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.