Twin Pinnacles Trail
The Twin Pinnacles trail is a gentle trail that takes you to the highest point in Grayson Highlands State Park. The views from each of the Pinnacles are nothing short of spectacular.
When visiting the southwest region of Virginia, a visit to Grayson Highlands State Park is practically mandatory. That park and the high country around Mount Rogers might be my favorite spot in the entire state of Virginia for many reasons. The lovely boreal forest seen in much of that area is uncommon elsewhere in our state. The bald, open high country is stunningly beautiful. And, the kicker… there are WILD PONIES. Honestly, if there was nothing besides the wild ponies to set Grayson Highlands apart, I would still love it best. I grew up a horse crazy girl and that sentiment has never really abated in my adulthood.
Last time we visited Grayson Highlands, we hiked up Mount Rogers. This time we wanted to try something new, so we decided to hike the Twin Pinnacles trail, which lies completely within the state park’s boundaries. But before we set off on our new hike, I insisted that we hike far enough up the Appalachian Trail that I could see and photograph some of the ponies and their spring foals. The wild ponies of Grayson Highlands are not everywhere in the park. The best chances to see them are hiking through Massie Gap and then south along the Appalachian Trail.
As it turned out, the ponies were all tucked into the shade and relaxing at the higher elevations. We ended up hiking a little over halfway up Mount Rogers before we found the herd. We enjoyed watching a small family group of ponies – two mares, two foals and a stallion for about an hour before we headed back down to do our ‘real’ hike.
We also spent a little time headed slightly north on the Appalachian Trail so Adam could look for a geocache. While he did that, I enjoyed the spectacular blooms of the Catawba Rhododendron. They’re so colorful, and really set the mountainside awash in brilliant purple.
By the time we got to the trailhead for Twin Pinnacles, which is located behind the park’s Visitor Center, I was already sunburned, tired and hungry. Thankfully, Twin Pinnacles is a very, very short hike. At 1.6 miles, it barely makes my personal cut-off of one-mile for actually being considered a ‘hike’. Anything shorter than a mile is just a walk in my book!
For such a short hike, Twin Pinnacles packs in a ton of majestic scenery! The trail climbs very gradually to the highest point in the park – Little Pinnacle – at 5084 feet. You would think Big Pinnacle would be the taller, but the name is a slight misrepresentation.
From the top of Little Pinnacle, we had views in every direction. We could see Christmas Tree farms down in the valley. We could see Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain off in the distance. All through the forest, bands of red spruce were visible. They really stand out among other conifers due to their richer, russet colors.
Walking across the rocky, bare top of the mountain was reminiscent of hiking in New England. We quickly dipped back into the trees and walked through a small saddle over the Big Pinnacle. After a short, very steep climb, we stepped out onto bare rock overlooking a gorgeous vista. Of the two Pinnacles, I think Big Pinnacle has slightly nicer views of the park – especially looking down into Massie Gap. We enjoyed the breeze atop the Pinnacle, and I spent some time daydreaming more about the ponies and what they might be up to. (yes… really – I love those ponies!)
After leaving the second Pinnacle, we had a short walk back to the Visitor Center and a long ride back home. I wish we had more time to spend in the area – I love Grayson Highlands!
The last time we had visited Grayson Highlands, we spent most of the day at Mount Rogers and had little time or energy left for anything else. I thought it would be nice to see some other features of this wonderful state park. Since the weather and views were lovely, we tried out the Twin Pinnacles Trail.
During our morning in Grayson Highlands, Christine was determined to see wild ponies. She stated that she didn’t want to leave until she saw ponies and hopefully foals. In my best Mr. T impression, I said “I pity the foals” and we started our search. We ran into an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. I wish we had stopped to get his trail name, because he was such a happy guy. He was from Florida and just said that he is just amazed every day at what he is doing. He said that he often goes blue-blazing (since all of the AT is white-blazed, trails off the AT are typically blue-blazed) to see other things that people recommend. He wasn’t out to set any records for speed, he was just enjoying every moment. I hope he makes the trip the whole way. I kept thinking that he is adding on a lot of extra miles that I know many other hikers wouldn’t want to do. I was asking if he had seen any ponies and he said he walked through about four herds getting to this spot today, so I knew we were on the right path. Shortly after we parted ways, we ran into our first two ponies. They were a little stand-offish, but they didn’t run away from us. These ponies looked a little rough, like they needed some time with a grooming brush. Christine wanted to continue to try and find some more groups of ponies. Shortly after we continued to climb up the AT, I looked back to enjoy the view (and catch my breath) and I saw some ponies not far from where we were hiking. We decided to climb back down and check them out and Christine saw there were two foals with them. We spent about 45 minutes just watching their behavior from a safe distance before I nudged Christine away to continue on with our day. I’m sure she could have stayed all day looking at this set of ponies.
There are two different options for this trail. You can start from the parking lot at Massie Gap and hike steeply uphill via the Big Pinnacle Trail. We decided to go the easier way, since we had already spent a good time hiking before this.
To get to the trailhead, just continue on the park road, Grayson Highland Lane, until you reach the parking lot to the Visitor’s Center. Once you park the car, you will have to climb up several stairs until you reach the Visitor’s Center. As you are looking directly at the Visitor’s Center, the red-blazed trail begins behind and to the left of the Center. After a short distance, you will reach a larger bulletin board with a map of the trail where the trail forks. Take the left fork. You will soon come across the first of four storm shelters along the trail that were created as an Eagle Scout project. You will reach the first rocky outcrop, Little Pinnacle around .7 miles. The Little Pinnacle is actually higher than the Big Pinnacle in elevation. The trail continues on for a few tenths of a mile until you reach the sign for the Big Pinnacle overlook. The trail up to the Big Pinnacle consists of steep stairs leading to the top, but it isn’t too far of a climb to the top. Once there, you should be able to see the Massie Gap parking lot below. Go back to the sign and continue to follow the signs leading back to the Visitor’s Center. You should finish your trip at 1.6 miles.
I did do a little geocaching on the trail while I was there. In one of the geocaches, I found a toy Pinnochio from the Shrek movies. I decided to grab it (in geocaching, you typically take something and leave something in the container). As we continued to hike, I kept thinking that I heard something barking or voices that were in the distance. I asked Christine a couple of times if she heard anything and she said she didn’t. After thinking that I was going crazy, I finally realized that this Pinnochio was making noises. He makes some grunts and occasionally says, “I’ll never become a real boy”. We had a good laugh at my expense over that. If you would like to find the geocaches on the trail, they are:
For a hiker in Virginia, it really doesn’t get any better than a visit to Grayson Highlands State Park. This is truly a magical place!
- Distance – 1.6 miles
- Elevation Change – 250 feet
- Difficulty – 2. The trail is mostly flat and easy with the exception of one short, steep climb up Little Pinnacle.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is heavily-traveled and in great shape.
- Views – 5. Spectacular views from one of Virginia’s highest spots.
- Wildlife – 1. We saw some birds. There might be bears and deer in the area, but we didn’t see anything.
- Ease to Navigate – 4.5. There are a couple turns, but if you follow the signs you’ll easily be able to stay on the loop.
- Solitude – 2. The short length and excellent views make this trail very popular.
Directions to trailhead: From Abingdon, take 58 East until you reach Grayson Highlands State Park on the left through SR 362. Continue on Grayson Highland Lane until you reach the parking lot for the Visitor’s Center. The trailhead is behind and to the left of the Visitor’s Center.