If you had to pick your favorite spot in the world, where would you choose? Although I’ve been lucky enough to visit many beautiful – even spectacular – places, the choice for me is easy: Rhododendron Gap on the Appalachian Trail, in Grayson Highlands, Virginia. It’s not the most spectacular peak or the most remote location, but there is something perfectly sublime about this bald, wind-swept Appalachian mountaintop in the southwestern corner of Virginia. It is some of the most perfect backpack camping only a few hours from the trailhead – making it a great weekend overnight, or a manageable day hike. Even kids enjoy this hike along a bald mountain crest – with great views along the entire walk. Throw in the wild ponies that wander this section of the AT that passes through Grayson Highlands State Park, and it is the kind of walk that will be a memorable trip for a young kid on a day hike, or adults looking for the perfect weekend backpacking trip.
Plan on a 6 hour drive south of Washington, DC – jumping off of I-81 in Marion, VA (I have read good things about the newly renovated Francis Marion Hotel, but haven’t stayed there yet myself). The easiest place to start the hike is the Massey Gap parking area in Grayson Highlands State Park, although I’ve started in other spots like “The Scales”, leading to a spectacularly hilarious near-disaster trip with friends (look for a future post about the importance of carrying a map). The weather can be wildly different at the trail than in the closest town (Damascus, VA) – so prepare for extreme weather, but when she wants to cooperate, Mount Rogers can be one of the most beautiful places on the East Coast.
This is a perfect place to sit quietly, take in the sweeping view, and recharge your batteries. Winter is pretty harsh up there and Spring can be pretty drippy, but if you notice emails and phone calls are going unanswered in May or September, chances are that’s where you will find me.
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