Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
4,430.00 ft (1,350.26 m)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
22.50 mi (36.21 km)
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The Grayson Highlands area of Virginia is a must-see. Not only are there endless panoramic views, but there are also wild ponies! Follow this itinerary for an enjoyable three day, two night backpacking loop.

Begin your hike at Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park. Before doing so you’ll need to pay a parking fee (as much as $19 for non-residents) and file a trip plan with the state park’s main office. After that, drive up the road and park at the backpacker’s lot. From here the Appalachian Blue Spur Trail leads up and to the Appalachian Trail. Once at the AT, take a left and head southbound. The next few miles are the most spectacular as you wind your way up Wilburn Ridge. Enjoy the views, be on the lookout for ponies, and don’t be afraid to take one of the several short side trails. This area also has many large rock formations that make for a great place to try your hand at bouldering. 

Before you know you’ll arrive at Thomas Knob Shelter. It has a capacity of 16, and there are many great tent sites nearby. Spending a night here is highly recommended. Water is also available at this shelter (as well as the other two shelters along this route).

Continue southbound on the AT and you’ll soon come to the short spur trail to the top of Mount Rogers. After bagging the highest peak in Virginia, continue along the AT for another 2 miles until the Mount Rogers Trail. Take a right and follow this trail all the way down to Virginia State Route 603. Cross the road and take the Fairwood Valley Trail (which parallels SR 603, but is much nicer than a roadwalk). In a little over a mile you’ll see the Old Orchard Trail; follow it until you once again reach the AT. 

Continue along the AT southbound. Old Orchard Shelter is next, and it is a good option if you are looking to make this a four day, three night trip. If not, it’s recommended to continue on a bit further. There are some good campsites between here and the next shelter. 

The trail climbs before leveling out and arriving at Scales, where there is a vault toilet. Continue on to Wise Shelter. Please note that Wise is the last place you can camp on this loop because you are now entering the state park. From Wise, follow the AT another 2 miles until you once again reach the AT Blue Spur Trail and follow it back to the parking lot.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

Park entrance fee

Open Year-round

Yes

Days

3

Pros

Great views. Wildlife. Multiple shelters.

Cons

Some areas are crowded with day hikers.

Trailhead Elevation

4,600.00 ft (1,402.08 m)

Highest point

5,729.00 ft (1,746.20 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Shelters
Big vistas
Big Game Watching

Typically multi-day

Yes

Permit required

No

Location

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Comments

07/08/2021
It costs $50 for 2 out-of-state people in 1 car to park and stay for 3 nights/4 days. You have to be out of the parking lot by 12 noon on your last day. Thank goodness it only took us about 1.5 hours to hike from the last shelter back to the parking lot. Everything about this trip was amazing, from the views to the wild ponies! If you want to make the trip a little shorter, we ended up taking a shortcut - Scales Trail - from Scales to the AT near Wise Shelter, it's a horse trail so it was a flat, wide gravel trail out in the open with some moderate views. Also, somehow we missed the spur trail to take us up to the top of Mt Rogers. Not sure how that happened because we kept our eyes open looking for it, but that's okay because we nearly ran out of time to get to Old Orchard Shelter before nightfall. There was a water source at all 3 shelters. It rained on and off the whole time we were there, which led to some mud in some places, but it wasn't nearly as muddy as some other trails I've been on. Overall, it was a great experience and we plan on doing it again, backwards next time :)
07/10/2021
From the Old Orchard Shelter, follow the blue markers down to the water source. It's just a tiny stream with a PVC pipe sticking out allowing you to fill up your cup/bottle/camelback. You definitely want to filter all water before consuming or cooking with it.
What water source do you use while camping at old orchard shelter?
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