Wow! What a fabulous 9th anniversary celebration we had. Instead of a 5-star Hotel, we did a 5-billion star one, camping in the Virginia Highlands. Grayson Highlands was a bucket list state park. I am so happy we finally made it there, what a magical place.
We camped at the overflow Chestnut Hollow Horse Campground, because the Hickory Ridge Campground was full when we called to reserve a spot. We ended up being pleasantly surprised and were happy with the campground and campsite. It was heavily wooded and shady, although the spots were a little close. Thankfully, we liked our tent dweller neighbors, a precious family from Greensboro with four children, boy age 10mos, and three girls 3, 5, & 7yo. The girls wanted a tour of the van where the 3yo gave the bed the jump test. It was so cute! The girls adopted us the rest of the weekend and had a hard time when we left. We’re hoping to see them at LEAF Festival in Black Mtn. in October. The parents were interested after we told them about it and recommended it as “Woodstock for families”. While camping, you meet the nicest people.
After getting set up in site #12, we had time for a quick hike from the campground to Massie Gap before dark. We took the Horse Trail East, to the Cabin Creek Trail, to the Massie Gap Parking Area. We were greeted by a field full of wild ponies just below the parking area. They were absolutely beautiful and so tame. It was such a thrill! My favorite was a tiny gray 14yo stallion, who, I later learned, the rangers call, Fabio. He is the smallest, but the leader of the herd. There were also, two little foals with the herd. It was such an amazing experience seeing them in their natural habitat, albeit too close and familiar with humans. One pony did get a little frisky and run off another when someone was giving the aggressor food. I wish people would not do that, but people will be people…
Saturday morning we got up and got going early. We hiked from the Horse Trail East to the “Difficult” 1.8mi. Cabin Creek Trail towards the waterfall. It was a gorgeous hike through a rich damp forest along the beautiful cascading creek. We hiked to the pretty double Cabin Creek Fall then continued up above the falls for a while, but never found the “Waterfall Overlook”, we’d seen a sign for. We came back down and hopped on the Cabin Creek Trail Loop to Massie Gap. We hiked up through the field, which was scattered with Fabio and his brood again, then up onto the AT below Mt. Rogers and Whitetop Mtn. Met some AT hikers from Thompson Station, TN, who were on a 5-night hike. Ate blackberries and blueberries growing along the trail the whole way. We climbed the huge rocky crags for a 360 degree view. We ate our picnic lunch and got some great pics. We hiked back to the campground, visited with the neighbors, and cooked hot dogs for dinner over the campfire. Perfect ending to a perfect day!
Sunday morning, we packed up, said our sad farewells to the neighbor family, who were leaving that day, then headed to the Grayson Highlands Homestead in Happy, because it was too far to hike. En route, we took a detour to the Visitors Center after seeing a sign for it. At the parking area, we stumbled upon the Listening Rock Trail. After seeing the view and the boulders right there in the picnic area, we decided to hop on the 1.28mi. “Difficult” trail. We were so glad we did. We loved the giant boulders and unusual hydrangea undergrowth on the way to Listening Rock. We had a fabulous view out on the rock, which looked over Christmas tree farms and peak after peak. The hike in was gradual, the hike out was a little more challenging grade. My legs were already tired from two days of hiking, little did I know, we had many trails to go before we were finished for the weekend.
We checked out the Visitor’s Center then decided to hike up to Little Pinnacle 5089′ and Big Pinnacle 5068′ on the “Moderate” 1.6mi. Twin Pinnacles Trail. Absolutely loved the trail through the beautiful spruce forest spattered with blueberries and blackberries. We hiked out to both Pinnacles on the rock outcrops with fabulous 360 degree views of VA, NC, and TN. Just north of the Pinnacles you see the two highest points in VA: Mt. Rogers 5,729′ and Whitetop 5520′. Great trail!
We rode over to the Homestead and who should be there, but Fabio and his herd. I swear they were everywhere we went, all over the park. The ranger told us they were not supposed to be in the Homestead or by the Massie Gap Parking Area, where we’d seen them the day before. He said, Fabio is a trickster and can make his way around all of the barriers with his herd and goes wherever he likes.The rebuilt homestead site is complete with two log cabins, spring-house, barn, and cane mill. It’s really a beautiful recreation of an old Virginia farmstead. One of the one room cabins had been moved to the park from just down the road. It had only one window and four built in bunks. The wife of the last family to live in the cabin, lived in it from 1936 until 1990. The family that originally built the cabin had 9 children and up to 15 people living in the one room cabin at one point. It is hard to imagine, but then we have people that can not imagine the two of us and two puppies living in our van for months a time, so I guess I get it. We know close quarters.
