High Point #2: Mt. Rogers, Virginia

So, in my point #1 post I said that Mt. Davis was my first, but in reality, it is more accurate to say Mt. Roger, Virginia’s Highest point is #1. It is the first high point I have visited directly in pursuit of my goal to hit them all. So, without further ado, here is the real high point #1.

Track my progress visiting all the highest points here.

About Mt. Rogers

Elevation5,729 ft
Prominence2,449 ft

Named for William Barton Rogers, a professor who went on to found MIT, Mount Rogers is a unique place. Nestled in the middle of the Jefferson National Forest, Mount Rogers is unassuming from a distance. Like many high points in the Appalachian Mountains, its slopes are fairly shallow and its peak is not that much higher than its neighbors. But there is a lot that makes this high point special when you get close up.

For starters, for an east coast high point, you’ll have more of a hike than usual to get to the top: no driving right up to this one. Not long into your hike encounter windswept ridges with almost no vegetation other than grass and the odd bush. Without any tree covers a constant wind streams across the flat ridgetops.

A view across the ridge of Grayson Highlands State Park towards Mount Rogers

Eventually as you pass through a stand of trees and enter the next open area, you’ll come face to face with some unusual fauna for the Blue Ridge Mountains.

A new friend

While the backstory of how these ponies came to be here is unclear, the story generally goes that some well-meaning ranchers embarked on an experiment to establish a breeding colony of wild ponies from domesticated horses in the 1940’s. Whatever the reason, they have taken to their new home and it is estimated that over 100 ponies inhabit the park. They may be wild, but there’s enough human foot traffic through their range that they are proficient at begging as well, so don’t be surprised if they don’t mind your presence.

As you near the end of the open spaces, you’ll notice the trees start to get denser and take on a different character than a typical Virginia virgin forest. The summit of Mount Rogers is home to one of only six stands of Southern Appalachian spruce–fir forest left in existence.

Red spruce and Fraiser fir trees thrive in cooler, wind-swept regions above 5,500 feet. While Mount Rogers barely meets the elevation threshold, the trees start to appear at lower elevations and gradually dominate the forest by the time you reach the summit. These species are the classic Christmas tree which, when combined with the copious lichen and moss that grow on them, creates a unique forest environment at the summit.

Moss and lichen paint the landscape withing the spruce-fir forest lively shades of green and blue

My Trip

I made my hike to Mount Rogers as my first official high point, both overall and on the trip I took from my home in Virginia to Charleston, SC in July 2021. I hiked the most common route to the high point from Grayson Highlands State Park. The park has a pretty typical state park campground which I stayed at the night before hiking. Not much to write home about there, but that’s what you want in a state park campground.

After parking in the nearest parking lot to the summit the next morning, I began my hike. I have to say that the description and picture of the open wind-swept areas along the first half of the trail I have above don’t do justice to the unique character of the environment. The lack of trees, constant wind, berry bushes, and ponies are a combination I have not seen before or since.

A good section of the trail from Grayson Highlands follows the Appalachian Trail so I encountered some of the typical, as well as atypical, AT fair. The 500-mile marker on the trail coming from the Georgia end is along this stretch of trail so I saw several places where folks had memorialized this, like this drawing in the dirt. That’s not something I had encountered before, for obvious reasons.

Walking into the spruce-fir forest along the back half of the hike further increased the peculiarity of this hike. Despite being the middle of summer, you felt like you were walking into a Christmas tree farm at the north pole. The coniferous trees get more dominant and more lichen covered the closer you get to the summit.

The summit itself is not as climatic as some other high points. The mountain is fairly shallow and the peak is a rather innocuous rock which, other than the USGS marker on top, is just like every other rock on the surrounding slopes.

While I’m usually a little disappointed by an out-and-back hike as opposed to a loop, I didn’t mind this one. It allowed me to relive all the unique environments that exist on this mountain which I was grateful for. All in it was maybe a 9 mile, 4 1/2-hour hike, and well worth every minute.


As I expressed above, I found Mount Rogers to have an almost surreal vibe which only grew as I went further up the summit. I’ve done my fair share of hiking in the Appalachians and there is a certain environment that one comes to expect. Mount Rogers was something totally different. There are multiple different ecosystems that are each distinct and unlike those anywhere else I’ve been. As the hike progresses, each area reveals its own unique character in a way that is engaging and suprising.

The hike itself, while not a great challenge, does require a reasonable level of effort and fitness. I ran into many people who were drawn to the distinct features of the area but didn’t make it all the way due to the hike. The last mile or so up to the summit with its continuous 12% grade is more challenging than it looks for those not used to that type of climb. Still, if you’re up for it, it is an easily manageable day hike that could be enhanced with a picnic lunch along the way without taking up too much time.

With all that said, if you think you can do this hike, I would highly recommend it, even if you have to go a bit out of your way to get to it. I write this post after having hiked 14 other high points and countless other places in the Appalachians and would consider this one of the best I have done.

There’s something cruel about having my first real high point hike being as good of an experience as the bar has been set pretty high. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I know this one will be hard to beat.