GENERAL INFO: Near Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, Virginia's two highest mountains, Grayson Highlands offers scenic views of alpine-like peaks more than 5,000 feet high. Facilities include a visitor center, campgrounds, and hiking trails leading to waterfalls and overlooks. Scenic horse trails and a horse camping area with electric and water hookups, stables and parking for trailers are available. The park provides year-round access to the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail.
Park Size: 4,522 acres. Various elevation: Entrance - 3,698 feet; Visitor Center - 4,953 feet; Little Pinnacle - 5,089 feet.
Weather: Click here to visit the weather website run by Friends of Grayson Highlands State Park.
Average daily temperature during the main season is between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and between 30-59 degrees Fahrenheit at night. The park can have snow as early as September and into late May.
During late spring and early fall, temperatures well below freezing (i.e. between 15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit) are not unusual. Also the wind chill is a major factor in the temperature difference from low-lying areas to the high country. Wind speeds at 4,000 feet can exceed 40 mph.
AT-A-GLANCE: The pictographs directly below show park offerings. Click on those of interest or read below for more detail. Mouse-over the image for a short text description or click here to view a legend in which each pictograph's meaning is expressed.
LOCATION: The park is on U.S. 58 midway between Independence and Damascus and is reached from I-81 at Exit 45 in Marion; turn south on Route 16 and travel 33 miles to US 58 in the community of Volney. Turn right onto US 58. Travel eight miles to the park's entrance. Latitude, 36.628322. Longitude, -81.496889.
From I-77, take Hillsville Exit 14 to U.S. 58. Travel west on U.S. 58, 40 miles to Volney. Turn left to stay on U.S. 58 and go eight miles to the park entrance.
Its address is 829 Grayson Highland Lane, Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363; Latitude, 36.628322. Longitude, -81.496889.
Drive Time: Northern Va., 6.5 hours; Richmond, 5.5 hours; Tidewater, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, 7.5 hours; Roanoke, 2.5 hours; Winston-Salem, 2 hours; Charlotte, 3 hours; Raleigh, 4 hours
PARK MAP: Click here.
OVERNIGHT FACILITIES: Camping and a camping lodge (bunkhouse). For information on availability of overnight accommodations, particular park amenities or to make a reservation, you can reserve online or call 1-800-933-PARK. Rental rates for cabins and camping vary by season, dwelling and park. You might want to read details regarding reservation cancellation and transfer policies. A fee is charged per pet per night for overnight stays.
E/W - Electric and water sites; various equipment. Up to 40 feet. No horses allowed.
STD - Standard campsites; no hookups; various equipment. Up to 40 feet. One tent site is universally accessible. No horses allowed.
HorseE/W - Stable area campsites; electric and water hookups; various equipment. Up to 40 feet. Horses are alllowed only in this area, which is solely for equestrian campers except when the area is used for primitive camping March through April and in November when this area only is open for camping.
CovStall - Covered stalls for horses; stable area; all are tie-in standing stalls; each is approximately 4' x 10'; park provides sawdust for stalls. Bring your own hay bag and water bucket.
OpnStall - Open horse stalls, about 5 x 8 feet; some amenities in stalls. Bring your own hay bag and water bucket.
GrpTentStd - Please see below for details.
Total campsites: 96
Note: Primitive camping is centralized in stable area campground (HorseE/W) during March and April and in November; there are pit toilets only, and water is unavailable at this location. Drinking water is available at the park office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Camping fees are lower during the primitive camping season.
Group Camping: Grayson Highlands has a group camping area (GrpTentStd).
Camping Lodge (bunkhouse) - Two-night minimum, no weekly requirement. This is not a full service lodge; it is a camping facility. The two-room trailer has seven bunk beds, a refrigerator, a microwave, a coffeepot, and heating and air conditioning. Just outside is a deck with two picnic tables and a charcoal grill. Cooking and smoking are not permitted inside the lodge. Four vehicles are permitted with rental of the lodge; all other vehicles must pay the park's daily parking fee. Because of the lodge's location, parking there is limited to three vehicles. Other vehicles may be parked across from the Country Store. This facility is not sold 11 months in advance; it goes online in January each year. It's available only during camping season, from May 1 to Oct 31 annually. Check-in is 3 p.m., and check-out is 10 a.m.
