Dave V.The Dyrt PRO User
Reviewed Aug. 2, 2020

Drop everything and visit here!

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.

  • Lengthy campground description. (Note: I misspoke and called Wilburn’s Ridge Martin’s Ridge)
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  • Wild Ponies roam...well...wild. Don't feed nor touch...they do bite and kick.
  • A welcomed fire as the nights were cold even in mid-June
  • Delicious homemade fold-over pies sold at the gas station 8 miles from the park entrance.
  • Homemade apple fritter also sold at the gas station/diner 8 miles from the park entrance
  • My personal favorite...very delicious.
  • Getting ready to take off the morning chill
  • Overnight backpackers welcome...just make reservations before doing so.
  • A wonderful Visitor's Center
  • Lots of interesting area history
  • Fun to learn about the areas you visit
  • Giving back...oftentimes, it just takes one to bring about beauty.
  • Can't get enough of the past.
  • That's one busy signpost. As stated in the narrative...miles and miles of great trails.
  • You've heard of "dead dog tired," well...I guess it happens to ponies too.
  • Can't hike any trails in Grayson Highlands without seeing at least one wild pony
  • Signposts are at every junction or crosstrail.
  • These flowering berry bushes are in every meadow...thus the bear warning signs when these bear fruit.
  • The Wild Ponies are not afraid of nearby human activity, but they don't want to be pestered either.
  • Lots of foals across the mountainscape this June.
  • Buzzard Rock overlook toward sunset
  • Kiosks give trail information
  • Cabin Creek Trail waterfalls and cascades
  • Lots of roots and rocks on Cabin Creek Trail
  • Small waterfall
  • Serene wooded creek
  • Clearly marked trails
  • A short hike up for breathtaking views.
  • All part of the trail
  • Very doable trail
  • Pinnacle Peak Summit views...shameless Dyrt sticker photo on walking sticks
  • The air was cool and the wind chilly, but its hard not to sit and behold incredible beauty.
  • Views into the Smokies of North Carolina
  • A view of Pinnacle Peak from the Park roadway
  • Contact Booth at Entrance
  • Plenty of shelters in the picnic area
  • Picnic/Homestead area
  • Park Headquarters just beyond the Entrance Contact booth on your left when entering.
  • Campground Outpost...some items but not enough to survive on.
  • The Iconic AT
  • The Wilburn Ridge Trail offers some scrambling, but the views are well worth the effort.
  • Wilburn Ridge Trail
  • Views from knob 2 on the Wilburn Ridge Trail
  • Whaddya mean you can't see the trail?!
  • Beautiful flora
  • Some trails are specifically foot traffic only...others permit horseback
  • Rarely a doubt what trail you are on and how far to go
  • Wilburn Ridge Trail photo from knob 1 of knob 2 in the distance.
  • Stay to the way drive through the campground
  • Catwalks from each site toward the restroom/showerhouse
  • Centrally located restroom/showerhouse...dishwashing and fresh water on the right end of the building. Additional single unisex shower rooms are located on the exterior beside the restroom doors.
  • Dish wash station and fresh water.
  • Men's restroom with solitary shower.
  • Very nice and newer Yurts are available that cantilever over the mountainside
  • Yurt boardwalk incorporating natural rocky landscape into its structure...very cool touch.
  • What is camping without S'mores...and dare I say perfectly toasted marshmallows?
SiteSP 54

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