Grayson Highlands: How To See The Wild Ponies

So how can I see the wild ponies in Grayson Highlands? That, of course, is the most common question that I’ve been asked whenever I’ve backpacked in Grayson Highlands State Park. And this last time that I visited the park in the late summer and early fall of 2021, it was no different. As lots of the other visitors, who I met, were all interested in where exactly they could find a wild pony.

Truthfully, I’ve never not seen at least one wild pony whenever I’ve visited the park in the southwest corner of Virginia.

Heck, even on my first visit, for only about a half hour or so, I got lucky and stumbled onto a pony. So there’s definitely a secret to finding them. And if you’ll stick with me for a bit, I’ll be glad to share my knowledge on the subject.

And then, you will all know my top secret guaranteed method for finding those wild ponies in Grayson Highlands, and even, getting up close and personal with them.

But first, let me tell you about my amazing backpacking trip around Grayson Highlands, recently. And, as I do so, you’ll learn the number one method that I use to find and even get up close to those wild ponies. So let’s get started on our journey!

Now the very best part of day one of my backpacking trip was arriving at a camping area, in between the Appalachian Trail and Crest Trail in the western part of the park. Now there’s a spring here, a few stands of pines, and a view to die for. So it’s a great place to camp.

And, on this particular day, the herd of cattle that grazes in the park also showed up.. Grazing, burping, farting, and pooping their Longhorn hearts out. So what’s not to like about that? You just have to watch your step… And with the cattle stomping about, a few ponies also showed up. Five to be exact. But they mostly stayed up the hillside away from my tent. So the better pictures I took that day were of the cattle…

Calf keeping her distance
This calf kept a safe distance from me in my campsite.
Longhorn coming close to me in Grayson
However, this Longhorn chose to get up close and personal with me.

Grayson Highlands Trail Map:

So my plan for the rest of my trip was this. I was going to backpack the Appalachian Trail northbound, then take the Pine Mountain Trail back toward my trailhead of origin, which, in this case, was Elk Garden. And finally, take Trail #337 back to Elk Garden Trailhead. If you want to take this same trip sometime, or get to know the Grayson Highlands trails better, I’d suggest buying the following map of the area: Mount Rogers High Country [Grayson Highlands State Park] (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map, 318). You can also view a free map here, but it’s not as detailed as the National Geographic Map.

By the way, don’t ask me the exact mileage of my trip. I don’t know it. Nor do I care that I only hiked about 4.5, or maybe even, 6.5 miles each day. That’s cause I like to get into camp early. Set up camp and my lightweight hammock. Then, chill out in my hammock until dinner time.

Which is exactly what I did on day two, arriving at Wise Shelter on the Appalachian Trail around 1:30 pm. And near the shelter, I was surprised to find the most amazing camp spots, as I’d previously thought that this part of the park would surely be a serious ghetto–the very armpit of Grayson Highlands.

But the camping and scenery here proved to be just as spectacular as the areas around Thomas Knob and north of there along the AT.

Truthfully, I loved the campsite that I found here, which was nestled in a grassy glade near a hikers’ bridge that spanned Big Wilson Creek.

Day 2 campsite setup in lovely glade.
Day two. Tent set up in a grassy glade within earshot of Big Wilson Creek.

Of course, the best part about this particular campsite was that I’d have the perfect opportunity to see the night sky through the openings in the trees. So I rolled back the rain fly of my tent, revealing a truly amazing view of the moon and stars that night. Unbelievable. And talk about a peaceful way to drift off to sleep.

As all I could hear as I closed my eyes was the sound of that spirited mountain stream, rushing and splashing over those rocks. So close to me…

After breakfast and breaking camp the following day, I absolutely enjoyed my hike northbound on the AT to Scales. The scenery heading to that place smacked of an African savanna, or some exotic grasslands. But, I saw no ponies. Although I heard a few of them neighing in the tall grass.

At Scales, I ate lunch on a treeless hillside with a view of the mountains and fall leaves that was just breathtaking.

Fall leaves changing colors in Grayson Highlands.
Scenic spot near my lunch stop at Scales in Grayson Highlands.

Then, after lunch, I continued hiking on the AT until it intersected with the Pine Mountain Trail, where I took a sharp left turn, turning back south again. And eventually, around 2:00 pm, on day 3, I arrived at one of my all-time favorite camping spots in Grayson Highlands near the Lewis Fork Trail. Wow!

And why’s this place so great? Well. There’s ample trees for setting up my hammock. Also, this particular camping spot has spectacular views. Third, it’s nestled in a gap, where on one side, you can see the sunset; while, on the other, you get to witness the sunrise. I’ll let you guess which side I chose.

