Pretty Please With a Pony on Top

It’s their mountain, we just hike on it. The wild ponies, the bears, the deer, the hawks, the grouse–but especially those ponies. The Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in southwest Virginia (which contains more than just one mountain) is popular for good reason, but if you time your visit carefully there is plenty of solitude to be had–if you don’t mind equine company, that is.

Dear Reader, if you had never been backpacking before and wanted to go for the very first time in Virginia, this is where I would take you. The hiking is easy, and the payoff is huge. We would camp in a rhododendron thicket beside a gurgling stream, then hike across wide-open vistas offering up acres of wild blueberries:

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We’d take a leisurely pace, on a weekday well after the Appalachian Trail thru-hikers had cleared the area. We’d rise through old-growth spruce forests to tag the highest peak in Virginia without ever breaking a sweat. We’d find a meadow campsite with the most amazing view….

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…..and then we’d have to move it uphill when a grazing steer also takes a fond and disturbingly lengthy liking to that same view. Best of all we’d revel in wild pony-gazing, watching them nurse their young, scratch their backs on low-hanging branches, and then run off into the mist at twilight.

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We’d rise early and hike south on the Appalachian Trail, watching the sun slowly illuminate the landscape as we scrambled over boulders and gazed across the (very few) miles to North Carolina and Tennessee. It’s a long drive back to Richmond, Dear Reader, so we’d stop at Douthat State Park on the way home and rent one of their 1930’s cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. We’d spread our gear out to dry on the porch while we toasted marshmallows for Nutella s’mores (what a latecoming fool I have been to that particular party).

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The next day we’d hike up to the Tuscarora Overlook on the Blue Suck Falls Trail–this hike will be a little harder but it’s just a day hike so you’d have no heavy pack to carry. We’d tarry for lunch at the Tuscarora Cabin and revel in that endless blue:

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Then we’d head home, but a piece of your heart is always going to reside in southwest Virginia after that. I guarantee it, and the ponies do too.

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