Reaching the tallest peak in each state is a goal for some people, who need to develop the mountaineering skills to conquer Denali in Alaska as well as the patience to drive through the cornfields to Charles Mound in Illinois. Reaching all 50 provides impressive bragging rights—but there are a lot of “peaks” that wouldn’t be worth the trouble except for the fact that it happened to be the tallest in the state.
That’s not the case with the Mount Rogers, which at 5,729 feet is the tallest peak in Virginia. But regardless of its position on some list, you’ll find one of the most interesting hikes in the state. The approximately nine-mile, out-and-back hike to the peak features not only incredible views of the surrounding George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, but also wild blueberries, wildflowers, rhododendron, and feral highland ponies that roam the area. The trail is long and challenging enough that it requires some planning and stamina, but not technically difficult, meaning just about anyone can enjoy the trip. While the competition is fierce with many iconic trails in Virginia, the case can be made that the trip up Mount Rogers is the best day hike in Southwest Virginia.
The 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area is part of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in southwest Virginia. Guide services provide shuttles to different trails in the area. Make your home base in nearby Abingdon, which offers everything from historic inns and bed & breakfasts to hotels and camping.
You’ll find more than 400 miles of trails in the Mount Rogers NRA, including the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail, two of the best-known trails in the eastern United State.
For this day hike, however, you’ll want to start at Grayson Highlands State Park, which is located adjacent to the Mount Rogers NRA. It too features a wide variety of trails, where you can find scenic waterfalls as well as a 200-year-old pioneer cabin.
The area supports two herds of free-roaming wild ponies, which are descended from Shetland ponies and were introduced to help prevent reforestation on the highland balds that provide those unobstructed views.
Exploring Grayson Highlands
If you have a chance to further explore Grayson Highlands and the surrounding area, do so. Whitetop Mountain, Virginia’s second highest peak, also features some excellent trails with more stunning overlooks. Mountain bikers can find trails to explore, and equestrians can take advantage of the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail.
Hikers who plan ahead and come prepared will be hard pressed to find a more scenic hike. Is it the best day hike in Southwest Virginia? Give it a shot and you’ll understand why it’s certainly in the conversation.