Photographing Appalachian Mountains: Wilburn Ridge
Photographing Wilburn Ridge
Location: Grayson Highland State Park, Virginia
Best time of year to photograph: Spring, Summer, and Fall
Subject Focus: Landscape, Nature, Sunrise
Distance: 2.0 Loop
Grayson Highland State Park is full of some amazing trails that lead hikers to some of the best views in Virginia, and hiking along Wilburn Ridge is one of my favorite hikes in the park and has some amazing 360 degrees views.
To reach the trail head, park in the Massie Gap Parking Lot. This is the parking lot for most of the trails in the park, so it can fill up very quickly, but you are able to park along the side of the road. Massie Gap as two parking areas: one intended for overnight hikers and one for day hikers. Once parked, make your way over to the Rhododendron Trail Head. If you park in the overnight parking lot, follow the left trail for 0.2 mile until you reach the Rhododendron Trail Head. If you park in the day parking area, walk across the grass field to the Rhododendron Trail Head. Once on the Rhododendron Trail, follow it up the mountain for 0.5 miles until you reach the Appalachian Trail (AT). At 0.3 miles, the Rhododendron Trail meets the Horse Trail North; stay left at this junction. The Rhododendron Trail is the steepest part of the loop, but because the trail winds up the mountain, it not unmanageable. Right before you reach the AT, hikers will enter the highlands and have some great views. If you are in luck, you might see a wild pony. Some of the ponies may come up to you looking for food, but please help keep the ponies wild and do not feed or pet them (Leave No Trace).
At the junction of the AT, turn right and follow it north for 0.5 miles. This section of the AT is called Wilburn Ridge. It had a lot of rock piles for hikers to explore. Also, if you like rock climbing or bouldering, there are a lot of great spots to climb along Wilburn Ridge. There are three main rock piles spread out along the ridge, all of which offer outstanding 360 degree views of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. On clear days, hikers can see over 70 miles away. I personally like the view from the third rock pile, and it usually isn’t as crowded as the first two. In fact, I often have the whole rock pile to myself. The best view is to the East making this an ideal place to watch the sunrise beehive the Blue Ridge Mountains. The rocks can easily be used as a foreground element to add some texture to your images. This view has so many mountain ranges and valleys, which could be used to add layers and depth to your images. Since it has a 360 degree view you will be able to capture the sun rising not matter the time of year. If you hiking or scouting this location later in the day anywhere along Wilburn Ridge is a great place to stop and eat lunch/snack while taking in the amazing views.
Once you are done exploring Wilburn Ridge, hop back on the AT heading north until you reach the Appalachian Spur Trail. Turn right on to the Appalachian Spur Trail, and follow it down the mountain for 0.8 miles until you reach the Massie Gap Overnight Parking Lot. If you parked in the day parking lot, turn right and follow the trail for 0.2 miles, then walk back across the grass field to your vehicle, completing the 2.0 mile loop.
This is a great hike for the whole family; dogs on leashes are allowed on this trail. If you have young children, this would also be a great hike from them. My two sons loved exploring and climbing on the rocks, but the highlight of this trail was seeing the wild ponies.
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