Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Trip to Grayson Highlands/Mt. Rogers

Grayson Highlands, VA was the first place that came to mind when me and my dad were thinking of places to go on his first post-knee-replacement hike and first backpacking trip in over 20 years.  Awesome vistas, rhododendron gardens, and wild ponies make the area one of the best destinations for hikers in the state.  Although we missed the rhododendrons by a couple weeks, we had a great time. 

We started from the Massie Gap AT Spur trail in Grayson Highlands State Park at around 12:45.  The trail climbs through a forest and quickly connects with the Appalachian Trail.  We took the trail southbound toward Mt. Rogers. 

Right before exiting the state park and reaching Jefferson National Forest we caught our first glimpse of the wild ponies.  The term "wild" is used loosely, as they do not hesitate to approach hikers. 

We continued down the AT to The Wilburn Ridge Trail where we dropped our packs and climbed to the first peak for a quick break and a snack.  We made it back to the AT and headed toward Rhododendron Gap.

At the Gap, several trails intersect and offer an array of options for loop hikes and good day tips.  Taking The Pine Mountain Trail or the Crest Trail East creates a ten mile loop with the AT.  We took a quick stop to take in the awesome view from the area and talk to a couple fellow hikers before deciding to stay on the AT and camp between Rhododendron Gap and Mt. Rogers. 

We found a perfect site, that I had used on a previous trip, and set up camp about a half mile from the Gap.  A herd of Ponies also liked the spot and they joined us.  We relaxed in our hammocks for a couple hours then made dinner.  We made a fire and, with the sky looking ominous, we went to bed.

It was a cold, windy, rainy night but we both stayed dry.  After making breakfast and packing up camp, we started the return hike. 

We took the Crest Trail to the Rhododendron Gap Trail and headed South back to the AT.  We passed a couple of groups on horse back, a scout group, and a couple thru-hikers on the way.  We took the Massie Gap spur back to the car and got back earlier than expected--allowing plenty of time for delicious eats at a near by diner.