The Appalachian Trail
Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail:
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, or simply the AT, stretches from Georgia to Maine. Over 11,000 people have informed the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (http://www.appalachiantrail.org) that they have completed the entire 2,181 mile trail passing through 14 states. Although attempting the entire trail in a single season is the hiker’s Mount Everest, section hiking is the way most hikers get to enjoy the AT. Virginia is home to the most miles of the Appalachian Trail with over 550 miles of AT trails in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Damascus, Virginia is considered the friendliest town on the Appalachian Trail.
The most famous long distance hiking trail is an adventure in the making. Damascus, Virginia is a major resupply point on the AT and the key location to make your adventure a reality. Around the middle of May each year the Trail Days festival in Damascus, Virginia draws in excess of 20,000 hiking enthusiasts, making it the largest single gathering of Appalachian Trail hikers anywhere. Trail Days includes a week long adventure including a town wide yard sale, concerts, town parade with water gun challenges, and vendor displays. It is an exciting and enjoyable meeting of hiking enthusiasts.
The Appalachian Trail is marked using a system of “blazes” painted on trees, posts, and rocks. A blaze is a rectangle of paint in a prominent place along the trail. White paint blazes two inches wide and six inches high mark the Appalachian Trail. Side trails and shelter trails use blue blazes. Two white blazes, one above the other, signal an obscure turn, route change, incoming side trail, or other situation that requires an alert to changes in direction.
Several outfitters will provide transportation for you and your group if you are looking for a special section to hike. The Appalachian Trail runs directly down the main street of the Town of Damascus — Laurel Avenue — so you could say you hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail when you walk down the streets of Damascus.
Whether you are a “thru hiker” walking the entire AT in a continuous journey, “section hiker” piecing the entire AT together over years, or a “flip flopper” thru hiking the entire AT in discontinuous sections, Damascus is the place to find an enjoyable overnight stay and find out why Damascus is known as the Friendliest Town on the Appalachian Trail.
Hiking the Iron Mountain Trail:
The Iron Mountain Trail, now blazed in yellow, was part of the Appalachian Trail until 1972 when it was relocated to the south. It is now shared by many users, yet it has fewer users than the AT. Hikers, bikers, and equestrians co-exist on this trail. Except for the parts along the ridgecrest, this trail has ample water. On the Iron Mountain Trail there are three shelters and a number of campsites.
Some selected area hikes from Damascus, Virginia.
It is strongly recommended that you obtain, study, and consult National Geographic map #786 of the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area.
Damascus VA Day Hike 1. Loop hike on Appalachian and Iron Mtn. trails (4 miles, moderate):
Beginning in Damascus, walk east on East 4th Street to reach the Iron Mountain Trail. Follow yellow blazes for about 2 miles. Trail crosses a few small streams on stepstones, winds uphill, and then turns left. At sign, turn right on short blue-blazed connecting trail, then right again onto the Appalachian Trail (white blazes). For the next 2 miles, the Appalachian Trail crosses a ridge overlooking Damascus, descends, turns left, and reaches a set of steps, crossing Rte. 58 to join the VA Creeper Trail and return to Damascus.
Damascus VA Day Hike 2. Loop hike on the Appalachian and VA Creeper trails (8 miles, easy to moderate):
Beginning in Damascus, walk east on the Appalachian and VA Creeper Trails (white blazes). At the “Appalachian Trail” sign, turn left, cross Route 58/91 and ascend a set of steps, following the white blazed Appalachian Trail four miles, across ridges with views. Cross a small log bridge and turn right on the Beech Grove Trail (unblazed woods road) to reach Route 58 in ¼ mile. Cross and descend to the Straight Branch VA Creeper Trail parking lot. Turn right on the Creeper Trail and walk four miles, with views of the creek, to return to Damascus.
Damascus VA Day Hike 3. Loop hike on the Iron Mountain and Feathercamp trails (6 miles, moderate):
Park at the upper Straight Branch parking lot above the VA Creeper Trail, about 5 miles east of Damascus on Route 58. Cross 58 and hike north on the Beech Grove Trail (woods road), ascending 1 mile. At the sign at the top, turn right to the Iron Mountain Trail (which begins as a woods road for about ¼ mile, then turns right on yellow blazes into the woods). After about 2 miles, continue through a signed trail intersection and hike another mile to a hiker trail on the right to Sandy Flats. (Optional side trip: continue on the Iron Mountain Trail ¼ mile farther to Sandy Flats Shelter and back.) Turn right at Sandy Flats onto the blue-blazed Feathercamp Trail. Descend 2 miles to Rte. 58. (The last ½ mile has several crossings of Feathercamp Creek on stepstones.) At 58, turn right and walk ¼ mile to your car.
Damascus VA Day Hike 4. Appalachian Trail to TN/VA state line and Backbone Rock (7 miles, moderate):
Beginning at the Damascus Town Park, follow white blazes south. Cross Beaverdam Road at Water Street and ascend on the Appalachian Trail between two houses. Trail ascends on switchbacks, reaching a woods road in about ¾ mile. Continue past a campsite with a blue-blazed spring trail at 2 miles; then ascend 1 ½ more miles to the sign at the TN/VA state line. Retrace back to Damascus, or if a car has been left at the Backbone Rock parking lot on Rte. 133, just under the tunnel on the right, hike just over a mile farther past the state line to the Backbone Rock Trail and descend 2 miles to the parking lot.
Damascus VA Day Hike 5. Loop hike on Appalachian and Virginia Creeper trails from Straight Branch (4 mi., easy): Park at the pull-off at the Appalachian Trail sign at the Straight Branch Bridge about 5 1/4 miles east of Damascus on Route 58. Follow the Appalachian Trail north across the bridge and through a rhododendron forest, ascending slightly with views to the right over Whitetop Laurel Creek and the Virginia Creeper Trail. After 2 miles, go straight on a blue-blazed side trail at a sign where the AT turns left. Reach the VA Creeper Trail on the blue blazed trail in 1/3 mile. Turn right and follow the VA Creeper along the creek and over several trestles 2 miles to the Straight Branch Creeper Trail parking lot. Ascend the parking lot road, turn right, and walk up Rte. 58 ¼ mile to reach the car at the Straight Branch Bridge.
Want to visit Damascus?
Why choose the Damascus Inn for your Appalachian or Creeper Trail lodging? Known as “Trail Town, USA,” Damascus is traversed by several trails, including the famous Virginia Creeper Trail, Appalachian Trail, the Crooked Road Musical Heritage, the Trans-America National Bicycle, the Iron Mountain, and the Daniel Boone Heritage Trails. Damascus, Virginia is one of only a few towns where can you walk through the center of town and say you hiked the Appalachian Trail!