"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... And sorry I could not travel both. I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." --Robert Frost

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mt. Rogers Hike - Highest Point in Virginia

Cumberland Gap National Park
Wheeler, VA
Grindstone National Forest Campground
Marion, VA

A 3 hour drive brought us from Kentucky to Cumberland Gap, Virginia where we decided to stay a couple of nights to break up the drive.  Before we arrived we stopped at a gas station and were amazed at the tow truck that pulled up next to us. 

Not only was it huge, but it was spotless!  Clean and shiny as any fire truck.

This is who you call when your 18-wheeler needs a tow.

Driving through the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, you are very near the borders of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.  It's a fairly new tunnel that opened in 1996.

What we learned about the Cumberland Gap is that it is a natural "gap" in the Appalachian Mountains where Daniel Boone led many people through to settle on the western side.  He did as the Indians did, they followed the buffalo to find this way through the mountains.  I didn't know there were buffalo this far east. 
The National Park campground is fairly small and very wooded.  The Verizon service was pretty good but only in some sections.  There was electric only at $20 a night.  Most sites are on the smaller side and many are not very level.  We barley fit in one of the few spots left.  Since it rained the whole time we were here we enjoyed some quiet time and a movie in town.  We saw Wonder Woman and it was much better than we expected.  The theater was very old and really needed updating.


Our little yard that we never used.

Time to move over to Grindstone National Forest Campground near the town of Marion.  Once we set up we took a little drive to a hidden spot not far from our campground.  A beautiful little waterfall that we only knew about because there was a geocache hidden here.  What a great spot!
This campground is very wooded.  $32 a night, W/E.  Pretty expensive for a National Forest campground but since the Appalachian Trail runs right by it I guess it can be a busy place.  Cell is non-existent here.  Plenty of long, level spots.  We have been very lucky so far that there have been little to no mosquitos on our trip this year so we've eaten outside more than we normally do.

We had some great fires.

Big, beautiful campsites.  Plenty to choose from.

Our first hike was a short one up part of the Appalachian Trail that winds through this area.  There was a geocache hidden nearby.  At first we wondered what all the "tape" was spread through the woods. Then as we got closer we recognized it as sap lines that are used to gather the sap from the Maple trees to make maple syrup.  There is a short time when the sap runs in the spring. Buckets are hung from the black plastic taps.

There was this old wooden church that we passed coming and going to the campground.  I had to stop and take a picture.  Not too much info about it but apparently the original had been vandalized and burned.  The locals got together and rebuilt the church in 1945. The craftsmanship is amazing. The
doors are kept open to anyone who wants to stop by.

Our big hike the next day was to the top of Mt. Rogers, Virginia's highest peak.  We were really looking forward to this one as this would be our longest hike so far.  It's 9 miles round trip.  It is rated as difficult, but we found it to be moderate.  There were a few spots of rock scrambling, but for the most part it was more average.  Just a longer hike.  Part of it is on the Appalachian Trail.  There is a lot of variety here.  You hike through 4 distinct areas: open grassy areas, rocky outcrops, woods and a boggy spruce forest at the peak.
We started out at Massie Gap hiking at the Rhododendron Trailhead. 

Should be a very nice hike weather-wise.  Just cooler with some fog at the very top.

There are several trails that criss-cross this area and they are very well marked.

The other exciting thing about this trail is that there are wild ponies in the area and you will usually spot them on the grassy highlands.  In the summer there are Longhorn cattle that roam here too.

Pony hair on the sign.  Hopefully we'll see some!

The Rhododendron part of the trail starts out with many blooms.  The Rhododendron had just finished blooming but the Mountain Laurel was showing off. 

The trail was very smooth in most sections.  There were some crazy roots to maneuver here.

As we left the woods and entered the first grassy knoll, there they were!  And with little babies!

They were so cute!  They are very accustomed to hikers and will pretty much ignore you as you hike by.  Signs warn you not to pet or feed them as they want to keep them wild and self sufficient.  The babies never bothered to even get up.  They were enjoying the warm sunshine. 

Snoozing on the trail.