And this spot is also where I’ve seen the most ponies.. But I don’t find them. THEY FIND ME. And, on this particular afternoon and night, A LOT of ponies found me.

How many? So many that I lost count. Heck, I saw a bunch come into camp shortly after I arrived. Then, when I was coming back from the spring after fetching some fresh water, I bumped into a few more.

One of the stallions in the group zigzagged ahead of me on the Crest Trail, as if to cut me off. Then, he stopped, stomped, and turned, head over his shoulder. Staring at me, while he dropped a serious deuce.

Got it, I thought. You’re turf.

An hour or so later, as I sat on a large boulder, sipping some whiskey and watching the sun go down to the west. Yet another set of ponies appeared in the field right in front of me.

And these ones seemed more interested in posing for pictures… And after taking a few snapshots of them, well, I just headed back to my tent for some more stargazing and much need sleep…

Pony grazes as sun sets.
Saw this wild pony in a field near my campsite as the sun was setting.
Foal approaches Grayson Highlands.
While this fearless foal seemed interested in meeting me.

But the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands had other ideas that night. As, the very moment that I drifted off to sleep, I was just as suddenly awoken by some loud stomping outside my tent. Now normally, I wouldn’t have minded. But these guys seemed like they were right on top of me, which, in fact, they were. As I soon discovered when I opened my tent flap and found three ponies staring at me from just a few feet away! Might’ve even been the same ones that I’d taken the pictures of a few hours ago. The nerve!

I pointed at them. “No eating my tent,” I insisted, ducking back inside and zipping up the flap of my tent.

At which point, I immediately fell back into a deep peaceful sleep, which surely would’ve lasted the whole night, except for the fact, that I was visited again and again throughout the night by several more sets of ponies. And yes, they make a lot of noise, clomping and stomping about just outside of your tent. But, then again, it’s kind of nice to have them around when you sneak outside for a bathroom break around 3:00 am in the morning. Since you gotta figure that they wouldn’t be hanging around if there was a big fat bear, or cougar, anywhere in the vicinity.

So, as you can see, the secret to finding and getting up close and personal with those famous wild ponies of Grayson Highlands isn’t to seek them out at all.

Rather, it’s just to spend some time in the park. Preferably, a day or two, backpacking around the park and camping.

And, sooner or later, those ponies will find you.

And maybe a lot more of them than you’d ever expected to see. Or even more than you ever wanted to hear, stomping about right outside your tent at all hours of the night. Then, amazingly, disappearing in silence just before dawn. Leaving nothing behind in their wake, except for a few choice mounds of horse hockey. Piled just outside of your tent, as a friendly and fresh reminder that the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands had stopped by to say “hi”.

Horse hockey Grayson Highlands.
A fresh reminder that the wild ponies had stopped by my tent in the night!

So thanks, guys!

But I guess that life’s not always going to be all sunshine and rainbows. Instead, you’ve gotta deal with some serious crap sometimes to get to where you want to be in life…

Speaking of which, not to be outdone by my four-legged friends, I figured that it was about time for me to answer the call of nature, as well. And to show my furry friends how it’s really done!

Incidentally, I did also want to mention this, since we’re on the subject. So whenever, I’ve mentioned to folks, who don’t camp, that I like to, they always ask me the same two questions.

One, what do you eat?
And two, how do you go to the bathroom?

So, to go to the bathroom in the woods is easy.

You just need a trowel, toilet paper or wipes, and a few ziploc bags. Then, you walk far away from any camping areas, or places where people may hike, at least 200 yards. Next, you find a suitable spot and dig a cat hole with your trowel. Then, you squat over it and take aim.

To get everything going along just right, I find that it helps to conjure up an image of your least favorite politician. Maybe the one who insists on trying to tell other humans what they are required to put in their own sovereign bodies. Then, you can really let it rip. So, let’s go Br@nd0n, and his handlers and those elite puppet masters above all that…

Finally, you wipe. No, you don’t just leave your toilet paper or wipes in the great outdoors. You put that stuff in your extra ziploc bag and pack it out with you, which is why I prefer to use wipes, not toilet paper. Then, you cover the crater back up with dirt. And I promise, you’ll feel righteous again.

By the way, some backpackers are starting to use little mini bidets to do their business. I haven’t got into doing this, but it’s another way that’s probably less messy and more environmentally friendly to be sure.

But the worst thing you can do is to leave your toilet paper and wipes on the open ground. Just don’t. Please. And I know that most people reading this already know this, but just in case you don’t.

The etiquette of backpacking and camping is to leave no trace. And to leave whatever campsite you used in better shape than you found it.

