south for about 25 miles until it intersects with US-58 W. Turn right onto US-58, and the park will be on the right about 8 miles down the road.
From Mouth of Wilson or Independence (southeast), take US-58 W/VA-16 N to US-58 W/Highlands Parkway. Turn left onto Highlands Parkway and the park will be on the right in just under 8 miles.
Grayson Highlands Hiking
Additionally, some trails within the park lead to larger treks outside the park boundaries, such as the Appalachian Trail and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
Hiking trails in Grayson Highlands State Park proper include trips to the park’s highest point, to beautiful waterfalls in the deep valleys of the park, and to the mountain meadows for which the area is most famous.
The Twin Pinnacles Trail departs from the Visitor Center and is a 1.6-mile hiking trail that leads to the two highest peaks in the park. To go along with the “self-guided hike,” there is a pamphlet that tells about the natural history of the area.
The Wilson Creek Trail has a trailhead on the north side of the entrance to the Hickory Ridge Campground and across from the Country Store. It’s a 1.76-mile loop that travels along beautiful cascades right at the park’s eastern boundary.
The Cabin Creek Trail moves north from Massie Gap, the central hub of the park. It takes hikers to one of the park’s best waterfalls. This trail is a 1.51-mile loop that climbs deep into a valley and then, of course, back up.
The Rhododendron Trail is Grayson Highlands’ most popular route, leading up from Massie Gap into the wildflower-strewn highland meadows on the way to Mount Rogers.
This trail is famed for providing access to see the Grayson Highlands ponies. These ever-popular “wild” ponies were actually introduced to the park in 1974 to help prevent the reforestation of its open areas.
Grayson Highlands Camping
In our experience, camping in Virginia state parks is always first-rate.
In fact, the VA State Parks are award-winning, and their fine campgrounds are one of the main reasons.
Their parks have an air of places that were designed for people (and families especially) to enjoy, and Grayson Highlands State Park camping is a perfect example.
There are two different Grayson Highlands campgrounds for visitors to enjoy, the Hickory Ridge Campground and Chestnut Hollow Campground.
Hickory Ridge Campground
This is the larger of the two Grayson Highlands campgrounds, with around 70 different campsites, including 36 sites with full electric and water hook-ups.
As is common in many Virginia State Parks, the Hickory Ridge Campground also has four yurts for rent.
Each can sleep up to four people, and renters must supply their own bedding.
There’s also a large bunk house/camping lodge that can sleep up to 14 people in bunk beds.
Chestnut Hollow Campground
This campground is primarily geared toward equestrian enthusiasts, and it’s situated near the stables.
All Chestnut Hollow campsites include water and electric hook-ups from May through October, and are set up for primitive camping in March, April, and November.
There’s also a parking area here that backpackers can use for a small fee.
This is ideal for backcountry camping in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, or along the Appalachian Trail.
More Recreation at Grayson Highlands
While Grayson Highlands State Park camping and hiking offer plenty of options to make for a fulfilling itinerary, the park also boasts several other recreational activities for visitors to enjoy:
Horseback riding in Grayson Highlands State Park is a big thing. There are nearly 10 miles of equestrian trails within the park, and these lead to even more bridle trails in the Jefferson National Forest.
Mountain biking in Grayson Highlands is also a possibility. There are about 10 miles of paths open to cyclists, including Old Upchurch Road, Seed Orchard Road, Horse Trail, and Wilburn Branch Trail.
Bouldering is another unique outdoor activity that’s available in the park. There are four boulder fields, and over 700 named climbing routes. Check out the Mountain Project for more detailed info.
Fishing opportunities are awesome for anglers who come to Grayson Highlands. There are 10 miles of wild trout streams that are open to fishing, including Big Wilson Creek, Wilbur Branch, Mill Creek, Quebec Branch, and Cabin Creek.
Picnicking is another extremely popular pastime in the park. There are some great facilities in the southern area of the Grayson Highland State Park map. But just spreading a blanket out at Massie Gap feels pretty nice on a sunny afternoon as well. There are also two large shelters in the park for rent.
Attending Festivals at a wonderful venue in the picnic area is possible at various time throughout the year. They include the Wayne C Henderson Music Festival & Guitar Competition, the Albert Hash Memorial Festival (dedicated to a beloved fiddle player/master fiddle maker from Whitetop VA), and the always popular Grayson Highlands Fall Festival.
Exploring the homestead is a great way to get into the spirit of the Appalachian pioneers who settled this area of Virginia. The homestead, which is located near the picnic area, includes several historic buildings, not to mention an amazing Blue Ridge Mountains setting.
Spotting the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands has to be a part of any great adventure in the park.
While the “wild” aspect of their description is a touch of hyperbole, that doesn’t detract from the excitement of spotting one grazing on the park’s meadows. It just feels magical!
But please follow park guidelines and do not attempt to approach the ponies or feed them. One herd was recently moved to a more remote location due to visitors who didn’t follow the rules… –by Jonathon Engels; featured images by Dawson Tozier