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.
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)
Scenic trails crossing multiple terrain with wild horses and steer. AT shelter (but it gets a little loud and party like) - Trails also intersect with the Appalachian Trail. Nice outcropping of trees for hammock hang near huge field of wild berries. Just keep in mind that all kinds of animals like berries as well. Showers are available in the state park (for a small fee) so you can un-stink yourself before returning to the real world from the backcountry. Soap and shampoo are way overpriced at the small campground store in the state park.
With camping just a moderate day hike away from Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia, this campground is a hiker's paradise.
There is little to no cell signal here, so coming to Grayson Highlands is one of the few state parks in Virginia where you can truly go "off the grid" during the length of your stay--and you won't miss technology, because there is so much to do at this park. From the aforementioned Mount Rogers--an 8.5 mile out-and-back, to the 1.5 mile but difficult Cabin Trail that takes you to a waterfall, to the wild ponies who will approach hikers along the Rhododendron Trail, any fitness level will find hiking they can enjoy. When we stayed the outer bands of Hurricane Michael brought so much fog and rain that we were not able to see any of the ponies, but we did hear one a couple of times, very near Massie's Gap!
As for camping there are two frontcountry campgrounds. All sites have picnic tables and fire rings, and bathrooms with electricity and flush toilets*
Chestnut Hollow Campground:
-There are 23 sites here with water and electric hook-ups May-October, and this loop is available as primitive camping March, April, and November. *During this time bathrooms are pit toilets only
-Horse-friendly; there are stables located adjacent to this loop
-These sites are very small; if you are in a tent I recommend no larger than a 4 person.
-Not a lot of privacy between sites, especially near the back of the loop. Most sites are right agains the road and have little space to move around; I would not recommend this loop if you have small children who are going to want space to run and play
Hickory Ridge Campground
-This is the larger of the loops at GHSP; there are 64 campsites ranging from standard tent sites without water or electric, to full service sites with water and electric hookups.
-Tent sites 1-18 are the furthest from hookup sites and will therefore be the quietest; they are mostly small sites and very close to the road. Sites 10, 12, 13, and 14 are set back furthest from the road. There is a path behind sites 2-14 leading to the bathhouse behind site 14. Site 13 is easily the most private--and arguably the only truly private--tent site in this campground, with the driveway going behind a cluster of trees that shields the site from the road. We stayed in site 12 which easily fit our 6 person tent.
-Sites 31 and 32 are on a meadow the campsite loops around; they have no privacy and little shade, but ample room for kids to run around, and there is a set of swings near these sites. They are however right on the road so it may be easier to just walk to the swings and keep littles in a site without as much traffic. There is water right across from both of these sites.
-Even-numbered hookup sites 60-70 are also right on the meadow with very little shade
-All other sites are heavily shaded, although you'll be close to your neighbors
The camp store near the Hickory Ridge Loop sells ice, firewood, and just about anything you may possibly have forgotten to pack--firestarters, first aid supplies, marshmallows, and has as a gift shop with blankets, outerwear, and kitschy souvenirs.
Normally I would take off a star for lack of privacy of tent sites, however there is so much hiking here that your campsite can really be more of a basecamp than a place you want to sit and hang out all day long!
This is a beautiful and secluded park in the heart of Appalachia. Beautiful all year round but definitely best for camping in the spring and summer months. Be sure to bring a jacket as the winds can get quite strong
Gorgeous 360 views, rock climbing, hiking, and ponies! This place is gorgeous especially during the fall season. There is so much to do! I wish I could’ve stayed longer. I spent 3 nights backpacking through the park and I can’t wait to go back!
Beautiful campground. Rv sites are narrow. NO cell phone or WiFi for hours. Great hiking trails. Wild ponies were amazing. A great place to relax and unwind
whete has this campground been all my life? We are renters live the be next to the dyrt, this campground provides it all. Secluded camp sites, nice bathrooms and showers, which will needed for all the hiking that is available in the park. We enjoyed mild to strenuous hikes, wild blue berries plus the Appalachian trail passes thru the park. Weather was amazing 70s during the day, 50s at night.
We camped at the group site, which was a bit difficult to get into. Had to park up a hill and walk down a steep washed out path.
But the location was amazing and it's a hikers paradise.