We went to the Country Store where we parked and rested for a bit before hitting trail number three of the day. My aching legs told me no, but the enthusiastic recommendation from our campground neighbors, told me yes. Oh, YES! It was definitely the right decision to hike the 1.76mi. “Difficult” Wilson Creek Trail. There were two pinto ponies, we hadn’t seen before, just past the trailhead. The trail wass full of water, rhododendron, and oh, so much beauty. Definitely, not to be missed when visiting Grayson Highlands. After the hike, we drove into the Hickory Ridge Campground to see if we wanted to move there for our last night. We drove in to find the two pinto ponies grazing next to the campground host’s travel trailer. So cool! After a drive through, we decided to head back over to the horse campground, which we preferred, for the night.
We rose early Monday, our anniversary, and headed down the mountain, so Wiley could get cell coverage to be able to work. We went to the town of West Jefferson, NC in Ashe County for an anniversary breakfast. We Yelped and ate at The Rosebud Bakery & Diner. It was delicious! We even got a celebratory 7-layer bar and strawberry cake with chocolate icing for later. Wiley worked after we ate while I walked around and went into the shops and galleries. It is cute little town, very artsy and outdoorsy. I really liked it. We met another Pleasure-Way owner, who had walked around and asked all over town looking for a “long haired guy with two little dogs”, because he had seen Happy and had to meet us. He had some questions about our newer version of the same van as his. We also, met a New Zealander, who now lives in West Jefferson. He had lived on a sailboat with his family and was very interested in van life. Fun stop!
On our way out of West Jefferson towards Boone, we made a snap decision to jump on the Parkway. You know what I always say, if you have a choice to take the Parkway or another route, always take the Parkway, it never disappoints. As we approached Julian Price Memorial Park, we were hungry, so stopped to have a picnic. The sky was pretty threatening, but you can’t be at Julian Price and not hike on the Boone Fork Trail, one of my all-time favorites. We hiked only to Hebron Colony Falls, which is about a mile in on the 4.9mi. loop trail. Hebron Falls is a modest 20 foot waterfall hidden amongst a massive boulder field. So fun boulder hopping there. Someone had seen a rattlesnake, so we didn’t feel the need to climb all the boulders to the top with the puppies. On the way back, we stopped at a little beachy area on the river with a tiny waterfall and swimming hole. Pippa and I waded across the water over to the fall. She scaled the rocks and I got in the little pool below the fall while Wiley and Nigel played ball and swam. We all waded across another section and up onto a massive boulder island. Great fun!
Back on the Parkway, out of curiousity, we drove through Little Switzerland to see the inn and village on our way home. It was later, so the shops weren’t open. It was cute and had spectacular views. If you’re not a camper and want a place to stay right on the Parkway, looks like a decent option. We left there and rode the Parkway to Mt. Mitchell, where coincidentally, we had been exactly a year ago to the day on our anniversary after camping at Black Mountain Campground. We ate some dinner in Happy then hiked up to the pinnacle. It was a Monday, so there were very few people there. We got our obligatory anniversary pic then headed for home.
We went through a lot of rain between Mt. Mitchell and Brevard. We had planned on stopping in Arden to pick Miles up at the airport, flying in from a month backpacking in Australia, but he and his buddy, Connor had missed a flight and weren’t coming in until much later and had another ride. It was dark and pouring as we hit Brevard. Made a stop at Davidson River Campground in Pisgah National Forest to see if they had a spot for the night. After driving all day, we weren’t up for the 30min. winding ride up the mountain in the dark with torrential rain. We lucked out and got a campsite in the Laurel Loop. There were big storms throughout the night. We were so glad to not be in a tent, like some of our poor neighbors. Yea Happy! We woke early and drove up the mountain in order for Wiley to get to work back at home.
It was a truly magnificent anniversary trip. So grateful to be on this journey exploring and adventuring with the love of my life. Happy Anniversary, Wiley!