How to Spend a Magical 48-Hours in Virginia’s Highlands

We were lucky enough to explore the Virginia Highlands and explore two of Virginia’s beautiful state parks, Hungry Mother State Park and Grayson Highlands State Parks. 

In this post I’ll be sharing an overview of our experience camping at Burson Campground in Hungry Mother State Park as well as our day trip to Grayson Highland State Park where we got to hike alongside wild ponies. 

Keep reading for a 48-hour Itinerary, plus a bonus 10 Day Itinerary for those who have longer time and are able to explore nearby Great Smoky Mountain National Park. 

A foal and her mom in Grayson Highlands State Park
Our campsite at Burson Campground in Hungry Mother State Park

Overview of Virginia Highlands

Overall of Destination

Both Hungry Mother State Park and Grayson Highlands State Park are located in the Virginia region referred to as the Blue Ridge Highlands, located in Virginia’s southwest, bordering Tennessee. Not too far from the Great Smoky Mountains. 

Grayson Highlands is located just north of the Tennessee / Virginia border. 

In fact, before visiting this area, we had been 3 hours south at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Read More: How to RV in the US for Less than $2500

Be bear aware in Virginia Highlands!

Reasons We Chose to Visit the Virginia Highland’s

We originally chose this area because we were looking for an overnight stop between Great Smoky Mountains and our next destination, Washington DC.

As a bonus, we wanted a stop that featured wildlife. 

I had originally heard of Grayson Highlands State Park while I was researching the top state parks in each state. This state park was on multiple lists and also recommended by thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail as it passes right through.

I was thrilled to learn this state park offers RV camping only to realize it books up incredibly fast. While Grayson only receives a few thousand visitors each year, those must also enjoy camping too!

But before we gave up all hope, we discovered Hungry Mother State Park nearby. 

Another reason why I love staying at state parks; their prices are always so reasonable priced. Both campgrounds are reasonably priced at only $40-45 a night. 

Getting to Hungry Mother State Park and Grayson Highlands State Park

Most likely you’ll explore this region while on a east US road trip. The Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia are a popular scenic route and of course the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee are another population destination. 

If you’re visiting either of these locations, it only makes sense to add either of these state parks onto your trip!

For our trip to this region, Ben drove our RV from Maine down to North Carolina and picked me up at the Asheville airport. We first drove to Great Smoky Mountains and finally up to Hungry Mother State Park. 

Alternatively, if you needed to fly into the region, you could also look into the Knoxville or Roanoke Airports. 

Overview of Hungry Mother State Park and Campground

The park features three campgrounds. We stayed in the Burson Campground which offered full hookups, access to a lake beach, and 2 hiking trails right from the campground. 

A special feature of this state park is that Burson Campground is open throughout the year – a bit rare for a state park! 

Check out this document which features details on each of the Hungry Mother State Park Campgrounds and their sites

There is also the Creekside and Royal Oak Campgrounds. 

Hungry Mother State Park offers boat rentals, a beach concession stand, a boat launch, and fishing pier. 

There are also hiking and biking trails which we loved!

In addition to tent and RV sites, the state park also features cabins, lodges, and yurts available. 

Grayson Highlands State Park – Electric/Water $40 for non-residents

Hungry Mother State Park – Electric/Water/Sewer $45 for non-residents, Electric/Water $40

The loop trail along Hungry Mother State Park. In the distance you can see the beach!

Hungry Mother State Park Campground Activities and Amenities

We truly enjoyed our stay at the Burson Campground. Of the three campgrounds we stayed during our two weeks, Hungry Mother State Park was our favorite. 

Here’s what we loved about Burson Campground:

  1. Flat and easy campgrounds to set up.
  2. Spacious sites, especially along the edges of the campground. 
  3. Great water pressure in the showers!
  4. Multiple hiking trails from the campground.
  5. Access to a beach is a short walk away. 
  6. Access to a boat launch is a short walk away.
  7. Even with a full campground, it felt completely peaceful.  

Day Trip to Grayson Highlands State Park for Hiking and Wild Ponies

Hiking in Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia

Like I mentioned above, the entire reason we stayed at Hungry Mother State Park was the proximity to Grayson Highlands State Park. 

We truly enjoyed our time in this state park. We chose to hike along the Wilburn Ridge via Appalachian Trail and saw so many wild ponies along our route!

Check out this guide to Grayson Highlands State Park and trail system. 

