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.