November 2009: Mount Rogers National Recreation Area

southwestern Virginia

If the relatively tame summits of the Mid-Atlantic have left your dog wanting more you can steer down I-81 to tackle Virginia’s highpoint - Mount Rogers. At 5,729 feet, Mount Rogers is the highest of the state highpoints east of South Dakota that lacks a road to the summit.

The summit is assaulted from three directions, each route covering about 4.5 miles one way. The most popular approach leaves from Grayson Highlands State Park and traverses open pastures (expect to encounter free-ranging wild ponies) and hardwood forests to reach the Appalachian Trail where a half-mile spur leads to the top of Mount Rogers. There are no views on the spruce-enclosed summit so take time to soak in the panoramic vistas along the trail; you can spot Mount Rogers on the ascent and the stand-out peak to the west is 5,520-foot Whitetop Mountain.
You can also start directly on the Appalachian Trail from Elk Garden to the west. Here you can return on the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail to complete a 4-5 hour hiking loop. All of your dog’s canine hiking takes place on Mount Rogers and can be handled by even beginning trail dogs. Expect a generous helping of rocky terrain under paw, especially on the horse trail.

Take I-40 to Exit 317 and take Hwy. 127 north for 46 miles. Turn right on Highway 154 and travel another 12 miles to the park entrance.