The Grayson Highlands via the AT

The Grayson Highlands via the Appalachian Trail

*One of our Top Ten Hikes in the Southern Appalachians!


  • Location: Jefferson NF/Grayson Highlands SP, VA
  • Distance: 2 to 19 miles depending on itinerary
  • Elevation Gain: 2,532 ft (by the Mount Rogers Trail to summit)
  • Time: From two hours to two days
  • Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
  • Best season: Early Spring or Fall
  • B.I.T. Rating ****

Directions: Several itineraries are possible here and whichever one you chose will determine your start point. You can begin right at the state park visitor center and walk over mostly level terrain (which we suggest for the elderly, the physically impaired or the seriously wimpy) or you can come up the Mount Rogers Trail from Grindstone Campground (which we did) or you can simply follow the AT. For the ambitious, we suggest the two day itinerary described here, which includes directions to the state park.

Brief Description: This is universally held to be the best section of the AT in Virginia, and rivals the Roan Highlands as the best anywhere south of the White Mountains. Lengthy exposed areas, big views, interesting rock formations and wild ponies. What else could a hiker want?

The Pony express.
Note that this loop is one of MANY itineraries possible…we chose this map because it highlights most of the important bits.

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Why do this hike?

  • Many consider this the best section of the AT in the south
  • Miles of high open meadows
  • Panoramic views in all directions
  • “Wild” (actually free roaming but managed) ponies
  • Visit the highest point in Virginia
  • Many trails, shelters, campgrounds…numerous itineraries possible
  • Trails generally well marked and easy to follow
  • Interesting rock formations scattered around the ridge lines
  • Quick escape via roads, side trails possible if things go bad
  • Close to the East’s #1 hiking town, Damascus VA (AKA Trail Town USA)
  • Combine this hike with a bike ride down the Virginia Creeper Trail!

But First Consider:

  • The top of Mt. Rogers is treed in, views are below the summit
  • The Grayson Highlands are fully accessible by paved road
  • There is a large parking area and visitor center less than a mile from the AT
  • Expect crowds on the trails during peak times
  • You will share the views with dog walkers, picnickers, kite fliers, etc
  • To ingress and egress entirely on the AT means miles of walking without views
  • In high winds and/or freezing conditions this would be a brutal place to be
  • Lightning strikes a threat during thunderstorms
  • Expect heat and bugs in the summer, deep snow and ice in the winter
  • Not exactly wilderness
  • Lots of pony manure scattered about
  • We feel that Southern “Balds” lack wild character and are continually underwhelmed by them; this is a lot better than most but still…


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Other useful links:

Grayson Highlands State Park

Jefferson National Forest

Damascus, VA

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

WhiteBlaze — THE definitive AT information site

The Trek — The best place for current thru hiker and section hiker updates

Did You Know? Mount Rogers is named after William Barton Rogers, a University of Virginia professor who is also a founder and first president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Barton, true to his school, collapsed and died at the podium during the 1882 MIT commencement ceremonies. His last words were said to be “bituminous coal.