Horsin' Around in the Highlands

If you haven’t checked out our July 2013 road trip issue, be sure to get on that now. If you have already, you’ll know that summiting Virginia’s highest peak is on the list of things to do in the southwest Virginia region. At 5,728ft, Mt. Rogers is an unassuming summit that, despite lacking an epic view at the top, is home to a very lush spruce-fir forest (go there in the winter time and it will feel like Narnia). This “unassuming summit” looks a lot like the summit trail leading up to it, with the exception of a few¬†U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey markers bolted into the rocks. That doesn’t mean Mt. Rogers isn’t worth going to, as it is the only high peak east of the Mississippi that doesn’t have a paved road leading to it.

To get there, park at Elk Garden (2-mile hike) or Massie Gap (for a longer 4-mile hike) and take the Appalachian Trail to the spur trail leading to the summit (which is roughly one mile). If you want to do an overnighter, Thomas Knob Shelter is off another short side trail near the A.T. and with two floors, a picnic table, a privy and a water source, that’s about as close as you can get to a 5-star hotel in the highcountry.

If you want a full-on camping experience without the convenience of the shelter, check out the saddle in the land that spreads beneath Mt. Rogers. It’s known as Brier Ridge, and there’s a good reason for that (if bushwhacking, wear long pants or be prepared for some pain). Cut down the saddle and find a flat, brier-free area to stake a tent. The boulder fields that spot Brier Ridge are great for exploring after you’ve set up camp and offer a perfect place to watch the setting sun.

And if none of that was enough to persuade you to hop in your car and head to southwest Virginia, then there’s only one more thing that might do the trick: there are wild ponies in the highlands..lots and lots of wild miniature ponies.

Check out my hike in the Mt. Roger National Recreation Area.
* Note, some early footage is from an earlier hike closer to Damascus,Va. headed northbound (and Mt. Rogers-bound) on the A.T.

Hiking in the Highcountry from Blue Ridge Outdoors on Vimeo.