Earlier this summer I put together a trip through the Cumberland Region of Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina with the sole purpose of visiting Grayson Highlands State Park. I had previously spent several days sifting through information on where to hike in Virginia, when out of the blue, some friends posted pictures of their recent hiking trip in Grayson Highlands. What I saw left me gawking into my computer screen. Enormous, wide open views of the mountains, strenuous boulder filled hiking trails, and wild ponies roaming freely….. whhhaaat?! From that moment on, I was hooked and I knew where I needed to go.
Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, with scenic views of alpine like peaks more than 5,000 feet high, Grayson Highlands majestic beauty, gives more notable National Parks out west a good run for their money. The area adjacent to the park also happens to be the highest peak in the state of Virginia, Mount Rogers. Climbers flock here to enjoy the unique bouldering experience the numerous rocky outcroppings have to offer. With breathtaking overlooks to hike to and access to the Appalachian Trail, theres something here for everyone to enjoy.
Map | Split Rock Trail Map
One of the newest sections of trail in the park is directly behind the park office near the main entrance. Its trails run through one of the more popular bouldering spots in the park, leading to a giant boulder thats been split in half know as Split Rock. The Split Rock Trail is an easy 0.30 mile loop that anyone can attempt, rewarding hikers with several overlooks along the way. To find the trailhead, head on over to the park office parking lot. The trailhead is located along a low stone wall at the end of a gravel path.
To get to the Split Rock loop, you first have to hike a portion of the Haw Flats Trail. This trail leads through a gorgeous short grass meadow at the base of Haw Orchard Mountain. This meadow was at one point used for grazing cattle, but is now left to grow as a home for a variety of wildlife. Monarch butterflies are often seen here feeding on blooming milkweed. Wild turkeys and ruffed grouse also use the brush in order to hide from predators.
The main reason to love this spot is for the unbelievable mountain views you get from this perched elevation. At Grayson Highlands, the views are plentiful and easily accessible from just about anywhere. We happen to catch the sun rising above the fog covered valley below us and couldn’t help but forget about our hike for just a few moments as we soaked in the view. Special moments such as this are exactly what motivates me to continue traveling, seeking out the hidden beauty our country has to offer.
As Haws Flat enters the woodlands edge, you’ll want to take the right fork onto the Split Rock loop. The woods here were once an old growth forest, with trees one hundred feet tall and up to ninety feet wide. In the early 1900’s, as chestnut blight was destroying the forests of the southeastern United States, the logging boom began sweeping through this region, leaving the area completely devoid of trees. After decades of protection, the forests in this region have begun to revitalize themselves, and with the exception of chestnut trees, will once again support another tall red spruce forest.
After slowly descending into a woodland valley, the trail leads into one of Graysons famous bouldering area. The focal point here is Split Rock itself. Its name is derived from the fact that the rock is split in half, almost right down the center from end to end. This boulder is so ENORMOUS, that people can easily walk through from the bottom and climb up through it. The fact that we can even see this rock and walk through it is a miracle considering that it was once completely buried underground.
As the area was logged and left devoid of any protection from the elements, erosion began its work on this hillside. The natural mulch that once covered these boulders, sometimes up to three feet deep, slowly washed away revealing the stone outcroppings hidden beneath. Over time, whole boulders emerged from seemingly nowhere, creating the landscape that we see here today.
If you’re up for it, a small sign here gives detailed instruction on how to boulder this massive split rock. There are five marked routes along the front of the boulder for anyone to take a crack at climbing. The paths follow small dimples and hairline cracks just big enough to squeeze your fingers into in order to propel yourself upwards. Seeing as I don’t have the finger strength that more seasoned climbers have, I didn’t get very far.
Once you leave the split rock area, the trail continues through a large rhododendron tunnel. Just past this tunnel is a small creek crossing that can easily be jumped over. The rest of the trail is an easy stroll through the woods with several exit points. You could chose to finish the loop and exit back out the way we entered from the alpine meadow. Or you could switch over to Haws Flat Trail which will drop you off on the other end of the park office parking area. Either way, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this wonderful trail with enormous points of interest to see!
Next up, we’ll be driving over to the Visitors Center, located near the summit of Haw Orchard Mountain. From there, well be able to get some more incredible mountain views from the Buzzard Rock Overlook and hike the Listening Rock Trail. This is one of the most popular trails in Grayson Highlands and can’t wait to share it with you. Until then, see y’all on the trails!