Autumn on Mt. Rogers

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Oct 14, 2006
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Fall

A Walk Down Memory Lane...

Once again I find myself sitting here reminiscing about my brief time in the Southern Appalachians. Grandfather Mountain was always a good time, the dozens of waterfalls visited were always relaxing, the Rhododendron bloom in the Roan Highlands were a wonder to behold. Amongst all these trips, each memorable in their own right, one stands out in my memory.

This hike took place on a particularly breezy day in mid-October 2006. I don't remember the exact circumstances surrounding the trip but I do know my wife wasn't real happy about my making a third trip north to Grayson Highlands in as many weeks. Peak color in the High Country is a fleeting thing, though...

My route took me from Massie Gap to the top of Rogers via the open ledges of Wilburn Ridge. The day was clear and almost perfect...the winds were literally breathtaking. On numerous occasions I actually had to take a knee to steady my camera enough for a photo. If anything, it made the trip even more memorable...

Wind, Ponies, Poo, & more Wind...

The Ridge Bekons...Massie Gap Trailhead

A lonely hiking stick and colors beyond set the stage for a great day on the trail...4650'

Joining the AT...Appalachian Trail

Joining the AT about a quarter mile above Massie Gap...4900'

Ghost Forest...Tree Skeletons

The skeletal remains of numerous Firs lined the trail as it ascended to Wilburn Ridge...5000'

Wilburn Ridge TrailOnto Wilburn Ridge

The trail soon broke out into the complete open as it climbed to the highest portion of Wilburn Ridge...5200'

Rock & AshRock & Ash

As sure a sign of fall as the autumn leaves, the scarlet berries of the Mountain Ash stand in striking contrast to the sapphire skies...5300'

In places the Wilburn Ridge felt more like a high western prairie than southwest Virginia...5300'

This is the view I was treated to from the first crest you pass over on Wilburn Ridge.
Mt. Rogers is visible to the left of the rocky peak in the center...5350'

Wilburn Ridge OutcropRock Outcrop

Large outcrops like this not only served as welcome havens from the wind but offered very nice views as a bonus...5400'

Blazes on the Rocks...Blazes

Along some of the rockier sections of the Wilburn Ridge the blazes are painted right on the rocks.5400'

Field, Rock, Field, Rock...Fields & Rocks

The Wilburn Ridge Trail undulated between rock outcrops and flat fields. It was very fascintating terrain...5450'

On numerous occasions I found myself thinking..."Does it get any better than this?!?!"

Lone PineLone Pine

The Wilburn ridge is virtually devoid of trees which begs the question, how tough is this tree that it's the only one that managed to survive here?...5450'

Rhododendron Gap...5350'

Rhododendron GapRhododendron Gap

Reaching the halfway point, Rhododendron Gap, where the AT, Wilburn Ridge, and Crest Trails meet...5350'

Whitetop MountainWhitetop Mt.

As I left Rhododendron Gap for Thomas Knob Virginia's second higest point, Whitetop Mountian, made a few brief appearances to the west...5450'

As I approached Thomas Knob Shelter Mt. Rogers began to take center stage on the horizon...5400'

Cattle Gate...Cattle Gap

Lets hikers in, but keeps horsies out...very cool...even though they do break your rythem a bit...

Lewis Fork WildernessLewis Fork Wilderness

Just before reaching the summit spur the Appalachian Trail crosses into the Lewis Fork Wilderness...5400'

Mt. Rogers Summit SpurSummit Spur

Not after entering "the wilderness" this little cluster of signs pointed me to the shelter of the trees and the top of Virginia...5450'

Mt. Rogers SummitRogers Summit

I was hoping for some more memorable summit pics but the severe contrast issues screwed with that idea. It was nice to be out of the unrelenting winds for a while, though...5729'

Mt. Rogers BenchmarkBenchmark

No views, but the benchmark was interesting...Took me a minute to figure out the inscription surrounding the marker read "USGS"...5729'

Spruce Fir ForestSpruce-Fir Forest

Descending from the summit of Rogers I left the Spruce-Fir forest behind and broke back into the open views, and winds, of the AT...5600'

Sensory overload was a serious problem along the AT on the way back to Thomas Knob...5400'

Mt. Rogers LandmineLandmines

These equine landmines were strategically placed to impair the unwary hiker...I almost lost a foot! 5425'

Approaching Thomas Knob ShelterSmoke, Anyone?

