Virginia Creeper Trail
The Virginia Creeper Trail is an important recreational location, running through Damascus, Virginia. Whitetop Mountain is the southern endpoint of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34.3-mile former railroad right-of-way that runs from Whitetop, through Damascus, and on to Abingdon. The last narrow-gauge train chugged along the Virginia Creeper Trail in March 1977, and Norfolk and Western Railroad soon after sold the rails as scrap. The US Forest Service bought the right-of-way, and in 1986 Congress designated the Virginia Creeper Trail as a National Recreational Trail.
Since then, bicyclists from around the region have discovered that the Creeper Trail provides a ride like few other bike trails in the eastern United States. From Whitetop to Damascus the Creeper runs through the Jefferson National Forest, crossing wooden trestles, running through thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel, and for much of its length accompanying Whitetop Laurel Creek, a fine trout stream.
The town of Damascus prospered in the early 1900s because of the timber and iron ore industries and because of the narrow-gauge railroad that got these raw materials to market. But when the iron ore ran out and all the easily accessible timber was cut, the railroad, and the town fell on hard times.
It is ironic that the rail line Norfolk and Western abandoned when it became unprofitable is now the key to the economic success of Damascus. In addition to the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Appalachian Trail runs through town, making Damascus a focal point for both hikers and mountain bikers.
Cycling the Virginia Creeper Trail
To get to the top of Whitetop, to begin your Virginia Creeper Trail adventure, you can use one of the many cycle companies based in Damascus to rent a bike and a shuttle ride to the top. Route 58 from Damascus to Whitetop is an asphalt roller-coaster — two lanes of hairpin turns and switchbacks that run along some of the highest countries in Virginia. Nearby is Mount Rogers, which at 5,729 feet is the highest point in the Virginia Commonwealth. The ride takes around 35 minutes. The only way to the beginning of the Creeper Trail is to ride from Damascus to Whitetop.
The ride from Damascus to Whitetop is all uphill, and you can understand why cyclists (except for the most hardcore cyclist) prefer to bike from Whitetop to Damascus, and not the other way around. Whitetop stands at about 3,575 feet, and Damascus is at 1,930. The eighteen-mile ride is nearly all downhill, but not over a 5% grade.
Given the downhill gradient, some have the temptation is to speed through the trail, but to do so would mean missing out on some spectacular scenery. The Creeper Trail crosses a hundred wooden trestles as it makes its way toward Abingdon, and nearly all of them offer a beautiful view. Some are only a few dozen feet long and span a modest tumbling stream, but others are over 100 feet tall.
Much of the trail also runs along or crosses rocky streams. There are many places along the trail where you can stop for a stream-side lunch or simply stretch your legs for a few minutes.
The Whitetop-to-Damascus portion of the trail is by far the most popular for cyclists. Most of it runs through U.S. Forest Service land, and the downhill grade makes it an easy ride for all riders. It takes 2 to 3 hours to go from Whitetop to Damascus, without rushing and allowing for stops along the way.
The trail from Damascus to Abingdon crosses private property and is a bit more attached to civilization. Outside of Abingdon, the trail skirts a golf course and a major housing development and actually goes uphill slightly for the last few miles.
The Virginia Creeper Trail is hard-packed clay and gravel, making it more suitable for mountain bikes than road bikes. Some sections can be muddy if it has been raining. The trail is also open to hikers and horseback riders. Trail etiquette calls for cyclists to signal when passing pedestrians, passing on the left, and cyclists should not enter a trestle when an equestrian is on it.
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!