The transfer deadline policy and cancellation and pet fees are the same as those for cabins.
Bridle trails: More than none miles of bridle paths wander through the park. These paths also lead to bridle trails in Jefferson National Forest. Parking facilities for horse trailers and overnight stables are available at the park. The park does not provide horses for trail rides.
Hiking trails: The park has 13 hiking trails which vary from .5 to just over 2 miles in length. These trails lead to panoramic vistas, scenic waterfalls and a 200 year old pioneer cabin. The park also offers access to the Appalachian Trail and trails in the surrounding Jefferson National Forest. Details about the park's trails are listed below.
There are several nearby backpacker shuttle services: Creeper Trail Bike Rental and Shuttle, Whitetop, Va., (276) 388-3056; Mount Rogers Outfitters in Damascus, Va., (276) 475-5416; Sundog Outfitter, Damascus, Va., (866) 515-3441.
Bike rentals: Blue Blaze Bike and Shuttle Service, toll-free (800) 475-5095; The Bike Station, toll-free (866) 475-3629; Adventure Damascus Bicycles, toll-free (888) 595-BIKE (2453); J C's Outdoors Bike Shop, toll-free (866) 475-5727; Creeper Trail Bike Rental and Shuttle, Whitetop, Va., (276) 388-3056.
Grayson Highlands State Park Trails
Note: A detailed map of all trails in the Mount Rogers area can be purchased at the park office.
Key: F = Foot Traffic; H = Horseback Riding; B = Mountain Bikes; X = Cross Country Skiing
Grayson Highlands provides access to the Appalachian Trail (AT), hence backpacking is a popular activity. In fact, the park averages 4,000 backpackers a year. Weather at the park can be harsh so those planning to access the AT from the park should be familiar with its severe weather policy and associated procedures. Here are a few links that will help.
Hikers on the highlands trails are likely to encounter wild ponies. In 1974, when the land changed from private to public ownership and cattle were removed, ponies were introduced to the park to prevent reforestation of the highland balds. The pony herd is managed by the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association. During fall roundups of ponies for an auction held in conjunction with Grayson Highland’s annual Fall Festival, association members check the herd for health problems.
Visitors should not approach, feed or pet the ponies. They bite and kick when they feel threatened, and human food is bad for them.
Grayson Highlands is known as the best bouldering site in Virginia. On the park’s mountainous slopes are four main boulder fields and three smaller fields with more than 700 named climbing routes, also known as problems. The park’s geology, which is unique in the Southeast, makes it well-suited to bouldering. Climbers will find rhyolite at higher elevations as well as a metaconglomerate in a quartzite matrix elsewhere in the park. These provide steep faces with angular features including rails, flakes and edges that ensure bouldering opportunities for climbers of all skill levels.
Summer weather at the park is ideal for bouldering. Several boulder fields have an elevation of more than 4,900 feet, with temperatures in the 70s and cool breezes that allow climbing throughout summer.
The park welcomes climbers to enjoy bouldering opportunities but requires that Leave No Trace ethics be followed. Ropes and the chipping of rocks are not allowed. Climbing is inherently dangerous; all safety precautions should be taken. Stop by the contact station or office to register as a climber in case of emergency.
The park has two crash pads available for rent. It also sells chalk, chalk bags, cleaning brushes and the Grayson Highlands Bouldering Guidebook. For more information about the bouldering opportunities at Grayson Highlands, visit the Mountain Project.
The bouldering photo above is courtesy of Dan Brayack.
Visit the Explore Virginia Outdoors website for enhanced maps and video tours of Grayson Highlands' trails.