Which is exactly what I did that day after I’d taken care of business in a hygienic and leave no trace manner, as it should be.

Then, after breaking camp, I proceeded to hike to the junction of the Rhododendron and Crest Trail where I ate a lazy lunch in the shade of a stand of pine trees.

Lunch stop in a pine glade.
My last lunch stop in the shade of a few pine trees with a view to die for!

And finally, after my lunch and a nap in the shade, I proceeded to hike on the Appalachian Trail back toward my truck at the trailhead, which I estimated was only three hours away. Now this, of course, would’ve been an uneventful hike. Except, for the fact, that I soon found myself hiking in the middle of an unexpected thunderstorm that thoroughly drenched me to the bone. And turned the AT into an ankle-deep creek. It also blurred my vision through my glasses, making the going tough.

So expect the unexpected when backpacking and camping around Grayson Highlands. And, by all means, be prepared for inclement, windy, rainy, and even downright cold weather.

Luckily for me, though, my gear stayed dry for the most part, as I’d rigged up my pack cover. And I keep all of my gear in dry bags inside my backpack, anyway. And so, even though I got blasted by an unbelievably heavy downpour on the way out, I still felt that it had been a great day, when I arrived, cold and shivering, back at my truck. Thus, I’d finally come to the end of my amazing 3-day journey around Grayson Highlands.

That said, I still have one last thing to say about my whole adventure. You see, shortly before this trip, I was telling some of the South Holston fishing guys that I was going to go camping in Grayson Highlands so that I could hang out with some of the wild ponies. And one of them remarked that I was a strange guy. Cause what I really should be doing was hanging out with a Tig Bitty girl on the weekend, instead. His words; not mine.

I think that there also may have been some type of innuendo there, but I wasn’t sure. Still, I’d agree, in general, that finding a nice girl to spend some quality time with might be a better experience than hanging out with a bunch of wild ponies on a chilly, windswept, and desolate mountain landscape.

But here’s the thing. Ponies don’t railroad you in the divorce courts. They don’t take the kids, cars, and house, and render you a child support and alimony slave for the next ten to fifteen years of your life. Also, you can’t get trapped in a “cheaper to keep her” or miserable sexless marriage by them.

Those wild ponies also don’t nag, harangue, or harry you to an early grave. Now maybe, they might take a big steaming dump right outside your tent in the middle of the night. Sort of like what allegedly happened to Johnny Depp during his tumultuous marriage. But I’d venture to say that this is the least of your concerns, by comparison. And this is why I often choose to fish, hike, and camp, most of the time. And to hang out in beautiful and unique landscapes instead of chasing women, for the most part…

Because I don’t want to get destroyed in the minefield of marriage that exists today. Also, I should mention that the no-fault divorce laws adopted in the 70s & 80s by the states often prevent the intergenerational wealth transfer within a patriarchal family structure that greatly benefited both male and female members of that family. But this is something that’s often not possible to do under the current no-fault divorces laws… which I’m certain was the primary motivating force behind the changes.

Gotta destroy those strong, stable middle class families over generations, after all. And pit the sexes against each other, while they’re at it… Moreover, a certain set of useful idiots will be more than happy to assist the powers that be in this soulless and ruthless endeavor … leaving themselves overweight, overworked, buried in debt, and less happy in the process.

But hey, here’s to being a free man in the land of the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands. And, oh that whiskey just tastes so smooth and satisfying going down in the dying light of the day. Yes, I can rest easy, free from the plantation. Thank God almighty! But I find that I must also say a prayer for humanity, as well.


Thank you for reading my blog post about How to See the Wild Ponies in Grayson Highlands State Park. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, please subscribe so that I can send you notices about my future posts. Subscribing is FREE and I don’t spam or share your email. Also, please share this post with your friends, family members, and co-workers on the usual social networks. This will help support this blog and grow my audience. Incidentally, if you’d like to learn more about backpacking in Grayson Highlands, be sure to check out my post, Backpacking Grayson Highlands: 7 Tips For Your Trip.

Wild ponies in a field as the sun sets
These wild ponies appeared near my campsite, while I sipped my whiskey at sunset. Life is good, indeed. But I also found myself saying a prayer for humanity. To just please wake up and see who’s really pulling all the strings. That said, it fairly easy to see these days that the lame stream media is BS’ing all of us about so many things…

After a long career in the publishing industry, Gary Alan left his corporate job to pursue his next adventures in life as a blogger, writer, investor, fly fisherman, hiker, and traveler. He is the author of the adventure fiction book, 'Big Thunder-Hearted River'.