Adventure Us: Grayson Highlands State Park
In the dog days of late summer, when you’re waiting for the heat to break, there’s a perfect place to find a cool adventure: Grayson Highlands State Park.
Grayson Highlands is tucked away in far southwest Virginia, not far from the North Carolina border, and the attractions it offers are many and diverse. First of all, Grayson Highlands and the surrounding national forest and recreation areas are home to a climate and ecosystem unlike any other in the state. Bordering Virginia’s two highest mountain peaks, Mt. Rogers and Whitetop, the park is truly a gateway to the “roof” of the state. Soaring to 5,000 feet in elevation, the terrain is a mix of alpine forests and mountain meadows (“balds”) that offer sweeping views of the nearby peaks and distant ridges. At this elevation, the fresh cool air can be several degrees cooler than in the lowlands, but the weather can also shift unexpectedly – so bring coats! For my family, it is a uniquely restful and refreshing summer haven – though it has become increasingly busy and popular among outdoor enthusiasts.
There are a variety of recreation options in Grayson Highlands. A number of trails cross the park, offering scenic views, features of interest such as the waterfall and the pioneer cabin, and varying lengths and levels of exertion. The Appalachian Trail cuts through the park, and following it north takes you to Mt. Rogers. The park also offers opportunities for rock climbing, horseback riding, picnicking, and camping – and even snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.
And finally, as if there wasn’t enough to make this park special, there are the herds of wild ponies that range across the backcountry of Grayson Highlands and the surrounding national forest. One of the few places in the country where these beautiful animals run free, it is common to encounter some of them quietly grazing near the trails. They were introduced several decades ago to help maintain the meadows. They are contained within several hundred acres of backcountry and managed by a local nonprofit organization, which holds a roundup every year to prevent overpopulation. While they are lovely to watch, resist the urge to feed them – this causes long-term health and behavioral issues for them. Keep the wild in wildlife!
There are a host of reasons why you should put your troubles behind you, head into the mountains, and enjoy an adventure and a cool respite at Grayson Highland State Park!
Name: Grayson Highlands State Park, 1829 Grayson Highland Lane, Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363
Time from Roanoke: 2 hour 15 minutes
Activity Options: Hiking, scenic views, berrying, wildlife
Nearby Food: Several local restaurants, including Grayson Highlands General Store, Log House Restaurant, and Fox Creek General Store
Nearby Attractions: Hungry Mother State Park, the beautiful town of Abingdon
More Adventure Us
- Adventure Us: Roanoke area day trips, Part I
- Adventure Us: Roanoke’s Ice Cream Adventures
- Adventure Us: Grayson Highlands State Park
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- Adventure Us: Addy Grace Playground
- Adventure Us: Mill Mountain Zoo
- Adventure Us: Little Beaver State Park, Beckley, WV
- Adventure Us: Science Museum of Western Virginia