WILDLIFE: Virginia State Parks are great places to discover and reconnect with the wild world. Bring a camera and share your captures with the world. But please don't disturb or get too close to the animals, including the wild ponies at Grayson Highlands. The park is, after all, their home. Here are a few recent natural encounters others have had at Grayson Highlands.
View all wildlife encounter photos from Grayson Highlands.
FISHING, BOATING: Nearly 10 miles of wild trout streams lie within Grayson Highlands State Park. Cool mountain streams offer anglers native brook and wild rainbow trout as well as breathtaking scenery. All the streams in the park are Special Regulation Wildlife Trout Streams which require the use of single hooks and artificial lures, and all trout less than nine inches long must be released unharmed. All required state fishing licenses and creel limits apply to fishing within the park. A National Forest Permit is required when fishing national forest property, which borders the park along Wilson Creek.
Guided canoe trips are offered from Memorial Day through Labor Day, depending on the water level of the river. The trips can accommodate groups of from six to 14. The trip takes place on the New River through "a land that time forgot." Take in cliffs, shaded pastures, lush woodlands and crisp, clear water. It's a six-mile trek and takes about six hours. Participants should bring lunch, drinking water and closed-toe shoes.
Big Wilson Creek, along the northeastern boundary of the park, offers 3.5 miles of fishable waters. From its headwaters to ¼-mile below it confluence with Little Wilson Creek, the stream is designated a "Special Regulation Wild Trout Stream." A sign marks the area. Below this point, the creek is designated a "Stocked Trout Stream" and requires a trout license in addition to the state fishing license. You can reach the creek via the Appalachian Trail at Massie Gap or by taking the Big Wilson Creek Trail from the main campground.
Wilburn Branch, near the central area of the park, provides 1.8 miles of fishable waters and is designated a "Special Regulation Wild Trout Stream." It can be accessed via the Stamper's Branch or Upchurch Road trail.
Mill Creek, which has 1.1 miles of fishable waters, is the park's southeastern corner. It too is a "Special Regulation Wild Trout Stream." Get there by taking Highway 58 East from the park's entrance, then turning left on SR 742 (Mill Creek Rd.). Access to the park's portion of the creek is on the left near a grove of white pines, about half a mile down Mill Creek Rd.
Quebec Branch, in the park's northern region, has 1.1 miles of fishable waters, all of which is designated a "Special Regulation Wild Trout Stream." This waterway sometimes has low water. Access it from the Appalachian Trail at Massie Gap or by taking the Seed Orchard Road Trail from Hickory Ridge Campground.
Cabin Creek of the park's western area has 2.1 miles of fishable water, all of which is designated a Special Regulation Wild Trout Stream. Wild rainbow and native brook trout inhabit the waters here; it's not stocked. Take the Cabin Creek Trail at Massie Gap to get there.
HUNTING: Click here to learn about this park's hunting opportunities.
HORSES: Horse trails and horse camping facilities are available here, but no horses are for rent. See the camping section above for information about overnight horse facilities here. State law requires that visitors carry a copy of a negative Coggins report with each horse brought to the park.
PARKS CALENDAR OF EVENTS: Click here to view park events, festivals, workshops and interpretive programs.
VISITOR CENTER, GIFT SHOP: The visitor center is open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. After Labor Day through the end of September, it's open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. By the summit of Haw Orchard Mountain, the center has exhibits on pioneer life and plant and animal life of the area. The visitor center also houses the Mountain Crafts Shop, which features crafts made by local artisans.
NATURE, HISTORY PROGRAMS: Guided hikes day and evening (includes some after dark); evening amphitheater programs - bluegrass and old time music, storytelling, etc.; cultural demonstrations - basket weaving, spinning, clogging, etc.; flora and fauna programs; the Junior Ranger Program; Adventure Ranger Program.
