Great 1-2 night fall weather hike in the Appalachians. Living on the east coast I mainly hike sections of the AT and trails around the blue ridge parkway. Every season I watch thru hikers on the AT and enjoy the Grayson Highlands section when they get to it so I finally went to view it for myself. I wanted around a 10-15 mile loop for my wife and I so I got on the REI hiking project app and found this one.
From Grayson Highlands state park you can purchase a parking reservation in their overnight backpacking parking lot. Unfortunately we did not know this upfront and parked at a local general store and got them to shuttle us there which was fine as we were probably too late for the reservations anyway.
Massie gap is where we started the 12 mile loop and went clock wise. We hiked up a spur trail to the AT and followed along to start ascending the Wilburn Ridge which has some rock scrambling (if that is your thing). If you prefer to skip the scrambling and views from that ridge you can continue on the AT as those two trails meet up further down the trail. There is great views from the balds and rock formations all through this section. This is an area that doesn’t even seem like your in the Appalachian’s as it had a whole different feel to it than say the Smokey Mountains or Max Patch.
Further on the trail you come across more rock formations and you go through a cave like structure and it was really neat. Once out of that cave, the trail comes out to another nice overlook to the mountains in the distance where we stopped and ate a lunch. After lunch we continued on the trail and it opened up to another gap which was a little windy but great views all around. Once you cut back into the forest there is a nice campsite on the left before you reach the fork of multiple trails (AT, Crest trail). It was too early for us to camp so we continued on to the forks. We got a little turned around there and followed the Crest Trail instead of the Pine Mountain Trail which turned out to be ok. It was a very wide trail as it is a horse trail but it had a lot of gravel. The crest trail ultimately was just the other side of the trail we needed to be on as they both met up at the turn we were ultimately heading towards anyway which was the Lewis Fork Trail.
Following the Lewis Fork trail you cross a stream and eventually meet back up with the AT after a little while and you can take a right at that fork to continue this loop. This brings you to one of many different styles of gates you will cross throughout this whole loop and once you go into that pasture there was a long horned cow that we didn’t want to get too close to but got a picture of it to say the least. You’re not in that pasture long before you reach another gate and continue on the AT. You go through a forest crossing multiple streams and passing multiple campsites before you reach a large fenced in campsite area (I’m sure you have to reserve) where Crest, Scales, and the AT all meet. A potential spot to get turned around with all the many trails but just follow through the fenced in area gate to the gate on the other side and you will continue along the AT and start climbing Stone mountain to a flat plateau that continues for a while.
Once on top of Stone mountain we were ready to find a campsite so we started keeping an eye out for a forest area as we brought hammocks for this trip. I got a little worried as all I saw was very small patches of trees on top of the bald ridgeline until I looked to the left and saw a small forest area with a lot of trees down the hill from where we were. There was no trail that I saw going down to this area so we did a little off trail down into the trees and luckily enough stumbled right on the PERFECT campsite. There was some pony droppings to dodge but other than that it was great. We brought hammocks specifically due to droppings and to keep off the ground just in case the ponies wanted to run around and potentially step on us.
We offloaded our gear and set up the hammocks and started dinner. I usually just bring freeze dried meals and this time was Wild Zora brand meals and soups which hit the spot. It cooled down to probably 35F that night so the soups were very good warming us up before we called it a night. Once we laid in our hammocks and got comfortable about an hour or two into the night I heard something which sounded like an animal shredding my dyneema food bag so I put on my headlamp and shined it towards my hanging food bag and it was still in the tree we put it in. It was just some ponies that came into camp visiting us walking around in the leaves. That was the first 3 ponies we saw beside a few at the very beginning of the trip. The moon was bright that night (which I found out later it was a super moon which I wish I knew about prior as I would have got some pictures).
We woke up and went to get the food bag down but failed miserably. The carabiner and the pin I put in it to keep it in the air got all twisted up somehow and I had to pick my wife up on my shoulders so she could untangle it so we didn’t have to cut it down. Once those festivities were over we made breakfast and packed up and headed back up to the trail. Continuing down the trail it opened to a large field FULL of ponies. We stood there a while on some rocks and took a lot of pictures of the ponies and the distant mountains in the background.
After the picture break we kept heading down the AT back into the forest and came out to cross a rock roadway. We continued down the trail and crossed multiple bridges and streams coming to a shelter on the AT. It was a very nice area to camp. From the shelter we climbed back up the elevation we lost prior and once back on top of the mountains we were at a junction to continue on to the Massie Gap spur trail to complete our loop or take the spur trail we were at straight down to the backpackers parking lot. Which is what we did to try to save a little time as we told the shuttle driver we would be back by a certain time and we were making sure we met that time.
Attached are some pictures of this trip. It was perfect weather with highs in the upper 50’s and lows in the mid 30’s with no rain in sight. There was fall foliage throughout and herds of ponies spread out through the loop. I highly recommend this area and to park at the backpackers overnight parking area. Just be sure to reserve it prior.