Hiking Grayson Highlands
Sherri McMurray and I 3/18/18
This trail has been on Sherri’s bucket list. I haven’t heard of this area until she told me about it. We couldn’t decide where to hike so I googled this trail and found it was 3 hrs away. (this means 2 1/2 when I’m driving which is just as far as Brevard so…….. We decided to meet at the Peach Stand at 5:30 am. That was early!
Off we go up I-77. It stayed dark all the way to Virginia.
We arrived at the park at 8:30. There are already cars at the trailhead when we arrived. I went flying by the sign for our trailhead at my usual speed so instead of turning around we parked up the hill then walked back down to the Massie Gap trailhead.
We start down the trail and notice that there is a lot of snow on the ground. That was one thing I didn’t think of. The weather forecast said it rained yesterday and today was going to be in the upper 50’s so it didn’t occur to me that this was a 5000 ft elevation and we were in Virginia and it was March. It was cold at first but then it wasn’t to bad.
We start hiking down the Appalachian Spur Trail.
Just a minute or two down the trail we see two white tail deer off to the right. This is the best picture i could get because they took off fast.
A few minutes later I got a phone call and as I stopped to turn my ringer off I saw the first pony just a few yards away. We walked around the tree and took a picture of him. He did not seam to care that we were there and he kept on eating whatever he was eating. This was so exciting! Two deer, wild pony, snow and Virginia!!!! ❄️ 🦌 🐴 animal sightings last year – 0 this year 5 and its only March.
We continued up the trail. I’m already thinking there must be a lot more pony’s up here cause there are droppings all along the trail. Hiking in the snow and dodging horse poop! Weird thing is there was lots more poop where there wasn’t any snow.
The spur trail wasn’t very long. We came to a trail intersection that was at the top. It is very cloudy up here and we should be seeing awesome views but we cannot see through the clouds.
We turn on the Appalachian trail and begin our hike to Wise Shelter at the north end of the park.
There are a couple of creek crossings and a couple of gates to keep the pony’s in. Evidently they can’t make the turn.
This trail is going down. It’s only 1.4 miles to the shelter. This is a particularly snowy area. It’s very tiring trekking through packed down snow going downhill. The trekking poles really came in very handy today.
We are going down some steps and see a giant footprint from someone who went before us. He must be a big guy. (see pic below) We still haven’t seen anyone.
We arrived at the Privy first. It’s a compost privy which means there is a can full of duff. After each use you are supposed to put a handful of duff in the bowl so that the waste gets composted. I don’t know if then someone comes and gets the compost out or not. 🤔
There were two of these and it came in handy right then and there! Sherri thinks she is funny taking these!
Then we walked over to the shelter. There wasn’t anyone there. We were kind of happy about this because we didn’t want to look like tourists hunting thru hikers! We haven’t seen any backpackers today. Actually we haven’t seen a soul all day. Except in the parking lot. Most people went up the Rhododendron trail because it’s a main trail straight up to the pony’s.
The shelter was pretty cool. The only thing I knew about them I read in Kyle Rohrig’s book Lost on the Appalachian Trail. It was like I had imagined it. It had a big fire pit in front of it, a cool saying on the wall and a plaque dedicating who paid for it.
In shelters along the AT and other big trails is a log book for hikers to sign. I guess since it’s early in the year it was a brand new book and it’s first entry was 3/9/18. We read all the entries then decided to leave a note in it ourselves explaining our admiration for what they do. I wish I would of been a little neater.
After we soaked it all in we start hiking back up the trail and can see that the clouds have lifted a little bit so we’re hopeful when we get back up top our view will be better.
When we get back to the trail intersection at Wilburn Ridge we find a bunch of rocks I seam to have missed on the way down I guess because of the clouds. There is a pretty decent view now. It would have been amazing views but the clouds were still hanging around.
If there is a bunch of rocks or cliffs I just can’t help but climb them. My inner tomboy just comes out in full force. I climb up to the top of the rocks through snow that comes up past my knees! As I was reaching the top it occurred to me that there could be some kind of animal up there. Luckily i didn’t find any. I took a video of the area.
I took a pic of Sherri from up there and she took one of me from down there.
This was a large area and as we walked you can see all around on all sides of the mountain. The backside had way more snow.
The trail went up over the top and then headed down the other side. From there Sherri spotted pony’s up on the next ridge. I must have horrible eyesight or hers is above normal cause she sure can spot some stuff. I couldn’t find what she was talking about. As we continued to walk yep there they were. It looked like quite a few. The trail went right towards them. Instead of turning in the trail we went up to where they were. We took a ton of pics. They didn’t care that we were there and one seemed to be following us a bit.
One looked very pregnant. It was the white one with the brown head. It’s belly was so big. This was such a unique thing to experience. We loved it!
We headed around to the trail and started walking. That’s when we started to see people. That means we are near the trailhead. Seeing people always means trailhead.
We walk to the trailhead to have lunch and there are a lot of rescue vehicles. Nosy me goes over to ask what’s going on. Without saying to much one man tells me someone needed help getting down off the mountain. I say I hope they are ok and go back to the picnic area and we have lunch. Now the clouds have gone and the sun is out! I contemplate going back up because it’s still early. Instead we decide we will do one more trail and take the cabin creek trail to a waterfall. We have no idea where it’s at and ask a couple walking by. Turns out it’s our first and only thru hiker. He left Georgia a month or so ago and his girl came from Michigan to see him before he got back on the trail. So we wish him well and off he goes.
We find our trail which is at the far right side of the mountain. It goes down through rhododendrons and follows the creek. We come to a few small waterfalls and decide if these are the waterfalls we were looking for we would be sadly disappointed. This area is a complete change from the rest of the hike.
We keep following this trail which turns out to be a hard little trail. It keeps going down. We finally come to a bigger waterfall and have to take a steep trail down to view it.
Then we have to climb back up. Turns out this isn’t the waterfall either. We come to a bigger one. It’s beautiful. This isn’t the waterfall either.
We have to climb straight up a mass of roots alongside this to continue on the trail. We keep walking and find a guy and girl fishing. Just beyond them is the real waterfall. At this point Sherri says I’m tired I’m not climbing up there but I’ll wait for you. I look up the trail which goes steeply up and say Nah I’m good. We were both pretty tired at this point. Thanks to google this is the falls I missed.
We take the trail back to the parking lot. It’s a pretty even and flat part of the loop. This loop was almost 2 miles. We head back to the car.
The sun and blue sky is out in full force. We stop at the first overlook and get blue sky view photos.
I have to say Grayson Highlands is a beautiful and amazing place to go. The pony’s are a real plus. The landscape changes, the views, it’s all amazing. We managed to get to Virginia, hike 9 miles and still make it home by 5! What a great day! We will be back for sure.