Among other, less positive, obvious challenges, my Summer 2020 has been the year of the Great Outdoors.
So many times this summer my end-of-the-day shower water ran dirty as I washed away the muddy mountain bike ride off my shins or the garden clay off my feet.
I love it.
In addition to more mountain biking and gardening than ever, my Summer has been full of walks, hikes, and lots of camping.
I’ve slept in a tent every single Saturday except for one since the first week of July! And I’ll be back in “the plastic palace” this weekend as well. That’s 9 out of 10 weekends 🙂
Most of these camping trips were of the “car” variety; everything but the kitchen sink thrown in the truck, sleeping with real sheets and blankets, french press coffee in the morning…
Last weekend was a proper “backpacking” trip to Grayson Highlands, a place I’ve wanted to visit for most of the 10 years I’ve lived in Virginia.
Our plan was to do a 20 mile loop over three days, two nights. The weather had other ideas so we scraped the first night and the loop, instead hiking in and out 4 miles and skipping the torrential rain of Friday night.
The Mount Rogers/Grayson Highlands area is the most diverse landscape in Virginia I’ve ever experienced.
Within those few miles we saw everything from wild ponies to moss covered Spruce forest and the highest point in Virginia to huge rock outcroppings and sweeping vistas.
The ponies were brought to the area and released in the mid 1970’s for the purpose of keeping the brush down. The herd has thrived and we saw about a dozen over the two days, including the two who tromped right through our campsite while we were falling asleep!
We camped at Thomas Knob, after breakfast on Sunday we walked less than a mile up the trail to reach the highest point in Virginia, the top of Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet above sea level.
The “peak” is heavily forested so a little undramatic as a summit but the woods around the very top are gorgeous and so unique for the Mid-Atlantic. The damp Spruce forest looks so much like the Pacific Northwest!
The logistics of visiting Grayson Highlands/Mount Rogers:
- Backpackers can pack at either Grayson Highlands State Park or the Elk Garden trailhead to explore the area. You must pay to park in the Backpackers Lot at the park and reservations are highly recommended, it fills up. I cannot speak to the Elk Garden trail because we parked at the Park, however I can say that the way we did it, which takes you through the Wilburn Ridge area, is absolutely stunning. Plus, your car will ostensibly be a bit more secure because the Park is patrolled as opposed to Elk Garden, which is parking on the side of a public road.
- If you want to explore the area but car camp instead, Grayson Highlands State Park has two car/RV campgrounds. There are tons of trails around there and from what I experienced, you only need to walk a mile or two to get to an area the ponies frequent.
- The Appalachian Trail runs right through the area (we were on it most of the time), so the mileage is virtually unlimited if you want to go further afield, pun intended.
- We camped on Thomas Knob, which is on the white blazed Appalachian Trail. There is an AT shelter there, a pivy, and a spring (we brought a water filter to refill our bottles). There are about a dozen well-established campsites spanning the mile or so of the knob, most of them are north of the shelter (before you arrive at it when coming from the Park) but there are a few nice ones just past the shelter. Knowing that the Backpackers Parking Lot was full, we were very pleasantly surprised to have our pick of sites and only see/hear a few other campers.
This happy camper is going to go get her hands in the dirt 🙂