Just Horsin' Around
For spring break this year, I decided to re-connect myself with the mountains and East Tennessee. Being in Middle Tennessee for so long, I constantly long to see the mountains again. My dear friends, Dilvin and Megan, decided to come home with me for a few days and explore the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. There are so many gorgeous hikes to take in mountains on the east coast, and we decided to go hike in The Grayson Highlands State Park. The Grayson Highlands is located in Virginia in the Jefferson National Forest, and is over 4,822 acres of land where, in certain parts, wild ponies like to roam!
*gasp* You heard me correctly!
There is a main area on the rhododendron trail (also known as Massie Gap Trail) where wild ponies love to frolic around and on the trail. The rhododendron trail itself is .9 miles until it intersects with the AT (Appliachian Trail). The hike is going to take you about 15-20 minutes, and it's uphill the whole way until you hit the plateau where the AT collides with the trail. The drive to the trail took about two and a half hours from my house in Morristown, but the drive was absolutely worth it!
The Grayson Highlands is around 5,000 ft up in elevation and we weren't quite as ready as we should have been for the cold. There will most likely be a good 15 degree difference in the tempurature from your starting point to the top of the mountain!
Along the way, we ran into an AT hiker and he was quite a friendly fellow! This man exuded an extreme nomadic appearance with his large backpack ornamented with canteens and pans, his dark beard, and his discolored clothing from the weather and mud on the trail. I know a lot of my friends, including myself, that love to hike bits and pieces of the AT, so I asked the man if he was hiking parts of the trail or the whole kit and caboodle.
This man is on his way from Georgia to Maine... THE WHOLE KIT AND CABOODLE!
The AT, to hike it's entirety, takes from five to seven months... and that's a long freakin' time to be out in the wild just roughing it with your backpack and a canteen! The friendly hiker we met was just beaming about how he just hit his 500 mile mark and how he carved his initials into the mile marker.
All of the ponies were SO FLUFFY. Oh my gosh, I didn't even know that horses could be fluffy, and my stars, they were about the cutest things I had ever seen. They were about as round as apple and friendly as can be! Some were more friendly than others, but they are all very accustomed to having human interaction. The trail says for hikers not to feed the horses because the park doesn't want the horses reliant on being hand-fed, and also when backpackers set up camp and are cooking meals, I'm sure they don't want five ponies come tromping through.
Our favorite pony was an auburn and cream colored pony which we rightfully named "Steve".
Dilvin, Megan, and I had our breath taken away by the trail... figuratively and literally. It's a bit of a workout, but that's what we signed up for! The trail, because it's March, isn't quite at it's prime, but I can only imagine how gorgeous the hike is in autumn when the leaves are changing and in the spring when all of the wildflowers are in bloom. I was so very impressed with this trail and am definitely going to be returning later in the year!
We ended up leaving the mountain around 4:00 and we were completely starved! We asked one of the girls at the park center if she had any recommendations for food and she mentioned the Grayson Highlands General Store & Inn. The store was located about four miles left of the entrance of the park down in the middle of a very rural area. The store had all of your camping needs, an ice-cream parlor, and had a little sit down area if you wanted to grab a bite to eat! Megan and I got a cheeseburger and Dilvin got a vegetarian sub. The food was good and the owner was so nice! This is the only place with food and gas for about a ten mile radius so this might be a good place to make a pit-stop! Also, they run a free shuttle for AT hikers from the trail down to the general store for a place to rest!
My heart is so full. If you ever have the chance to make it all the way to Virginia, I recommend taking this hike because everyone needs to go hug a fluffy wild pony every once in a while, right?
Go and explore!