Your guide to Mount Rogers: Wild ponies, mountain balds, and the Appalachian backcountry
In 1966, an Act of Congress established the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, over 150,000 acres of pristine mountain wilderness, featuring the best outdoor recreation in Virginia. Smyth County is your gateway to the wonders of Mount Rogers, and home to the two main access points for the area.
How to access Mount Rogers NRA
There are two main corridors to Mount Rogers, both going through scenic Smyth County. From I-81, take exit 45 at Marion, and travel south on Route 16 towards the official Mount Rogers Visitors Center. Along the way to the summit, you’ll pass through the adorable little community of Sugar Grove (population 758). Fill your tank with gas, and pick up a picnic or burgers for the grill at The Farmhouse Market.
Alternately, you can access Mount Rogers through exit 35 at Chilhowie, turning south on Whitetop Road. Be sure to stop at the Blue Ridge Discovery Center, located at the intersection of Whitetop Road and Route 603 (also known as the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway). This route is also the quickest way to reach Grayson Highlands State Park.
Request an official map, or download a PDF map for mobile:
Must-see spots in Mount Rogers NRA
While visiting Mount Rogers, you’ll find plenty of special areas worth your attention. Grab your hiking shoes and get ready to experience one of the most beautiful places in America.
Ride The Virginia Creeper Trail, a famous rail-trail that runs 34 miles from Abingdon to Whitetop Station inside the Mount Rogers area.
Summit baggers rejoice! This area is home to the two highest peaks in Virginia, Mount Rogers (at 5,729 feet) and Whitetop Mountain (at 5,525 feet). For a bonus, hit nearby Buzzard Rock, at 5,095 feet the #4 peak in Virginia. Technically it’s an additional summit of Whitetop Mountain, and both peaks can be experienced on the same trip.
Photograph the wild ponies of Mount Rogers. These feral ponies were introduced in the 1940s to graze the high balds of this area of the Appalachians. Today they are managed by the US Forest Service for herd health and size. The most common way to view the wild ponies is via Grayson Highlands State Park, which is adjacent to the National Forest. Remember to keep the wilderness wild: do not attempt to touch or feed the ponies!
Families with young children will enjoy the short hikes at Grayson Highlands, as well as the interpretive exhibits at Blue Ridge Discovery Center (opening 2021) and the Mount Rogers Visitor Center at exit 45.
Where to Stay while visiting Mount Rogers NRA
There are a variety of lodging options for Mount Rogers, from rustic backcountry camping to a luxurious AAA 3-Diamond hotel.
Within the national recreation area itself, there are three designated campgrounds, offering some level of amenities, like picnic tables, showers, and electric/sewer hookups for RVs or trailers – Beartree Lake, Grindstone, and Raccoon Branch. Primitive camping is also allowed throughout the Mount Rogers NRA, following established Forest Service guidelines.
For those who prefer a little more comfort, you’ll find plenty of hotels within minutes of Mount Rogers. Smyth County has national and regional chain hotels/motels, as well as the historic General Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Marion, named one of the Top 150 Hotels in America by National Geographic Magazine.
Consider one of Smyth County’s cabins or vacation rentals, perfect for family getaways. You’ll find unique properties, from cozy mountain retreats to idyllic farmhouses.