Ever have one of those places on your bucket list, that you constantly wonder, “why haven’t I been there yet?” I’m not talking about the kind of trips that are to far off locales, with exotic names, but rather the epic places just a few hours drive or less away- you’ve heard stories about the places- from friends, from strangers- you’ve seen tons of pictures, done research, know exactly what you want to do when you get there, these – but you’ve just never been. Grayson Highlands State Park in South Western Virginia, has been that place for us for what seems like forever. FOR- EVER.
When we were both in college studying Outdoor Education at Appalachian State University (yep, sorry mom’s, it’s a real thing, and its an awesome degree to have) we lived an hour away from Grayson Highlands- we had classes that actually took place there, yet neither of us has ever been- seriously people, it’s like our mythical unicorn of the park universe! But we finally made it! It only took a hurricane, and some complete spontaneity to get us here, but it happened!! Let me tell you this right now- it was everything we imagined and so much more! This is one heck of a unicorn!
We only had a short time here- I know, I know- epic unicorn of a park and we only had a short time- it’s a very long story as to why, that includes a natural disaster- but I can promise you we’ll be back! The thing is when you’re short on time its important to get your priorities straight, and at the very tip top of my list for Grayson Highlands was seeing the wild ponies. Cocking your head to the side yet? Yep, Wild Ponies!!!! Herds of tiny little rugged mountain ponies wander the balds, grazing on grasses an generally existing in a state of awesomeness. The stories of how the ponies first came to Grayson Highlands is a little murky but they really started to pop up officially around the 1940’s as a landscape management plan- yep, you know that joke, about goats in the yard to mow the grass? It’s kinda like that, only with some very hungry ponies! Today the ponies are managed by the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association, and are rounded up annually for health checks, vaccinations, and also for herd size management – too many ponies means not enough grass in the yard- when the herds get too large young stallions are sometimes sold at auction.
These sweet, sweet faces though…
These hearty mountain residents are so used to human company that they hardly even pick up their heads when they hear you approach. Some ponies are so brazen as to think you might be willing to share that granola bar in your pocket with them. Listen up- don’t do it- don’t feed or pet the ponies (its kinda illegal). They are cute and they are cuddly looking- but they are wild and not to mention they are ponies. Coming from a person raised around horses I can personally attest that ponies are the honey badgers of the equine world. They bite, they kick, and they don’t give a damn. Let the wild stay wild. Take lots and lots of pictures, stay clear of their backsides, and leave only footprints behind when you leave.
The face you make the you find a pony on top of a mountain!
The best spot in the park for pony spotting is on Wilburn Ridge just off of the Rhododendron Trail. This trail is super easy to get to, as you enter the park follow the road up, continue past the first right hand turn, and the trailhead will be just up the road on your right through an open field. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see signs for Massie Gap and a whole lot of cars.
Despite the awesomness that are the ponies of Grayson Highlands, make sure you make time to enjoy everything else the park has to offer. This park literally has something for everyone. Whether you’re a hardcore hiker (the Appalachian Trail cuts right through here), into the day hiking scene, want to take your best horse friend along for a ride or are looking just to get away with here with the family for a weekend.We only had time for one other quick hike while we were there, along the Wilson Creek Trail (trailhead is walking distance from the campground) and just like everything else is Grayson Highlands it was amazing!
Wilson Creek Trail
Let me paint this picture for you- gorgeous wide-open views of the Appalachian Mountains (including Mount Rogers- VA’s highest peak), wild ponies wandering across rumbling mountain balds, and rushing creeks alive with falling waters- welcome to Grayson Highlands! If you haven’t been yet, you really need to go!
Grayson Highlands is just 1 of 37 parks within the Virginia State Park system- recently voted some of the best state parks in the USA- sounds like we need to visit more parks in Virginia soon! Access info about all these amazing places online here.
Grayson Highlands State Park- Just The Basics:
Location: 829 Grayson Highland Lane
Mouth Of Wilson, VA 34363
Latitude, 36.628322. Longitude, -81.496889.
Cost: Entrance Fees $5 (In State) $7 (Out Of State)
Camping Fees- Vary dependent on site requirements. Make reservations here.
Things To Do: Hiking, Horsebackriding, Camping, Backcountry Camping, Wildlife Viewing, Fishing, Interpretive Programs