I love hiking, but I love animals even more, so when I discovered a park in Virginia that offered incredible trails and wild ponies galore, I was itching to get there as soon as possible. We were also kicking off our 52 Hike Challenge, so this was the perfect place to start.
Thankfully, the weekend of January 2nd was unseasonably warm (in the 50’s) and we jumped at the chance to take a quick road trip up to Virginia to check out Grayson Highlands State Park. The park is located in the tiny town of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. From the park website:
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.
Know Before You Go
- Park entry fee is $7 but jumps up to $10 on weekends (April-October). It is cash-only and you just place the money in an envelope at the entry gate (honor system).
- Parking is limited by the popular trail areas so it’s best to arrive early.
- Dress in layers as the highlands can get quite windy and cold.
- Wear waterproof hiking boots and try to bring a change of socks as many of the trails include creek crossings and muddy areas.
- There is a bathroom steps away from the trailheads, so that’s convenient!
We started by hiking the Cabin Creek Trail which was a 2 mile moderately strenuous loop with several waterfalls along the way. We enjoyed all the creek crossings and so did our pup, but many areas require you to climb slippery rocks, so make sure to wear boots with good tread and hiking poles will be helpful as well.
Show Me The Ponies
After the Cabin Creek Trail, we took a short walk over to the Massie Gap area and started up the Rhododendron Trail which was unique because unlike most trails, it had a gate we had to close behind us once we entered. We knew this was to keep ponies safely in the highlands area, so I started to get excited, hoping we’d get to see some soon.
The Cabin Creek trail was literally walking down a creekbed under heavy cover of trees but this trail was much different and went uphill as we left the forested area and entered the highlands. The smell will let you know that you’re close to the ponies as you start to have to watch your step so you don’t trod in their piles of poop!
As we climbed the last hill before the clearing, I saw 3 ponies off in the distance and squealed! My husband stayed back with our pup so that she wouldn’t startle them, and I hiked up closer to get a better look at them. Note – it is not permitted to pet the ponies as they are wild animals, but many people were petting them and crowding all around them to get photos, which was upsetting to me. Another thing to note – do not to approach the ponies from behind, as they’ve been known to kick quite hard.
Aren’t they adorable? They were so furry and I loved all the different markings on them. We saw probably 8-9 ponies in total, but it got to be quite crowded in the area as everyone was wanting to get near them to get photos so we didn’t stay too long. The ponies were grazing and enjoying the sunshine but as people crowded around, they started heading down the Appalachian Trail that connected to the Rhododendron Trail.
All in all, it was undoubtedly a worthwhile visit and we enjoyed both the waterfall trail and the fairly easy hike up to see the ponies. While I can’t say it’s a hidden gem anymore, we had the Cabin Creek Trail to ourselves about 90% of the way, so there are some areas of peace and tranquility, just not near the much sought after ponies!
If you bring a dog, just make sure to keep them on a leash and make sure they’re not reactive toward other animals as there were many other dogs there on the trail.
If you’re looking for another fun activity not too far from this park, check out the Virginia Creeper Trail less than an hour away.