Mount Rogers: Pony Paradise

The Highest Point in Virginia – 5,729′

Backtracking to the latter part of 2018, my dad and I had the chance to conquer Mount Rogers and experience the incredible landscape.

A Quick History Lesson:

‘“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Unites States of America in Congress assembled, That, in order to provide the public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment of the area in the vicinity of Mount Rogers, the highest mountain in the State of Virginia, and to the extent feasible the conservation of scenic, scientific, historic, and other values of the area, the Secretary of Agriculture shall establish the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in the Jefferson National Forest in the State of Virginia” (Public law 89-438, 89th Congress, H.R. 140366.  May 31, 1966).

The Mountain and National Recreation Area are named after William Barton Rogers; the first Virginian state geologist and founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).’ [1]

‘In addition to containing the highest point in Virginia (Mount Rogers, elevation 5,729 feet), the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (NRA) of the Jefferson National Forest is a window on the history of ancient volcanic eruptions and glacial movement.


How do we know there were volcanoes in the Mount Rogers NRA?

Although volcanic activity ended long ago, volcanic rocks form the high mountains in the Mount Rogers NRA, which are Mount Rogers, Whitetop Mountain, and Pine Mountain. The vol- canic rocks are predominantly light-colored, fine- grained, high-silica (SiO2) rocks (rhyolite) of the Mount Rogers Formation (Rankin, 1993).’ [2]

Off to the Summit

My father came down to Virginia from West Virginia (yes…these are two different states) for the weekend in early October. The weather was beginning to get chilly, and the leaves were starting to change. We decided on a Mount Rogers National Recreation Area adventure over dinner on Friday night at The Farmhouse in Christiansburg, VA.

The Mountain Man – a.k.a. My dad!

Off we went, a nice 6AM start down to Grayson Highlands State Park. The drive was so beautiful as we curved through the mountains and experienced a wilderness that was completely new to us. It is only a short two-hour drive from Virginia Tech’s campus!

The terrain changes as you climb. What are meadow and normal forestation at the lower elevations break way to larger rock outcroppings and a wind swept surface leaving fewer trees and rocky meadows exposed. We even found twins…well kind of.

The wild ponies really make this one of the most interesting places to hike in the state. The herd runs more than one-hundred strong. They freely march along, bossy as ever, conquering the mountainside and rocky meadows. You can tell who runs the show up there!

The Story of the Wild Ponies

*A little insider information. When the ponies are injured or need medical attention, veterinarians are able to bring them in and work on them. This is of course if the condition is caught in time.

‘Though the backstory on how these majestic creatures got to this forested expanse of land in the first place is murky, the most commonly accepted one is told by the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the area. The agency maintains that a group of local ranchers wanted to breed small-statured horses that could survive life on the Appalachian Mountains with little to no human interference. In a bid to engineer the land around them, they bred a horse with a pony and the lineage resulted in the wild ponies living there today.

“The ponies have been in these mountains since the 1940s, prior to the National Forest ownership that occurred in the 1960s,” Abbott says. In 1974, she notes, the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association was formed to take ownership of the ponies, help manage them and use them to graze and maintain the grassy area.’ [3]

As you climb towards the pinnacle of Mount Rogers, the last quarter mile brings with it a very odd story. The landscape turns into a rain forest and everything is covered in a green moss, and the entire area is saturated.

Park Information

‘The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area is a 200,000-acre mountain parcel situated in Southwest Virginia, roughly between Damascus and Galax. Mount Rogers NRA contains Virginia’s loftiest terrain, namely 5,729 foot Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia and part of the nationally renowned Mount Rogers High Country, a melding of rare spruce-fir forest, open meadows, wild ponies and rock prominences. Mount Rogers NRA is also home to trout-filled streams, forested ridges, wild bears, numerous campgrounds, room to roam and around 500 miles of trails to explore.

Elevation ranges at Mount Rogers NRA run from the aforementioned Mount Rogers down to around 2,000 feet at the New River to the east and Whitetop Laurel Creek in the west. This vertical variation helps create a biodiversity unmatched in Virginia’s Appalachians. A wide array of outdoor activities allows visitors to enjoy this rich biodiversity. Mount Rogers NRA visitors can hike, bike, paddle, horseback ride, camp, fish, swim,auto tour, picnic and backpack. It truly lives up to its name as national recreation area.


Mount Rogers NRA lies within the greater Jefferson National Forest. The recreation area is stretched over a wide rural swath laced with mountain roads, both paved and gravel — the going is slow.

Supplies can be had in Damascus, as well as outlying towns of AbingdonMarionWytheville and Galax. Stock up before you enter the recreation area.

The recreation area is very spread out. Don’t expect to see it all in a day. With numerous campgrounds and additional rental cabinshere, it is easy to extend your stay, especially figuring in more lodging outside the recreation area.’ [4]

Overall, this was an excellent trip. Although it was a day hike, we were able to trek 12 miles in total and see new environments. It is so cool to see terrain like this in the East, reminds me a lot of out West and the exposed rock you see in the high plateaus.


[1] “Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.” Nez Perce National Historic Trail – History & Culture, USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Region, Forest Health Protection, Boise Field Office,

[2] United States, Congress, Miller, JMG. “Volcanic Fire and Glacial Ice: Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.” Volcanic Fire and Glacial Ice: Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, vol. 4, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 2007.

[3] Nalewicki, Jennifer. “The Only Place on the Appalachian Trail Where You Can See Wild Ponies.”, Smithsonian Institution, 22 July 2016,

[4] “Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.” Virginia Is For Lovers,

Comment below if you have been here! I would love to share stories and answer any questions regarding the area we explored!

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