Grayson Highlands- An East Coast Gem
By Jenny Williams, Girls Who Hike Tennessee Ambassador
I’m Jenny Williams, Girls Who Hike Ambassador for Tennessee. My husband, Nathan, and I live in the Nashville area with our three kids, Ryder (8), Finn (5) and Adell (1).
I recently asked for camping recommendations on a few Facebook hiking groups, and was surprised to see a park I hadn’t heard of, Grayson Highlands, suggested SEVERAL times. When I researched the park and learned that it sits in the Virginia mountains and is known for wild ponies, I was sold!
In the days leading up to our trip, it was in the 90’s with like 90% humidity in Tennessee. So, knowing we were headed somewhere with temps in the 60’s and 70’s had us really excited. Grayson Highlands State Park is around 5,000 ft elevation, which makes for nice weather in the summer.
When we arrived, there were 4 ponies hanging out at the campground to greet us! The boys immediately named them and fell in love. The campground we stayed at is fairly small, which felt really cozy. At the entrance, there is a general store with creaky wooden swing doors that sells necessities and souvenirs. The lady running the store was so incredibly nice and helpful. We talked to her several times, and she told us stories about the ponies and AT hikers passing through.
The trails within the park are perfect for families being all under 3 miles. Of course, you can get more mileage since they mostly connect to each other. You can also park in the backpackers parking lot within the park and hop on the AT.
The hiking was absolutely incredible in Grayson Highlands. Views, views and more views! Our first day, we attempted the North Horse Trail to try and see the ponies. Dark clouds started rolling in, but we kept going even though we didn’t have our rain gear. We didn’t make it to the ponies and had to turn around and hike back in the pouring rain. We didn’t mind the rain, but we all felt bad for Adell. The boys and I hiked the Big Pinnacle Trail later in the day while Nathan took a nap with Adell in the camper. Ryder kept saying he felt like we were in a rainforest. When we got to the top, rumbling thunder startled us and the bottom fell out. We hiked back down getting drenched.
We went back to the Rhododendron and North Horse Trails the next day and had amazing weather! The ponies were grazing off the trail, even a few babies!
One of the ponies is especially famous- he is known as Fabio and has beautiful long locks of hair. I’m sure he gets all the ladies ;)
There is an area with huge boulders that we went to climb near the North Horse Trail. The views of the mountains from the top were everything. We saw a dad teaching his son to repel from the top of the boulders, too.
There is a trail everyone says is beautiful featuring a waterfall called the Cabin Creek Trail. It was closed due to increased bear activity. Someone told us that a woman was hiking the trail and saw a bear. Her unleashed dog went after the bear. When the bear started to attack the dog, the woman tried to rescue the dog, and the bear bit her on the shoulder. I’m glad her injuries weren’t worse. That was the first bear attack that has happened in the park.
I’d love to go back and hike Mt. Rogers, which is adjacent to the park. Mt. Rogers is the highest point on the Virginia section of the AT. I just didn’t think our 5 year old would be up for it this time.
One of my favorite things about our camping adventures is meeting amazing people. Our “next door neighbors” in Grayson Highlands were so kind. I learned that Judy was the 70th person to hike all 900 miles of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which she finished in 1999. She is such an inspiration. As we were packing up Sunday morning, she came over to give me her book that was published with her daily entries from her journey to become a “900 Miler”.
Our boys met probably 10 other boys around their ages who they played with non-stop running around the campground. I can remember as a kid getting to explore on my own and feeling all grown up. It’s fun to give my kids those experiences and see them be wild and free like boys ought to be.
TILL NEXT TIME!
As we were leaving the park, Nathan and I said this is definitely a trip we will make every year. I’m so thankful we are able to explore as a family and experience these wild places together.