Open Year-round
No
Reservations possible?
No
RV Hookups
No
Potable water
No
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

If you can get to Scales, you’re in for a hiker's paradise with the network of accessible trails. Scales is not really a campground, it’s just a fenced-off field and trailhead where the Forest Service allows you to camp. There are no set campsites, although people pretty much just set up near the six to eight established fire pits. The Appalachian Trail runs through the field, so you’ll get a fair number of backpackers coming through, but they tend to not set up near the fire pits. The fence is there because the site is right in the middle of an open-range area, so the fence keeps the range cattle and the feral ponies out! Just be aware that people don’t always keep the gate closed, so there can be cow pies and road apples (beware of where you set up your tent). There are two vault toilets that could use a bit of routine maintenance, but they are completely functional and not smelly. They usually have toilet paper, but beware this might not always be the case. There is no water, and you can collect firewood.  

Scales got its name from the old cattle grazing days. The story goes that the ranchers would weigh the cattle at the trailhead located at Scales to maximize their profit. Apparently the cattle lost weight on the trip down the mountain. 

Because of the location right in a gap, you get practically no light pollution. This is a popular site for amateur astronomers to set up, especially during any meteor showers. Wildlife is abundant around here. Bears have been seen nearby, and coyotes may be heard howling not to far away; if you come with a dog, make sure you keep it close. The feral ponies are used to humans, but keep your distance. They are feral, and if you get too close and get kicked, emergency care is a long way away.  

Scales is a mega-intersection for trails: The AT, Wilson Creek, Scales, Crest, First Peak, and Virginian Highlands Horse trails all intersect here. It’s a slog to get up to the Scales, but once you’re there, you’ll have three to four days worth of unique hikes (more if you’re willing to repeat sections of trails on alternative loops). You can get to Lewis Fork and Little Wilson Creek Wildernesses, Wilburn Ridge (stunning endless views) and Mount Rogers (Virginia’s highest peak) from here if you’re willing to do a longer hike. The National Geographic, Trails Illustrated Mount Rogers Map (786) is a great resource. The following hiking destinations are recommended:

  • Wilburn Ridge: This favorite is visible from Scales with its three dominant rocky peaks and their 360-degree panoramas. It is often crowded from the hoards at Grayson Highlands State Park. This is a stunning, wide-open high ridgetop with continuous views. Depending on your route, it is about 3 miles and 800 feet higher than Scales.  
  • Little Wilson Creek Wilderness: Expect solitude relative to Wilburn Ridge with stunning forest walks. Its most remote reaches are accessible via the First Peak or Bear Pen trails. Bear Pen is accessible from the AT south, Scales, or Wilson Creek trails leaving from Scales. 
  • Lewis Fork Wilderness: This wilderness area is a vibrant green forest. You can pass through the edges of it on the Pine Mountain Trail that is intercepted by the Crest Trail from Scales, or take the AT north from Scales. For the deepest access, take the Lewis Fork Trail off of the Pine Mountain or Crest Trails.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Rarely full

Parking Pass

None

Open from

April 30 to December 21

Price per night (basic site)

0.00 $ (0.00 €)

Pros

Hiker's Paradise with multiple days worth of hiking from the campground. Wild horses.

Cons

Rough high clearance road to get to the trailhead.

Pets allowed

Allowed with Restrictions

Managed by

Jefferson National Forest

Features

Big vistas
Wildlife
Family friendly
Vault toilet
Wildflowers

Access

Vehicle

Total number of sites

8

Location

Field Guide

Comments

Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.