One of our favorite activities, first tried several years ago, is to bike the Virginia Creeper – a 34 mile rails-to-trail route that extends from Abingdon, VA, through Damascus, on up to Whitetop Station in the Mount Rogers Recreation Area near the North Carolina border. We peddled the 18 miles from the top at Whitetop Station down into Damascus – almost all downhill, starting at about 3,500 feet elevation and dropping to about 2,000 feet in Damascus.
We first rode the Creeper in the spring of 2011, and then returned again this October for the fall edition. We camped in Damascus, which aside from being a very cool trail town along the Appalachian Trail (AT) is a great town to use as base camp for a ride on the Creeper. If you stay close to town, almost everything is a short walk.
While some people peddle up the Creeper, the majorities of people, ourselves included, paid for an outfit to sherp us up to Whitetop Station on Mt. Rogers and then peddle the 18 miles back to Damascus. There is a thriving community of businesses that make a living out of providing this service in town.
Keep in mind if you peddle the VA Creeper (and I highly recommend it!) the top of the trail is approximately 1,500 feet higher in elevation than at the base, so it would be wise, depending on your season, to pack a hat and gloves for the ride – particularly near the top. Since this is an almost exclusively downhill ride, it is not exactly a cardio workout; if you can roll, you can ride. The ride is so beautiful – for much of its way it runs along or near the Whitetop Laurel River.
Keep in mind that you are always close to the AT, and in certain parts of the AT shares the trail with the VA Creeper (you can see the white blazes that indicate the AT). While the last time we were here we enjoyed the lushness of spring, this time we had the opportunity to see the many vibrant as well as muted colors of fall.
We stayed at a private campground right in the center of town (Creek Side RV Park), which is ideally located. It is not exactly a pristine campground, but it is located right along a creek, is in Position A, and it does have full hookups.
While there, we enjoyed dinner at the Damascus Old Mill Restaurant, which is situated right on the river (Laurel Creek). If the weather is conducive, seating outside on their deck is really nice. The food was decent, and they served several brews from the local brewery in town (conveniently called The Damascus Brewery).
Did someone say beer? The Damascus Brewery in town has some decent brews on tap, and if you can work with their hours (6-9 pm on certain days) it is worth the very small trip. This appears to be a one-man operation, and so getting beers at the brewery is your best bet – although the owner did say they are at about 50 pubs/restaurants. You can sample their brews and come away with what they call “crowlers” (growlers in a can) – 32 ounce cans that he makes up right there at the bar before your eyes. Pretty cool!
No matter the season, this is a great area, and the VA Creeper is but one of a number of great activities to enjoy!