Backpack the Mount Rogers Loop
Virginia › Massie Gap Trailhead
Added by John Sides
Known for its grassy balds that offer sweeping views of the Virginia highlands, wild ponies that roam the area, and being the highest point in Virginia, Mount Rogers is one of the most uniquely beautiful sections of the AT. Numerous trails allow for a variety of multi-day backpacking options.
For an awesome 2-3 day trip, start hiking at the Massie Gap trailhead, which can be reached from Grayson Highlands State Park. Take the Rhododendron Trail up the ridge to connect with the AT, keeping an eye out for wild ponies in the Massie Gap area as they like to hang out here. Some of these ponies may approach close enough to get a great photo, but please help keep them wild by resisting the urge to touch or feed them. Follow the AT up Wilburn Ridge, which includes a section of trail where you get to scramble up several rocky outcroppings. At the highest point of Wilburn Ridge, you’ll be rewarded with impressive 360-degree views of the entire area.
To reach the summit of Mount Rogers, continue on the AT past the Thomas Knob shelter and hike about half a mile through a dense forest covered in moss and evergreens. At 5,729 ft the summit is the highest point in Virginia. Head back down the mountain, claim a campsite with a view near Thomas Knob shelter (the shelter is available on a first come first served basis but priority goes to thru hikers) and watch the sunset across the valley. There’s a water source just off the ridge from the shelter.
On the next day, backtrack for a mile on the AT and then continue straight onto Pine Mountain trail until you leave the Lewis Fork Wilderness and reconnect with the AT southbound. Pine Mountain trail keeps you on the ridge and passes through loads of rhododendron and a combination of fields and forest. Stay straight on the AT through Scales (intersection of 5 different trails so make sure you take the one you’re intending to!), and hike up and across wide open balds with great views back towards Wilburn Ridge and Mount Rogers. Because it’s so exposed this section of trail can get very windy. For a long day, follow the AT all the way back towards Wilburn Ridge and descend to Massie Gap via Appalachian Spur Trail or the Rhododendron Trail. For a more leisurely second day, stop and camp near Wise shelter (water source nearby) and leave the remaining section for the next morning.
Because it’s the highest mountain around, Mount Rogers can experience dramatic weather changes quickly year round, including harsh winter conditions from late Fall to early Spring. Know the forecast for the peak and surrounding areas before your trip and be prepared for changing weather.
- Warm sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Water Filter
- Stove and fuel
- Rain jacket
- Down jacket (winter)
- Warm hat and gloves (winter)
- Base layers (winter)
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Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Photography
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My Yearly Outdoor Tradition
Backpacking Grayson Highlands and Mt Rogers was the first backpacking trip I ever went on, and I've made it a yearly tradition to return there to backpack it. Its a phenomenal place to take beginner backpackers in terms of its moderate difficulty of terrain, easy to follow trails, breathtaking scenery, and of course, the ponies. Don't expect a view from the top however, Mt. Rogers is completely forested at the peak. Camping atop Rhododendron Gap's mountain balds is an amazing experience, and probably one of my favorite all-time outdoor memories.
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