The Junior Ranger Program showcases the park’s historical, geological, wild ponies, and cultural and natural resources. The program is for children ages 6-12 years and features music, nature activities and crafts. The program is normally held in July. The Adventure Ranger Program for children 10-17 is three days, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., and focuses on environmental education including hiking, backpacking, canoeing, orienteering and other local adventure activities. Fees apply.
Festivals in the Park (in picnic area)
Click here to view park events, festivals, workshops and interpretive programs.
NEARBY ATTRACTIONS: The Virginia Creeper Trail is a multi-use trail beginning in Whitetop, Va., approximately 10 miles from the park, which ends in Abingdon, Va. Total length: 33.4 miles. Very popular with mountain bikers. You can learn more about area offerings by visiting the Southwest Virginia Heritage Guide.
Cities nearby: Two to three hours from Roanoke, Va., Charlotte, N.C., Winston-Salem, N.C., and Charleston, W. Va.; and about one and a half hours from Boone, N.C., Blacksburg, Va., Beckley, W.Va., and Bristol, Va.
Click here to learn about other B&Bs and inns in Grayson County.
PICNIC SHELTERS: The picnic area is next to a rebuilt homestead site, complete with two log cabins, a spring-house and a cane mill. Picnic facilities include drinking water, grills and restrooms. Picnic shelters are available by reservation on a first-come, first-served basis by calling the Reservation Center at 1-800-933-PARK.
Grayson Highlands State Park Picnic Shelters
Two shelters are available for rent. They can be rented from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (all day). Click here for park fees.
Cancellation policy: No refund within 14 days before reserved date. Before then, there's a cancellation fee.
Amenities: Both shelters have grill, picnic tables and access to restroom.
Shelter one: Located in main picnic area. A water fountain and electric hookup is available at the shelter. Shelter can accommodate 100 people under the shelter. Seating for an additional 100 people is available around the shelter.
Shelter two: Located next to homestead cabin. Shelter is referred to as The Barn. No adjacent parking is available; users must park only in designated areas. Shelter can accommodate 100 people under the shelter. Seating for another 100 is available around the shelter.
Restaurants: Buckaroo's Grille, Piney Creek, N.C., (336) 359-2825; Country House, Lansing, N.C., (336) 384-4678; Log House, Volney, Va., (276) 579-4440; Martha Washington Inn and Restaurant (276) 628-3161, Abingdon, Va.; Shatley Springs Inn, (336) 982-2236, Jefferson, N.C.; Pie on the Mountain, (336) 384-8008, Lansing, N.C.
General stores: Fox Creek General Store, (276) 579-6033; Osborne's Store, (276) 579-4602; Whitetop Food and Gas, (276) 388-3465
HISTORY: Grayson Highlands, originally named Mount Rogers State Park, was established in 1965. The community overwhelmingly supported this park, beginning with a fund-raising effort for land acquisition and continuing with the donation of items on exhibit in the visitor center. Many areas in the park are named after early settlers. Massie Gap takes its name from Lee Massey, who lived in the gap with his wife and five children in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At that time, the present park area was thinly settled by people who managed to live off the land. They made, grew or gathered most of their necessities.
Wilburn Ridge is named after the famed hunter Wilburn Waters. His reputation as a bear hunter and wolf trapper made him renowned throughout the region.
FRIENDS GROUP: Click here to learn about Friends of Grayson Highlands State Park, a nonprofit group of volunteers dedicated to supporting the park. Enjoy the photos and learn about current weather at the park.
Master plans must be written for parks before they're built.
The plans are updated at least once every five years thereafter.
The plans cover the size, types, infrastructure and locations of facilities as well as the site's special features and resources.
Three public meetings are held during the initial development of each plan.
Click here (PDF) for this park's master plan.
CONTACT INFO: Grayson Highlands State Park, 829 Grayson Highland Lane, Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363; phone: (276) 579-7092; email: graysonhighlands. Learn more about park offerings by calling 1-800-933-PARK or email resvs. Be sure to specify the park of interest.