This is an awesome rocky loop in the shadow of Mount Rogers. Although Mount Rogers is in a Wilderness Area (i.e. off-limits to bikes), you can ride to Rhododendron Gap just below Mount Rogers, which at 5,444 ft is probably the highest point legally accessible to mountain bikes on a trail east of the Mississippi River.
This loop is for those who appreciate a good rock garden! There must be 20 miles of rock garden with 3-6" and larger rocks packed into this 14-mile loop. With one exception, the rock gardens are the fun kind that don't require an advanced degree in mountain biking to successfully ride through, although you may have to pick lines carefully. This will still be a challenging trail for many because of the near continuous nature of the rocks and the overall altitude, especially if you're native to the east coast.
Do plan to get dirty on this loop. There are water crossings too numerous to count, including three challenging crossings of Wilson Creek. There are also a number of places where water runs down the trail. As mentioned previously though, it's pretty rocky, so erosion doesn't seem to be a big issue.
Part of this loop uses the Virginia Highlands HORSE trail, so you should expect to see horses and follow the appropriate etiquette not only on the VHHT but on the entire loop. There is a 15 mph speed limit for bikers on the VHHT, but this is only an issue if you're going downhill. Unfortunately, you can expect a fair amount of horse poo. Consider it an occupational hazard and don't swallow any mud that gets splashed onto your face!
The pastures around Crest Trail
are also used for cattle grazing, so watch for livestock, too.
There is a $5/$7 (residents/nonresidents) fee to enter the park.
This description starts from the parking lot across from the camp store of the main camping area at Grayson Highlands State Park. There's also parking at the Scales Horse Corral. Proceed north on Seed Orchard Road
from the parking area. Seed Orchard Road
is a rocky doubletrack which can be a little muddy if it has rained recently as it's well shaded. You'll hear Wilson Creek just to the east of the trail and catch glimpses of a couple short waterfalls.
At the edge of the state park, you'll reach a gate just before you cross Big Wilson Creek. From there, continue straight on Wilson Creek Trail
. This begins an at first gentle climb up to the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail (VHHT): Scales to Crest Trail
. Wilson Creek Trail
is filled with loose 4-6 inch rocks, so navigating through/around/over them will keep you entertained. It shares its course with a branch of Wilson Creek for a tenth of a mile. The level of difficulty increases as you near the intersection with the VHHT because the overall steepness increases considerably. Kudos if you manage to clean the climb.
The rock gardens continue after you turn left onto Virginia Highlands Horse Trail (VHHT): Scales to Crest Trail
. You can also expect a dozen or so short water crossings including several sections where water runs down the trail. At about the five-mile mark, veer right (don't go through the gate) and shortly thereafter you'll reach a junction with the Appalachian Trail and the Rhododendron Gap Trail, both off-limits to bikes. There is an impressive view at this junction.
From this junction, continue straight on the VHHT which narrows significantly. After another mile, you'll have to take a sharp right to stay on the VHHT. The Cabin Ridge Trail
continues straight at this point, but it is closed to bikes because it passes through wilderness. The VHHT continues another mile to the intersection with the Crest Trail
in the middle of a large clearing with Mount Rogers directly in front of you. The vegetation in this section has almost formed a tunnel through which you must ride, and of course there are the omnipresent rocks to contend with. You'll have to take the Crest Trail
because the next segment of the VHHT continues into a wilderness.
The first half mile of Crest Trail
is a really difficult, narrow, twisting climb with soccer ball-sized and larger rocks embedded in the trail. A lot of people will probably walk parts of this half mile. Once you reach a gate, the trail becomes much more manageable and a narrow singletrack takes you Rhododendron Gap after another half mile.
Be sure to hang out at Rhododendron Gap for a while. I'm pretty sure it is the highest point legally accessible by mountain bike east of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, everything to the northwest of this trail (including Mount Rodgers) is Wilderness and off limits to bikes. Rhododendron Gap sits between Pine Mountain (5,525 ft) and Mount Rodgers 1,000 ft to the east. It is the highest point in Virginia at 5,722 ft. Give a friendly hello to all the hikers hanging out at the gap, enjoy the awesome view to the northeast, and marvel at the cool rock formations before continuing downhill.
From Rhododendron Gap, the trail drops about 800 ft in three miles. The first half mile descends a somewhat narrow path between two fences surrounded by high vegetation with a number of blind turns. The whole path is filled with baby head rocks and much of the tread is wide enough to accommodate two abreast. About halfway down, it enters the forest, but count on getting some rays before that. Crest Trail
ends at the Scales Horse Corral.
From the Scales Horse Corral, the very rocky Scales Trail
descends down towards, and at times seemingly through, Wilson Creek. You can expect the rocks to bounce you around. At the bottom, you've got a somewhat challenging crossing of Wilson Creek just before a three-way trail intersection. At the intersection, a left on Seed Orchard Road
takes you back into Grayson Highlands State Park.