After the first half mile you leave the Rhododendron Trail and follow the Appalachian for most of the rest of the way.  At about a mile and a half in the trail becomes more rocky and rugged. 

An interesting heart shape in the rock.

We left the blue blazes and are now following the white AT blazes.

Notice the white blaze on the tree?

We'll be hiking over and past this peak.

Leaving the State Park boundary and entering the National Forest.

There is a horse camp here.  It's a very popular area and while horses are not allowed on the AT, there are several other trails here where they are.

The ponies and cattle keep the grassy areas looking like a golf course in some places.

Some climbing and rock scrambling along this section.

When you get on top of some of the rocky outcroppings the views go on forever!  I'm sure the colors of fall must be amazing from up here.

More ponies.  We watch the weather constantly change as the clouds come and go quickly. 

Cloudy, then in minutes, sunny again.

The fog and clouds were blowing fast and cold up here.
Once you get into the forest it's really pretty and the area is full of large rock piles to climb around, over and through.

This pile had a tunnel to crawl through.

The other end.
My turn.

When I stopped to take a picture of these two, the baby walked right up to me.  He was very curious about my iPhone.  You are not allowed to pet them and they encourage you to shoo them away if they get close so that they don't get too used to humans. I felt bad scaring him away.


Once we climbed over this rock saddle, we could see and hear the Longhorns although I couldn't get close enough for a decent picture.

That's Mt. Rogers I the far distance.

Getting closer.  We're a little more than half way.

After cresting another peak, and a lot of muddy trail, we see the shelter.

The Thomas Knob Shelter is a popular spot for through hikers.
You soon leave the gated/fenced Knob area and enter the Lewis Fork Wilderness.

You can see the summit in the distance now but only for a short time.  We leave the Appalachian and take the Mr. Rogers Spur Trail for the last half mile.  Now you are entering where the spruce and fir grow.  It's colder up here and very boggy with a sweet smell.  There are ferns and a thick coat of moss grows on everything.

After the short climb you reach the top.  No views through the trees from up here though.

There are two markers.  The one above on the right is the actual high point marker.  The other (with the arrow) points to where the high point is and actually looks a little higher when you're standing on the large rock outcrop.  Not sure why they thought they needed the directional marker.  We ate a quick lunch, talked to another couple that was there and then headed down as it was cold and windy up top after grabbing a quick geocache.

Back down, through the gates dodging all the mud.

Once again we see the Longhorns.  This was as close as we got to them.  We didn't take any more pictures as we just enjoyed the rest of the hike down and stopped to take in the views now and then.

Once back at the bottom we spotted the "Regal One".  This pretty gray has a long thick mane and tale and appears in most of the parks advertising.  The hike took us about 6 hours total.  What a great day!  One of our favorite hikes this year so far.

 So true :-)


  1. Looks like a beautiful area to hike. Those ponies are pretty cool!

    1. It was a really great hike and the ponies were icing on the cake!

  2. What a beautiful area! We cannot wait to tour that area next year, thanks for the preview!

    1. Some really nice hikes, loved the ponies. Strangely, we rarely seem to see any deer.

  3. Looks like an awesome hike!! That moss looks crazy...in a cool way!!!! And the horses; totally awesome, especially the babies!!

    1. Great hike! The moss was the thickest I've ever seen it on anything before. Loved the colts!

  4. I agree with Dianne & Steve-very cool hike you two accomplished! As soon as I saw your photo of the Regal One, I recognized him immediately. How nice of him to make an appearance for your camera :-) One day I want to go hiking with you guys. You pick such gorgeous trails :-)

    1. He was so distinguished. Like he was posing! It was a great hike. We'll definitely have to do some hiking!

  5. That is quite the tow truck!! Love your beautiful woodsy sites. Beautiful pics along the trail. Those roots look gnarly. The ponies are adorable, it would be so hard not to reach out for a quick pet. And babies too!!

    1. I don't know why I loved that tow truck?! Gotta love a big shiny rig ;-) I wanted to pet that cutie that walked up to me (the pony) but I resisted!

  6. How cool to hike with wild ponies.


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