Backpacking in Grayson Highlands State Park

Last weekend I hopped in a 15 passenger van and headed out to Grayson Highlands Virginia in hopes of satisfying my calling to the outdoors. With little backpacking skills, I learned so much on this weekend backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail.

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Our backpacks were stuffed. Yet, I hardly brought any clothes. The biggest thing that was taking up most of the room was my sleeping bag. I used a 20-degree sleeping bag and it was perfect for the late September night chills. I was nice and cozy as we slept on this lovely bed of rocks. (seriously with a sleeping pad and bag it’s not bad) The first night we came into the campsite late. Since all the people going we had a late start and didn’t get to leave until 4:30 because that was when the last person in the group got out of class. We got into the campsite around 10:30, also having stopped for Chipotle on the way in. The campsite was nice. It cost $15 to stay and there were bathrooms and showers available. If you are not feeling primitive camping you could definitely stay there overnight and still get some good hiking in during the day.FullSizeRender.jpg.jpeg

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We began on the Appalachian Spur Trail in hopes of finding the Thomas Knob Campsite located on the map at sundown. The goal was to walk about 9 miles the first day and 8 miles the second day. As our journey took off I along with the other trip leaders quickly found out that following a map was not as simple as it appeared.

We began to go downhill and…… Lost. All of the sudden the white markers we had been following on the trees had vanished and we could not find the pathway to the AT. Up a hill, we found the horse trail and decided to follow it for part of the way. Turns out the trail we needed to get on was just across the creek, but I was utterly clueless of that until after the trip was over. Anyways, since we embarked on the horse trail we ran into a lot of…. what do you know…… HORSES! Many people take horses on the trails out there. Which was a wonder to me because those horses must have had strong calves. The hills got very steep in some parts. Though one thing that made the journey less enjoyable was the constant avoidance of horse manure. I would have rather stayed on the Appalachian Trail, though the views were still gorgeous, especially because it is fall with the reds, greens, and yellows covering the treetops like a blanket. I just couldn’t look down.

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As we treed on the Pine trail I felt I was no longer partaking in the real world. No, I was in the Lord of the Rings or a mystical fairy forest somewhere else.  The pathways were unrealistically beautiful. Rich in green and yellow colors. We had been hiking for most of the day when we entered the Pine Trail, it was completely different. Covered all around us were leaves and trees.

Along the Pine Trail, I noticed something different. Downhill we were going. Yet, I knew that Thomas Knob was higher up. Wait. There are tents. An open area. A clearing. WE MADE IT, I thought…….. Well, we had gone in a circle. There was a turn we were supposed to go on to get on the Appalachian Trail and all of us completely missed it. In order to get to Thomas Knob Campsite, there is no need to go along the Pine Trail at all.

Nonetheless, as our group headed down an unknown path we came across a great place to set up camp for the night.  Now knowing where we were there was no way we would have made it to the Thomas Knob campsite before sundown. Space was quiet and open.  It also just so happened to have a spring nearby that we could filter some clean water from. You can use a pump water filter and it will pump the water right into your water bottle. Or you could use a gravity filter like we did. We hung it by a tree, and the water filtered through within a few minutes. My favorite part was the sunrise. While we didn’t see much of the sunset, the sunrise was uttering breathtaking. Even the stars at night somehow didn’t seem real.

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The sunrise early in the morning

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The sunrise after cleaning up camp

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You could say this trip ROCKED!

The last day of the hike we found rock formations coming outside of the trail. One of the caves we encountered looked so cozy I thought that I might want to live in it, then one of the other trip leaders reminded me that a lot of other animals probably thought the same thing.

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Hiking higher and higher on the mountain the views became more and more incredible. Making the long haul up totally worthwhile. Even though you will notice most of us looking down and not at the view. It was so hard to walk and not fall, while also taking in every view possible.

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This view was incredible so we had to stop and take a picture. Not being familiar with the area none of us knew this spot existed,  but next time I will keep in mind this would have been perfect for us to gobble down our peanut butter sandwiches and trail mix on a lunch break.

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For a long part of the hike, we went on the horse trails because we found our way off of the AT. (Appalachian Trail) But hands down the Appalachian trail was more aesthetically pleasing. There are rocks the climb over, bends to turn round; it kept the journey exciting. When we saw this sign we knew that the trip was coming to a close because we were only two miles away from the overnight parking lot.

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Grateful. Many of us had never been backpacking before. Yet, afterwards, it was unanimously agreed that it was something we all would like to do again.

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