When you think of Highlands, you may automatically conjure images of the wild Scottish countryside, but the eastern U.S. has its own Highlands right in eastern Virginia. Established in 1965, and located within the Jefferson National Forest, Grayson Highlands State Park is 4,500 acres of forested hills, mountain meadows (balds), and bubbling trout streams surrounded by some of the areas highest peaks. Herds of wild ponies and gobs of summer blueberries only add to the area’s wilderness character. And with more than 25 miles of multiuse trails in the park—including several miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail—you don’t have to hop an international flight to go roaming the wild high country.
Located about 25 miles west of Independence, off U.S. Highway 58, Grayson Hills State Park provides two seasonal campgrounds for tent, RV and horse campers. Hickory Ridge Campground offers 65 wooded tent and RV sites, four yurts, and a group tent site; Chestnut Hollow Horse Camp has 24 sites. All campsites are equipped with picnic tables and fire pits. RV and horse sites have water and electrical hookups, and horse sites have access to stables. There are also bathhouses with showers, drinking water, visitor center, playground, picnic areas, and a small store; nature and outdoors programs are offered at the park amphitheater. Pets are permitted in the park, but require a small fee. Campsite rates range from $15–$40/night; horse stalls are $8–$15/night.
You don’t have to be an avid hiker to enjoy the Virginia high country at Grayson Hills. Several shorter walking paths visit various viewpoints, meadows, and shady, rhododendron-filled woods. The park’s numerous streams provide plenty of opportunities to fish for brook and rainbow trout, and, if the water is high, you can take a guided canoe paddle up the New River. Bouldering is also a popular activity in the park for challenging gravity. There are more than 700 named routes among the park’s sprawling boulder fields and rock outcrops, with challenges for all skill levels. For enjoying the local music, food and country community, don’t miss the park’s Wayne Henderson Festival in June, or the Grayson Highlands Fall Festival in September.
I have been coming here for the past 10 years. It's one of the best Campgrounds I have been to anywhere. Not only is it beautiful and well kept like most state parks but the staff has always been tremendous and helpful. And the location is quite perfect. It is set high on the mountain so you get wonderful views easy access to the Appalachian trail And lots of hiking everywhere.
Such an amazing place! We camped, hiked, and relaxed! Some spaces in campground were a little crowded, but not all sites! Campground was clean and well maintained! The hiking and views from this place was amazing!
This is one of the best Virginia State Parks I have camped at!
The area is just so incredibly beautiful and the park is huge, there is so much to do and explore. The ponies, hikes of all kinds, waterfalls, mountains. It is a trip I will remember forever.
We got a non-site specific tent site reservation so we rolled up and I think we got the best one, site 13. It is the most private and very comfortable. Close to the bathrooms and water. I have no complaints! It was great!
Check out Molly Chomper Cidery if you venture out of the park!
Ranger Review: GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK-Hickory Ridge Campground.
Every once in a while you end up staying somewhere and think…this was just unreal, I don’t want to leave. That’s what I experienced at Grayson Highlands State Park.
Grayson Highlands is expansive. It was a two mile drive from the Contact Center to the campground entrance… passing by a scenic view turnoff on the right, with long valley views.
At over 4300 ft, even at the end of June it got downright cold at night. Hiking trails are abundant, some higher than 5200 ft, the AT passes by and the Wild ponies of Grayson Highlands inhabit these heights.
You have several campsite options, from Electric/Water sites, Standard sites (no water/electric), Specific Sites (Reservable), Yurts, cabins to Equestrian sites. And a range of pricing depending on choice.
Without reservations, I rolled up and got the last available site (or so I was told). It has been a very, very long time since I have stayed at a full campground…and that even on a Wednesday night. So I was out of my element…and struggle a bit with the closeness of neighbors and noise. ..along with competing for a place at the shower, restroom or sink station. It wasn’t awful, just not the freedom I am use to primitive or backcountry camping. Site SP 54 set me back $30 a night as a non-resident. Virginians see a discounted rate.
The yurts appear newer, and the Pinnacle Yurt (#3) not only has a massive 360 degree deck like the others…the deck stretches out over the mountainside with a railed boardwalk, incorporating the huge rocks.
Restroom/shower house is clean and stocked. The shower was the hottest I’ve ever experienced. There are two private single shower rooms between the men and women’s restrooms and one shower in the men’s restroom. The wash sink for dishes is outside at the north end of the same building and also doubles as the water spigot. I guess they covered all the campground water spigots because of the current health issue and centralized it to one location. Not certain but doesn’t make much sense or make things convenient with a full campground.
Being a mountainous region, most tent pads and pull in drives appeared fairly level, except ours, which may be why it was the only one available…only a partial piece of wood remained of the “elevated tent pad.” The likely tent area was between half a dozen trees and a dirt/pea gravel mix. As long as it didn’t rain our tent site would work out okay.
On our circle, there was very minimal ground vegetation and distance between sites, so you can always see and hear your neighbors. Our neighbor’s eating area was less than ten feet from our tent pad. Not ideal, especially for Virginia State Park pricing, which in most cases is double to triple what I’ve paid for tent camping in seventeen other states I’ve camped in across the U.S. But you’ve got to pay the fiddler if you want to dance. Virginians get s healthy discounted rate.