This spot would be completely unemeorable except for the fact I had just been asked by a Grizzly Adams-character with a goat for a pack of smokes...5450'

Endless MountainsEndless Mountains

I was told that the AT in Grayson Highlands was one of the prettiest trails in the southeast...I was quickly becoming a believer...5400'


I found myself frequently wondering at the history behind all the old fencelines in this area...5400'

I was having mixed feelings about crossing Wilburn Ridge again. No doubt the scenery was amazing but I felt I
was developing some serious windburn and the next few miles weren't going to help it any...5450'

Peaceful TrailPeace

The AT between Thomas Knob and Rhododendron Gap was quite pleasant...5400'

This was the stunning panorama from a rock outcrop above Rhododendron Gap. Mt. Rogers rises to the left above the Lewis Fork Valley below...5500'

High Country Fall ColorFall color

The colors of fall in the high Southern Appalachians covered the ridges...the red Mountain Ash blends with the green of the Rhododendron...5500'

Looking down on Rhododendron Gap from a nearby rock outcrop...5500'

Rock Outcrop on Wilburn RidgeWilburn Rocks

As I climbed back to the ridge from Rhododendron Gap the trail passed just to the right of this large outcrop. The view is probably amazing from the top but I just didn't have the energy...5400'

Appalachian Trail on Wilburn RidgeBusy Trail

The hard price of popularity was evident in many places where multiple paths diverged in open areas...5400'

There's no way to express how breathtaking the winds were on this's amazing any of these panoramic shots turned out!

The sweeping view to the south of North Carolina's High Country from Wilburn Ridge

As I dropped off the open ridge I was anxious to get out of the wind but, oh, was I going to miss the views!


It was hard to get used to seeing horses wandering these mountaintop fields...4975'

No Free LunchBeggar

After stopping to see if I was offering any free handouts (don't feed wildlife!) this particularly friendly pony went off in hopes of finding a more generous hiker...4975'

The last grassy area I come to before descending to Massie Gap has been designated
a bird sanctuary and one is asked to kindly stay on the trail...4875'

Descending to MassieBack to Massie

A long day in the wind was nearly over as I descended to Massie Gap. I knew before I had even gotten back in my car that this was going to be one of my more memorable hikes..4725'


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-9 of 9

maddie77777 - Feb 5, 2010 7:35 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice pics

I was there a month after you. The colors weren't as bright as you had, but the views were spectacular nonetheless. Can't wait to go back there!


dwhike - Feb 6, 2010 11:17 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice pics

Thanks, it's certainly one of the places I miss most in the south!


MarkDidier - Feb 6, 2010 11:24 am - Voted 10/10

Nice TR

Thanks for posting this...a lot of great pics from what looks like an awesome dayhike. What is the roundtrip distance on this by the way? And that is so southern obstructed summit view...although the views getting there sure looked awesome.

Happy Trails,


dwhike - Feb 6, 2010 11:16 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice TR

Thanks so much. I believe the round-trip amounted to about 8 miles if I remember correctly. I must admit it is kinda strange to be out in the open for 95% of the hike only to be closed in at the summit!


BobSmith - Feb 6, 2010 9:17 pm - Voted 10/10


are not really any more impressive places in the southeast than the highlands around Mount Rogers. The first time you encounter it you can barely believe it's real.


dwhike - Feb 6, 2010 11:14 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: There...

I completely agree. I believe it must have to do with the fact that it is relatively undiscovered compared to nearby places like Grandfather and the Roan Highlands. What most impresses me is how EXTENSIVE the open ridges are! I don't know the exact figures but it must be the largest area of open alpine terrain south of the White Mountains.


BobSmith - Feb 7, 2010 1:14 am - Voted 10/10

Re: There...

Hunters here in the Southeast know it as the only place in this part of the country where you can visually track deer from more than a mile away. Yep, that's one big hunk of open country.

Of course it's only that way because of rapacious timber operations followed by drought followed by intense fires followed by floods that swept the soil off the ridges.


johnmnichols - Feb 9, 2010 8:18 am - Voted 10/10


I love the scrolling panoramics. Really helps convey the sense of openness.


dwhike - Feb 10, 2010 12:55 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great

Thanks, considering the high winds I was pleased so many of them turned out!

Viewing: 1-9 of 9