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.
Couldnt have asked for a better birthday gift. The ponies were awesome and the hike was even better. We stayed on the campgrounds at night and we were able to watch a beautiful sunrise while making breakfast. Definitely have plans to go back in the near future.
I've been here in each season, my favorites being fall and winter. There's a cool large festival in the fall with tons of local vendors and the best apple butter any where. In the winter, it is definitely COLD but absolutely stunning with snow falling. There are 96 campsites available, some with hookups and some without.
The Appalachian Trail can be easily accessed here and there are several backcountry camping options along the trail. Sites in the main park area have gravel pads, picnic tables, fire rings and some have posts for lanterns as well.
As other photos suggest, there are wild ponies here (notice the adjective wild) that are not intimidated by people. Do everyone a favor and keep your distance, please. I experienced a negative interaction with the ponies here that resulted in several backpacks being chewed to bits. The photos of the ponies posted in this review were taken with a zoom lens. This is their home and they should be respected and treated just as you would a bear.
This place is by far the windiest place I've ever camped in. We couldn't get a proper fire started due to the wind! It was blowing up all over the trails at some points! But it's all worth it. The views are amazing! The ponies are great, they're come right up to you and check you out. There isn't many places to get water so come prepared with enough. The windchill was a serious issue for some in our group so bring lots of layers and gloves. I'll be going back, hopefully when it's a little warmer!
PS tons of pony poop everywhere. I would imagine it would be a real bummer if you step in it. Avoid at all costs.
Wild ponies, endless blueberries, spectacular view of wildflowers make this on of my go to spots to introduce someone to backpacking.
Being able to see the wild ponies on top of the highlands is magical!!!
i took a route recommended to me by one of the Rangers which differs slightly from the maps.
You'll want to start at the Backpackers lot near Massie Gap, Take the Rhododendron trail northbound until it intersects with the Horse trail. Keep going north until it meets the AT going northbound toward mount Rogers. The whole stretch is a bit of a hike but I'm sure you'll see them pretty early on.
It's about 6 miles to mount Rogers from the lot but the scenery is well worth it. Huge meadows, vast vistas above the valley. Very magical! Also, If you decide to hike out of the park and onto the AT, there's a herd of longhorn bulls that graze on the federal land. There's like 30-40 of them. Kind of scary if you aren't expecting to run into them, but worth a few photos for sure.
We loved backpacking here, but be careful of the ponies! They like to get into your stuff, and they will eat tents. Great vistas. Chilly at night. Worth the hike in for the experience!
What a great site. Terrain changes throughout with dense forest and brushy ridgelines. Makes for a really great hike and camp. Several Backpacking sites just past Mt. Rogers summit trail. Worth a few nights stay.
Beautiful views around every single corner! Ponies are awesome and friendly! Don't bother going to the peak of Mt Rogers, it is very easy to miss and completely anti-climactic.
This place is a must see. Awesome views weather the fog rolls in or not. There are mini horses that roam the area. Add a nice aesthetic to the experience. Had a blast exploring and bouldering. Has become my favorite place to camp in the states.