Out of all our previous hikes in Grayson Highlands State Park, this is by far one of my favorite trails. Earlier in the day, we hiked the 0.30 Split Rock Trail to view one of the parks famed water boulders. Soon after we made our way up to the opposite side of Haw Orchard Mountain to hike the 1.28 mile Listening Rock Trail. That hike led us through Grayson Highlands most popular bouldering area, and rewarded our strenuous hike with incredible views at both Listening Rock and Buzzard Rock Overlook.
After driving over to the Massie Gap Area and hanging out in the alpine meadow enjoying our lunch, we pondered over which trail to hit next. Just ahead of us lay the Appalachian Spur Trail leading to wild ponies and Virginias highest peak, Mount Rogers. Deciding we weren't quite ready for an eight mile trek through the mountains, with a fast moving thunderstorm approaching, we looked for somewhere closer to hike, finally settling on the Twin Pinnacles Trail. Ironically enough, I had just parked the car right in front of the trailhead, so I took that as a favorable sign to continue forward.
Map | Twin Pinnacles Trail
The Twin Pinnacles Trail is a 1.33 mile loop consisting of a climb up to the summit of Haw Orchard Mountain, also known as Big Pinnacle, and the tallest point in the whole park, Little Pinnacle. It can be reached from either Massie Gap or the visitors center. Starting from the visitors center is supposed to be a little easier as you skip a lot of the steep climbing, but seeing as we were at massive Gap, thats where we started.
To reach the Twin Pinnacles Loop from Massie Gap, you hop on the 0.45 Big Pinnacle Trail heading to the peak of Haw Orchard Mountain. This is probably the most strenuous section of the whole trail from our experience. The 400 foot climb up the mountain is quite steep and rocky, making you stop to check your footing every few steps, felt more like a rock scramble than a hike. Meanwhile you can’t help but take long pauses to stare out into this beautiful forest.
Ferns knee high compete for every inch of open floor space, while mosses grow plush and thick over every exposed boulder. In areas with exposure to brighter light, shade tolerant grasses flourish alongside wild mushrooms. Eventually we reached the stone staircase leading to the summit of Big Pinnacle. At an elevation of 5,068 feet, this is the second highest point in the park. This exposed summit has clear 180 degree views of every major peak in Grayson Highlands and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. The Chestnut Hollow Campground and Stables lay spread out below us.
At a distance, we could see the storm clouds approaching from the direction of Mount Rogers, threatening to cut our hike short if we didn’t get on with it. Climbing down Big Pinnacle, we found the Twin Pinnacle Trail spur just beside a ledge below the stone steps. This shaded part of the trail is mostly flat and follows beneath a dense canopy of red spruce growing amongst giant boulders hiding smaller caves within.
As the trail gradually gains elevation, the canopy switches to shorter growing mountain laurel, with the sweet scent of their flowering blooms. All of a sudden you find yourself hiking through gaps in the canopy where small meadows of ferns reach almost waist high. Don’t mistake the smaller dirt paths leading to various overlooks for Little Pinnacle. You’ll know you’re there when you reach the red trail marker indicating a point of interest.
This overlook requires hikers to scramble up a boulder covered hillside to reach the summit of Little Pinnacle. At an elevation of 5,089 feet, this is the highest point in Grayson Highlands State Park. The exposed rock outcropping is only about a quarter the size of Big Pinnacle, and with the forest creeping in on all sides, really doesn’t feel that much more impressive.
Don’t get me wrong, its still worth hiking here, but for unobstructed views of the mountains, with a ceiling of clouds just above your head, I much preferred the vistas from Big Pinnacle. At this point the park is starting to fill up with visitors and crowding the trail, so instead of finishing the loop, we decide to head back out the way we came in. It was probably the best choice as the sky was getting increasingly darker.
I have to admit that I’m one of those people that hates retracing their own steps, so hiking out and back trails is not particularly my favorite thing to do. Although I’ve come to appreciate it more over the years. Usually I’m lugging around heavy camera gear, scanning the environment for something “cool” or “interesting” to take a photo of, which at times doesn’t allow me enjoy the moment. So coming back on this trail, I got a chance to put away all of my gear and just hike, in the moment.
This particular trail really is incredibly well maintained and cared for. The several sections with stone steps built to help hikers scramble some of the steeper elevation gains, look like something you would find in a gardening magazine. Bright green ferns, wispy grasses, and grouped plantings of red spruce trees almost make it seem like a landscape architect designed this stunning wild garden. Several rustic shelters built by Boy Scout troops add some charm to the place as well.
Exiting back out onto Massie Gap, the mountain vistas were all together different from when we began our hike. The bright blue sky was replaced by an ominous shade of purple and grey. People were running down the hill leading from Wilburn Ridge to escape the pouring rain that was headed straight for us. The sound of thunder was still a few mountain ridges away so I reckoned we might have a chance to hit one more trail before all hell broke lose.
Come back and check out our final hike along Cabin Creek Trail. This trail leads a a magnificent staggered waterfall with a natural swimming pool at the very top of it. Most people never even see its full glory, but we scrambled the boulder filled hillside all the way to the top just to see it. It was our most memorable hike of the day as the sky opened up to shower us with hail along the way. Stay tuned and see y’all on the trails!