Mount Rogers is most notable and most famous as the highest peak in Virginia. The mountain is also the second-most prominent point and second-most isolated peak in Virginia, as well. The peak is also notable as the 19th-highest State Highpoint in the United States and the fourth-highest State Highpoint east of the Mississippi River. The mountain is also the highest eastern State Highpoint which does not have any roads or pavement leading to its summit.
Due to the region's widespread popularity with visitors even many years ago, Grayson Highlands State Park was created near Mount Rogers in 1965. During the following year, the United States Congress established the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area (NRA) as an additional way to try to protect and preserve the natural landscape of the region. The Mount Rogers summit is the centerpiece of the NRA, and is the highest point Lewis Fork Wilderness as well as the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest. Mount Rogers is the highest point of the New River and Kanawha River drainage basins, too. The nearest higher peak is Grandfather Mountain, over 40 miles away in neighboring North Carolina.
Mount Rogers is the northernmost location to one of only six remaining high-altitude Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests, and the only such forest in Virginia. The other Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests are located in the Great Smoky Mountains (near Tennessee/North Carolina border), the Black Mountains (in western North Carolina), the Great Balsam Mountains (in western North Carolina), and on Grandfather Mountain (in western North Carolina) and Roan Mountain (near Tennessee/North Carolina border). Within the spruce-fir forest on Mount Rogers is Fraser fir, a high-altitude evergreen coniferous tree only located in a few areas of the Appalachian Mountains and typically above 5500' elevation. Unfortunately, these firs have been in gradual decline ever since 1962, when the balsam woolly adelgid, an invasive non-native European insect, first started infesting the forests on and near Mount Rogers.
The thick spruce-fir forest prevents any views from the summit of Mount Rogers. However, the trails which are used to approach the summit sometimes have far-reaching viewpoints, as they pass through open grassy meadows and cross bald ridgetops. Much of the area is also full of rhododendron thickets, which bloom vividly during the months of May and June.
People who approach Mount Rogers from Grayson Highlands State Park (Massie Gap) will likely see another locally popular attraction--wild ponies. Unlike the wild horses found roaming in the western United States, which are mostly of Spanish mustang descent, the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands are of Shetland pony descent and are not actual horses (although they are related). The Grayson Highlands ponies were introduced to the area many years ago to help control the spread of native hawthorn, thorny shrubs and trees found throughout the region. These types of ponies were specifically chosen for their heartiness and ability to live above 4500' elevation.
The wild pony population in Grayson Highlands is limited to approximately 120 ponies. The Wilburn Ridge Pony Association, a local citizen group, manages the population. Every September, the group works together with park officials to select & round-up specific ponies for an adoption auction at Grayson Highland Fall Fest, to help control overpopulation from occurring. The ponies are most commonly seen between Massie Gap and Thomas Knob Shelter. Although considered wild, the Grayson Highlands ponies are very comfortable around humans, with some getting close enough for people to touch. However, touching and feeding the ponies is against park policy.
Navigate to Grayson Highlands and Massie Gap.
- Follow Interstate 81 until nearing the city of Marion.
- Take exit 45 at Marion, and then turn south onto State Highway 16.
- After approximately 24.1 miles, turn right (west) onto U.S. Highway 58.
- After approximately 7.7 miles, turn right (north) onto State Highway 362.
- After nearly two miles, arrive at the parking area for Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park
Rhododendron Trail. To reach the summit from Massie Gap (elevation 4650') in Grayson Highlands, follow the obvious trail (Rhododendron Trail) north for a half mile to the Appalachian Trail (AT). Turn left and follow the AT up Wilburn Ridge through Rhododendron Gap, and continue beyond the Thomas Knob Shelter to the short spur trail which leads to the Mount Rogers summit. Total distance is approximately four miles one way. This route is the most popular and most recommended summit approach for Mount Rogers.
Grayson Highlands State Park is a fee-for-use area. As a reference, for many years the park entrance fees for passenger vehicles had been...
- Peak season weekend day, per passenger vehicle: $3
- Peak season weekday, per passenger vehicle: $2
- Memorial Day-Labor Day: $2
It is always advised to verify current fees, rules, and restrictions with the Grayson Highlands State Park headquarters prior to any visit.
The entrance gate and trails within Grayson Highlands State Park are typically only open from 7:00 AM-10:00 PM during Spring, Summer, and Autumn seasons. The entrance gate and trails within Grayson Highlands State Park are typically only open from sunrise to sunset during Winter season.
Developed fee-for-use campgrounds are available in Grayson Highlands State Park and at several locations in the National Forest. Thomas Knob Shelter is very inviting, but AT through-hikers should be given "first dibbs" at that location. There are many nice campsites along nearby ridgetops. No fees or permits are needed for backcountry camping in Mount Rogers NRA. State Park camping is only allowed in developed sites. No camping or fires are allowed on the summit.