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.
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.
We stayed at Grayson Highlands State Park so that we could climb Mount Roger. Our campsite was clean and there was plenty of tree cover and there were empty sites on both sides of me. The bathhouse was quite a distance away and I didn't make it over there that night.
I woke up shortly after sunrise, took down my tent, headed over to the bathhouse and washed up- including a hot shower and left. The ride in and out was gorgeous. I wish I had the time to explore this park more thoroughly. I will definitely stay there again!
Amazing views of the Appalachian Trail. Weaving in and out of the State Park, you’ll come across many wild ponies! They’re friends and nice. Make sure to tie up food. Great location to do some bouldering if you’re into that kind of thing.
First off - if you are driving an RV or travel trailer up here - know what you are getting yourself into. The drive up here is challenging and only recommended from the East. It is not for the faint of heart or amateur driver. Do your research and drive only in the daylight.
Past that…. GHSP has two campgrounds - Chesnut Hollow and Hickory Ridge. HR is the main campground with store and some led programs (you can reserve sites on Reserve America) and CH has adjacent stables and is more of an overflow campground (reserve non-site specific). We stayed at CH in a 34 foot travel trailer. The sites are close together and some are smaller than others. If you are traveling during the busy summer season, get here early to have to best pick of sites. Because we stayed in mid-May, it was not busy and we really liked the campground. Electric and water hook-up only, but the bathhouse was nice and clean with a dishwashing station. You could hike (0.8 miles) or drive up to Massey Gap where it was just a short hike up to the ponies. There was no wifi or cell signal, but if you drove up to the Visitor Center you could sit on the rocking chairs and get some signal. The ponies are beautiful, but please use common sense. Do not approach them, let them come to you, and avoid the stallion (he will protect himself and his herd with kicks).
We stayed here during Trail Days in Damascus. An hour drive but doable. There is a convience store with some groceries about 15 minutes away from the park. Be prepared otherwise. You are isolated. But that's why you come here. It is beautifully rugged. Would stay again and recommend to others.
This is an amazing park, with a total of 4,822 acres to explore. It's a dream for hikers, allowing you to embark on numerous day hikes and connect with the Appalachian Trail. As many folks have also mentioned, there are feral ponies in the park, and if you hike on the Wilburn Ridge from Massie Gap, you will almost definitely see them.
During my visit, I camped on a Monday night in early May. I did not make reservations, and there were plenty of sites available, although it was way busier than I expected. I'd say that half of the campsites were taken at Hickory Ridge Campground where I pitched my tent.
There are a few choices available here. If you choose a "primitive" site, which simply means no hook-ups, you pay your fee and choose whichever site is open when you get to the campground. You can not choose a specific site in advance. If you choose a site with full hook-ups, then you can pick the one you want. There are also four yurts available, but you have to book them for at least 2 nights in a row.
Primitive sites are $37 a night for out-of-state residents, which I think is quite pricy. The sites are also quite close together and not very private. Restrooms are clean and firewood is $6 for a bundle.
I stayed in site #15, and while it wasn't private, I was lucky to have very nice and quiet neighbors. This is an amazing park, and I would definitely return to do some backpacking or to hike up Virginia's highest peak, Mt. Rogers. The four-star-rating is mainly because the sites are close together and because the campsites are expensive.
Great campsite with an amazing added bonus- WILD HORSES AND PONIES. (Short hike from the campsite) This campsite had everything we needed- Firewood, fire starters, etc. for purchase right there at the campsite. Spaces are a little close together but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for a state park. Great hikes close by with sweet wild ponies that let you get close for pictures. Bathrooms were clean and there was a nice area for a picnic with swings and other things for kids. (Camped June 2 2018)