Enjoy Wild Ponies, Family Hikes at Grayson Highlands State Park
Known for its scenic mountain peaks, kid-friendly trails and wild ponies, this 4,822-acre park in Virginia offers a variety of outdoor activities for all ages.
Jackson Goins, 9, poses near one of the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.
Photo by Myra Wright
If you’re looking for a unique weekend camping spot, consider Grayson Highlands State Park, just north of the Virginia-North Carolina border in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. Known for its scenic mountain peaks, kid-friendly trails and wild ponies, this 4,822-acre park is near Mount Rogers, Virginia’s highest peak, and offers a variety of outdoor activities for all ages, making it a must-visit destination for families.
No trip to Grayson Highlands is complete without seeing its wild ponies. The U.S. Forest Service released the herd, which numbers about 150, into the area in 1975 to control brush growth in the area’s balds, a once heavily forested region that was cleared with extensive logging during the late 19th century.
To see the ponies, start at Massie Gap and hike the Rhododendron Trail, which connects to a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Following this moderately challenging trail leads across Wilburn Ridge to Rhododendron Gap, one of the best spots in the park to see the ponies. The ponies are usually gentle and accustomed to visitors, but park officials warn hikers not to approach, feed or pet them. If startled, the ponies might bite or kick.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities for great photos with scenic mountain peaks as the perfect backdrop. The trail is rocky, so be sure to wear comfortable hiking shoes. Trekking poles or hiking sticks are helpful, especially for young hikers.
Grayson Highlands State Park offers 13 trails that vary in length and intensity. On your quest to see the wild ponies, you can continue on the Appalachian Trail that leads to the summit of Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet for sweeping and spectacular views.
Be sure to download a trail guide from the park website to help you navigate and find kid-friendly hikes, such as the Haws Flat Trail, a short 0.7-mile trek. The Rock House Ridge Trail is a moderate 1.25-mile loop near a picnic area and rebuilt homestead site with a cane mill, two log cabins and a springhouse. A more difficult, but favorite additional trail, is the Wilson Creek Trail, a 1.8-mile hike that passes several waterfalls.
Campgrounds are open the first Friday in May through the first Monday in November with tent sites and standard sites with electricity and water. If you have horses, the Chestnut Hollow Horse Campground offers primitive camping during March, April and November in addition to regular-season camping that includes electric and water hookups, stables and parking for trailers. Camping costs range from $24-$79.
Fishing and Boating
Take a canoe down the New River through pristine scenery. Guided canoe trips for 6-14 people are offered Memorial Day through Labor Day. The 6-mile trip takes about six hours. Pack a lunch, water and closed-toe shoes.
The park is also known for its wild trout streams. Anglers can enjoy catching brook and wild rainbow trout while surrounded by the scenic views of Grayson Highlands. Don’t forget to check the park website for fishing permit and license information.
Find educational exhibits on native plants and animals in the area, as well as early pioneer life, at the park’s visitor center. The center’s gift shop also features handmade crafts from local artisans. The center is open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day. During the off-season, it’s open Thursday through Sunday. Park admission ranges from $5-$7. Learn more at dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/grayson-highlands.
Myra Wright is the digital editor of Carolina Parent and Charlotte Parent. She frequently explores state parks with her husband and three kids.