“Fill-in” hosts (the Smith’s) were fabulous, kind and helpful. May their tribe increase! Drove around the wood cart in the evening for purchase which was helpful as well. Good sized bundle was $6 at the time of this review. They also manned the Outpost located in the campground where you could buy a few things.
With that in mind, bring or buy whatever you need because it’s a long haul to find groceries.
We drove 8 miles (25 minutes) to two different stores to find hot dogs and buns for lunch and dinner. The first had hot dogs but no buns…pass. The second gave us both from their back room stock. A Mennonite women brought in her pastries while we were there so we bought apple fritters, and several fold over mini pies, black raspberry, cherry and chocolate. Very tasty breakfast snacks.
Trails: miles upon miles…all clearly marked. Trails that lead to 180 degree views, trails that lead to 360 degree views, AT trails, trails to waterfalls and cascades, trails through rolling fields covered in flowering berry bushes, dark-cool-wooded trails, rocky trails, root covered trails, trails with wild ponies…tons of trails!
The Visitors center, oddly, is on the opposite side of the park but a treat to visit…as you will learn and see the history of the area…and find some nice trinkets to purchase.
Backpackers can pay a nominal $8 fee and leave there vehicles in a specific parking lot close to the AT. But you also must call ahead to make reservations. Countless backpacking folk of all ages were either coming or going.
There are playgrounds for the kids both in the campground proper and in the picnic and Homestead area further down the park roadway. A beautiful sprawling picnic area where the kids can run wild and parents can relax.
Great park, new facilities, very clean, great rails for beginners not being too long.
Campground Review: There are two campgrounds in Grayson Highland SP which is located by The Mouth Of Wilson, VA, near the North Carolina border. Just an FYI certain cell phone providers do not have great coverage in this area, so plan ahead and print out any Geo or local info before you arrive. As a non-Virginia resident you will pay more to hike and stay at the State Parks. That being said the facilities I’ve visited have been immaculate and well staffed. Grayson Highlands has a front gate where you can pick up your packet if pre-registered. I’m not sure what I picked at online registration other than electric and water but I had the choice of over 10 sites. I originally pulled into site 29 which has an awesome view, but had visions of plummeting down the mountain side so I moved. There are several pull through options, I opted for a back in. The lay out of the park is very linear and the “corners” are completely used with up to three sites. We visited on a week day after Labor Day and the campground was sparsely occupied. The shower house closest to my site, 46, had a shower and latrine option or just shower option. The camp host was located across from the shower house and the dump station was adjacent to that site. For the most part there was plenty of shade. Near the entrance there were a few sites off the field that had few or no trees. There is a six pad group site available behind the camp store that had plenty of picnic tables and a large fire ring. LOVED the hiking trails!!! The VIEWS!!! The “one” the park is known for is the Rhododendron, which is where the wild ponies live. We saw ponies, but more then that it’s like you are on top of the mountain range , “Lord Of The Rings” or something like that! The Creekside Cabin hike is very technical as in tree roots and rocks, but so worth the exertion! Very cool waterfall and aside from some modern day trash there is still the old wood stove and pantry in the cabin. If you like to cool off in the streams that you hike to this trail has many options to sit and enjoy. We saw several deer, some turkey but no bears. Still be aware of your surroundings when moving around and in the campground.
Product Review: Outdoor Element makes some useful gadgets to wear, carry and stash on your person for all contingencies. I reviewed the “Firebiner” while at camp this time. Realize I am a laymen and “thingy” is an acceptable word when describing products. Please visit www.OutdoorElement.Com for all the big words and complete descriptions. First and foremost I want to say I am not an outdoor , backwoods phenomena, so bear with me on my fire making skills. I have watched “Survivor” and they are right about how hard it is to get a fire going with just flint. Outdoor Element gives you everything you need to be successful though with PRACTICE! SO … The Firebiner first has some cool added features before you ever get to the fire part. A cool assortment of colors and National Parks in a titanium coated finish, a flathead screwdriver tip, a bottle opener, a built in utility blade, hang slots ( like for key rings and small hanging things ). This biner can hold up to 100 lbs ( non-human ) and has a stainless steel wire gate that springs closed. Now one of the coolest features to me is the Everspark fire wheel. It can throw some sparkage around! I was unsuccessful with regular tinder but got the jute burning. The ferry rod has two replacements included in the package and you can get a kit for the replacement or use an eyeglass flathead, but remember it has a spring in there.
The park is gorgeous, the facilities are clean . The park is very well kept , the hiking trails are very well marked.
This place is magical. I have loved this place for so many years and gladly visit any chance I can! Wonderful hikes, views, and wild ponies!
The campground itself is your standard campground but, the setting is unbelievable. High up in the highlands of southern VA, you’re a day hike away from exposed rocky outcropping, balds, and peaks all from the campground/park area. And the ponies are real. I wasn’t sure I’d see any then, I saw more of them than I did humans when I was out hiking.
I hiked GHSP and part of the AT with a youth group overnight. Beautiful trail with wild ponies. We stayed in the shelter up the mountain over night and a pony made his way to the opening of the shelter causing a dog to bark thinking it was a bear. Great hike, great learning experience, beautiful views.