Noted as the highest peak in the state of Virginia,4th highest state highpoint east of the Mississippi and the highest eastern summit with no paved roads leading to it. Originally named Balsalm Mountain it was renamed for William Barton Rogers the first state geologist and founder of MIT. The summit is not a viewpoint as it is located in a thick spruce- fraser fir forest one of the few in the southern Appalachians.
The summit can be approached from the Elk Garden trailhead however I chose to enter via Grayson Highlands Park at Massie Gap. This portion of the park is populated by wild ponies maintained at a total of about 120, with auctions in September by the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association. The ponies seem to be more of a enticement for locals to visit this area than hiking to the summit. They are useful in keeping down unwanted vegetation. Feeding them is discouraged.
Massie Gap has no facilities except pit toilets, you begin by walking across a pasture to a visible gate, along the way a sign warns of extreme weather changes. Yikes, it was already 43 degrees with 15 to 20 mph winds blowing mist and low clouds did give some pause but I did not encounter any actual rain until the last mile and a half on the return. Once through the gate you're traveling on the Rhododendron trail, the actual rhododendron were only beginning to bloom, after a little less than a mile you intersect the Appalachian trail(AT) turn left or south and follow the white blazes until reaching the Mt. Rogers spur trail blue blazed for the last half mile.
In a little more detail shortly after first turning onto the AT you walk through an area heavy with rhododendron and then enter another open pasture and on the other side of this is a second gate exiting Grayson Highlands State Park and entering Mt.Rogers recreation area, this pasture and gate area is one place I encountered the feral ponies. Continuing after this 2nd gate another 1.5 miles, for a total of 2.5 miles, you reach a junction of trails called Rhododendron Gap at an elevation of 5525, the Pine trail and a horse trail junction here but stay with the white blazed AT. After another 1.5 miles, this open stretch probably would have the best views on a clear day. You encounter gate #3 and quickly reach the 2 floor Thomas Knob shelter. This shelter is recommended for use only by thru AT hikers but there are nice campsites below or north of the shelter and within the gated area.
Leaving the shelter, perhaps after a snack break, continue south on the AT where a sign notes entering Lewis Fork wilderness area is encountered and shortly after the sign for the Mt Rogers spur trail which is marked with blue blazes. As I climbed the last 300 feet the spruce and fir forest began and it appeared dark and mossy and with the mist and low clouds gave a rainforest look to the area. At the summit the geologic marker is not easily visible so a little searching is required. If you look at the route I posted the hike is actually a little less than 9 miles round trip if you ignore my side trip further south on the AT. On this day all the trails had areas where some sections became running streams particularly the summit spur trail. Otherwise there was plenty of suck your boots off mud to slow you down. Despite this I enjoyed this hike as the mist made the Grayson Highlands seem like their namesake in Scotland.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.