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Grayson Highlands State Park: Peaks & Ponies

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I know, it’s been about 2 months since you’ve heard from me. The past several weeks have been a blur of incredibly hot Carolina temperatures, big life changes, and enjoying a summer with friends from all over.

Back in June, our friends Jodie & Alex came down from Anchorage for a weekend of hiking before they and Matt flew out to Minnesota for a week of canoeing through the boundary waters.

North Carolina has a lot of places to go backpacking – but once you’ve camped in Alaska’s backcountry, it is hard to find places that compare on the East Coast. Our mountain range is a lot older over here, so the peaks aren’t as tall and trees cover the top of mountains – obscuring the amazing views when you’re on the trail.

I wanted to find somewhere cool. So I asked around to everyone I know who spends time in the outdoors like we do. An area that kept coming up with the Grayson Highlands State Park on the NC/VA border. Neither Matt or I had ever heard of it, but once I started researching it, I knew it would be the perfect place for an easy weekend trip.

A 3 hour drive north of Charlotte, Grayson Highlands State Park intersects with the Appalachian Trail, is easy proximity to Mount Rogers (The tallest peak in Virginia at 5,729 ft above sea level), and known for feeling more like the Scottish Highlands instead of Virginia Highlands.

It also is home to Assateague ponies!

The ponies were places on the mountains in 1957 to graze on the balds and keep the brush at bay. The horses have thrived, and every year a few are sold off to pay for the vetinary care. There are supposedly 150 horses, we felt like we saw close to 50 of them ourselves. We saw pregnant ponies, new baby foals, and a cow who was trying to join a pony pack. They were incredibly friendly and not afraid of people at all. Some curious horses even tried to play with Moose – our hiking dog that tackles every mountain with us. Moose was amazing with the horses  – she seemed to realize that she needed to stay calm and approach slowly if she wanted to sniff them.

The best part of the trip was the amazing views, and the cooler temps. We’ve been experiencing a summer where temps in the high 90s have been the norm, but the GHSP felt like high 70s/low 80s – making it enjoyable and allowing for a bit of a suntan on the arms, without the intense sweating.

The Route We Took:
From The Grayson Highlands State Park parking area, we hiked along the Rhododendron Trail until we intersected with the Appalachian Trail. We took the App Trail Southbound, meandering for miles until we found a place to make our home from the night. The next morning, we did day packs along the App Trail Southbound to the Mount Rogers Spur Trail to reach the peak of the mountain. We then hiked back to our bags, and made our way out of the park back to the car.  It was roughly 10 miles round trip.

Fair Warning: this post is very image heavy! Be prepared to see so many horse. If you want to see the image larger, click the pic.

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*I’d like to point out that I took all these photos with my iPhone 6s Plus. I can not get over the quality I was able to get with a camera phone. It’s amazing how much has advanced since taking photos with a Motorola Razr in 2008!

Have you explored this amazing state park before? We want to go back this fall to see the leaves changing – any recommendations for other trails in the area?

Memorial Day Weekend: Backpacking Along The Foothills Trail

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This was our first Memorial Day Weekend back in the South, so we decided it was the perfect time to kick off our backpacking season.

Turns out, backpacking in the summer in the South is the WORST. So hot. So humid. So many mosquitos.

We still enjoyed it anyways.

We decided to re-hike the first ever backpacking trip we did together 5 years ago: section A4 – A5 out-and-back on the Foothills Trail. This time around, we added a few more miles, kicking off from A3 instead. We had the same backpacks, same hammocks, Matt’s same shoes; but the rest of our gear had been upgraded. I was breaking in a new pair of trail shoes, and it was Moose’s longest trip since Seward last year.

Continue reading “Memorial Day Weekend: Backpacking Along The Foothills Trail” »

Exploring Glassy Mountain

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The weather forecast for this past weekend was supposed to be torrential downpour across the Carolina’s – cancelling a backpacking trip we had planned to Lake Jocassee. It ended up being actually really beautiful and would have been perfect camping weather which has reinstated my belief of never looking at weather forecasts and just accepting the weather as it comes.

As a rain contingency plan, we headed down to Northeast Georgia for a weekend we expected to fill with a cozy fire and bottles of locally made wine.

When Saturday morning looked amazing, we decided to check out an area we had heard about called Glassy Mountain. Rumor has it that the name comes from the mica that covers the mountain, giving it a glassy look when the sun reflects off of it. We didn’t experience the glassy effect, but we did have an incredible journey. I will apologize in advance for all of the pictures: the weather kept going between beautiful and ‘it-may-rain’ so all of nature naturally looked amazing.

Continue reading “Exploring Glassy Mountain” »

When Alaska Friends Come To Town

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We’ve gotten incredibly lucky with visitors lately. A few weeks ago, a large group of our friends from when we lived in Greenville, South Carolina came up to visit; and since my bff Megan has moved back to the Carolinas, I’ve been forcing her to come visit often.

But, I’ve been getting even more spoiled with friends we made in Alaska making their way to Charlotte! Stephanie, who now lives in Houston, Texas came for a weekend before a work training session in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Bart, who still lives in Anchorage, was here for a full week for a work conference! Two more – Jodie & Alex – are coming mid-June as well!

Naturally, I wanted them to enjoy Charlotte, and to introduce them to places and activities that we enjoy doing – which can be hard considering our lives in Alaska were much more mountains much less city.

So I’ve decided to share how I spent time with my visitors, and to hopefully give you ideas of how to spend time in the Queen City. Continue reading “When Alaska Friends Come To Town” »

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