Little Wilson Creek Wilderness – Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, VA

 

Summit of Stone Mountain
Summit of Stone Mountain

The day did not end as expected. I spent a wonderful hour exploring cascades and waterfalls along Wilson Creek before meandering up Stone Mountain taking in the panoramic views. Despite being chased away from my lunch spot by an irritated wild pony, the fall colors and perfect temperatures made it a great hike so far. Per norm the sights in Grayson Highlands State Park and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area exceeded expectations. That changed beyond Stone Mountain as I entered the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness. What followed was a boring and sometimes painful 3.5 hours of hiking through the quagmire of horse trails in the wilderness. These trails were always extremely rocky, and at times very muddy. To end the day I slipped in Wilson Creek and ended up wading the creek and Wilburn Branch multiple times as I got lost trying to connect the Big Wilson Creek Trail to Upchurch Road. I eventually found my way out though after a few trial and errors and lots of exploratory running.

 

So, to summarize – the first half of this hike was awesome and the second half left a lot to be desired. My hiking plan was to take the Wilson Creek Trail from the Hickory Ridge campground/amphitheater parking in Grayson Highlands State Park then connect to the Appalachian Trail north towards Scales compound. From there I would loop around through the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness via First Peak, Kabel, Big Wilson Creek, and Upchurch Road trails. This loop is 13.1 miles without getting lost – I hiked 14.4 miles – but I would recommend turning around at the summit of Stone Mountain and taking an easier return trip. I also was trying out my new footwear combination of La Sportiva Ultra Raptor’s and Mont-Bell Stretch Short Spats (gaiters). They worked really well but I’ll need to try them a few more times before I write reviews.

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Pine Mountain and Wilburn Ridge – Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, VA

 

Southeast from Wilburn Ridge
Southeast from Wilburn Ridge

It was the perfect day to visit a spot I hadn’t hiked in years. I have backpacked here twice in March 2010 and October 2010 but never a day hike. I drove out to Grayson Highlands State Park planning to do a big loop in the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness. Most of the hike would be on trails I’ve never touched and I was excited because it was sunny and mid-70s. Once I got started though and started ascending Stone Mountain towards Scales, I could not resist doing a loop I did years ago backpacking. The views and weather were too good to pass up. I started at the Massie Gap parking area in Grayson Highlands State Park and took the Appalachian Trail north past Scales before using the Pine Mountain Trail to form a loop with the AT. After a quick out-and-back to the Thomas Knob Shelter I trekked over Wilburn Ridge and said hi to some ponies on my way to the car. This loop hike is one of the best hikes in the Southeast and everyone should try to experience at least a portion of this area.

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