Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area
Elevation: 5729 ft.
From Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park, hike the Rhododendron Trail (0.8 miles), to its junction with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to the Mount Rogers Spur Trail where you will follow Wilburn Ridge approximately 3.0 miles until reaching the spruce forests characteristic of Virginia’s highest peak. (Note: From the intersection of the Rhododendron Trail and the Appalachian Trail to the top of Mt. Rogers, which is a moderate to difficult trail, the hike is another 4.5-5.0 miles.)
The blackberry tangles on the edge of this forest are filled with chestnut-sided warblers and eastern towhees. Once you step into the cool mossy spruce woods you enter an entirely different world. The forest here appears ancient with every limb dripping with mosses and lichens. These same mosses carpet the trail and cushion each step as you slowly climb to the summit of Mt. Rogers. The birds here are very different from the first few miles of the climb. The always-present dark-eyed junco is still here, but the other skulkers in the undergrowth have changed. Winter wren, veery and hermit thrush can be heard twittering from the forest floor, but it takes a patient observer to get decent views of them. The familiar chickadees calling in the trees sound a little hoarser, a little raspier and when they are finally seen, the brownish cast down their side alerts you that these are different. The chickadees on Mt. Rogers are the black-capped from farther north, not the Carolina, which are found at lower elevations throughout the state. Many of Mt. Rogers’ other birds are from parts farther north as well. Golden-crowned kinglet, red-breasted nuthatch and red crossbill can all be found regularly at these high elevations, as can magnolia warbler, and hairy woodpecker. Mt. Rogers is also home to one of the highest diversities of salamanders in the world. Aside from the multitude of wildlife, Mt. Rogers’ beauty lies in all its moss. A careful observer will find an incredible diversity of tiny plants, mushrooms, and insects on almost any trunk or fallen branch. Look for the intricately patterned wood sorrel and a variety of gallerina mushrooms intermingled within these acres of deep green moss. The peak is marked by a small brass plate embedded in the rock. Those hoping for a view from the top of Virginia’s highest peak may be disappointed since, at the summit, one can only see forest in every direction. Fortunately, the amazing views seen from along Wilburn Ridge on the hike up and down more than compensate.
Notes: Facilities listed are at Massie Gap, within Grayson Highlands State Park only.
Grayson Highlands State Park (access point for Massie Gap parking area): 829 Grayson Highland Ln., Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363
Pat Jennings Visitor Center/ Mount Rogers National Recreation Area Headquarters: 3714 Highway 16, Marion, VA 24354
From the Previous Site on the Mount Rogers Loop of the VBWT:
From the entrance gate for Grayson Highlands State Park, continue north 2.7 miles to the Massie Gap parking area. Park here and hike the Rhododendron Trail to the Appalachian Trail to the Mount Rogers Spur Trail to hike along Wilburn Ridge to Mt. Rogers.