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Grayson Highlands State Park: Peaks & Ponies

August 15, 2016

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?

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