Our favorite moment was when we saw a foal and her mom. It was so sweet to see them grazing together. We were lucky enough to capture the moment! 

We did see people trying to touch the ponies which is prohibited, along with feeding them. Keep them wild!

48-Hour Itinerary in Virginia’s Highlands

In case you have limited time off, we’ve compiled a 48-hour itinerary you can do on any free weekend! 

Friday Night

Arrive at your campsite and take a walk along the Hungry Mother State Park Lake Trail Loop. The whole trail goes around the lake for 5.5 miles (of course you don’t have to do the entire trail) . It’s a super peaceful walk and a perfect way to get settled for the weekend. 

Go to bed early as you have an adventurous day tomorrow! 

Saturday Morning

Start the morning with a hearty breakfast as you’ll be exploring Grayson Highlands State Park.

The drive from Hungry Mother State Park to Grayson Highlands State Park is under an hour and is a great scenic drive. 

There are multiple hiking trails to explore. We highly recommend the Wilburn Ridge via Appalachian Trail. This 4.4 mile trail will bring you along a beautiful route and a great chance to see wild ponies! It’s rated as a hard trail but we found it to be more moderate. 

Saturday Afternoon

Once you return to camp, take a picnic lunch and enjoy the Hungry Mother State Park Lake. Enjoy swimming, fishing, canoeing or kayaking, and get your tan on!

Saturday Evening

Enjoy a fire and dinner at your campsite. Take this time to disconnect and truly relax. There is nothing for you to do but enjoy your time with loved ones or by yourself. 

Relaxing in our hammock at Hungry Mother State Park in Virginia

Sunday Morning

Good morning! If you’re feeling up to another adventure before you leave, you could hike the 3.4 mile Molly’s Knob Trail in Hungry Mother State Park. The trail starts right from the Burson Campground. 

This little buddy was spotted on the Molly’s Knob trail in Hungry Mother State Park, Virginia

When to Visit Virginia’s Highlands

We visited the Blue Ridge Highlands during May and were greeted to lush forests and quiet settings. But if you’re traveling during the fall, I imagine the fall time is even more beautiful!

Average temperatures for this region:

May – 72 degrees F

June – 79 degrees F

July – 82 degrees F

August – 81 degrees F

September – 76 degrees F

October – 66 degrees F

Things to Know Before Visiting Virginia’s Highlands

It’s important to know there are not a ton of activities to do surrounding Grayson Highlands and Hungry Mother State Parks. Restaurants and attractions are limited, but that’s okay! You’ve come to this area for nature and peace, and that’s what you’ll get!

Another thing to keep in mind is because there are limited restaurant options, you’ll want to plan on making most of your meals at the campsite. 

We have a few go-to camping meals perfect for weekend trips:

  1. Burgers and side salad
  2. Hotdogs and beans
  3. Chili – here’s Ben’s favorite 5 ingredient recipe
  4. Charcuterie board (we love olives, baguette, hummus, rotisserie chicken, grapes, gouda, etc).
  5. Sausage, potatoes, onions, and peppers (cook over the fire in aluminum)

Bonus Itinerary: 10 Day Trip Including Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If you had an entire week to dedicate to this region you could make an amazing hiking / nature adventure! Here’s what I would recommend. 

Cades Cove Loop Road – a great place to see Black Bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee

Read More: 11 Photos of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 4 Nights

Things to do while visiting:

  1. Clingman’s Dome
  2. Cades Cove Loop via car
  3. Cades Cove Loop via bike
  4. Abram Falls Hiking Trail
  5. Cataloochee Valley to spot an Elk herd

Read More: How to Spend 48-Hours in Townsend, TN with an RV

Grayson Highlands State Park – 3 Nights

Things to do while visiting: 

  1. Multiple hiking trails available
  2. Fish in the numerous creeks
  3. Bring your horse along to enjoy the trails too!
  4. Explore nearby Mount Rogers. 

Hungry Mother State Park – 2 Nights

Things to do while visiting:

  1. The 5.5 Mile Lake Loop Trail
  2. The 3.4 mile Molly’s Knob Trail
  3. Rent a kayak and enjoy the lake
  4. Relax on the beach and go swimming

Great Smoky Mountains to Grayson Highlands State Park – 3.5 hours

Grayson Highlands State Park to Hungry Mother State Park – 1 hour

Final Thoughts

I would highly recommend adding Hungry Mother State Park and Grayson Highlands State Park to your bucket list. These are two beautiful and underrated state parks. You’ll love camping at either option!