The Virginia Creeper Trail

From Washington DC we headed south and west to Damascis, Virginia and The Virginia Creeper Trail. Always in search of good trails to ride, Jim found this one in the very far southwest corner of Virginia. It is called The Virginia Creeper because of the increase in elevation from Damascus to Whitetop Station, a steady increase of about 1700 feet over 18 miles. When we were investigating the town, we found that most people get a shuttle with rented bikes to the top, then coast the 17 miles back down. We planned to ride the whole way, of course.

When serious logging began with the coming of the railroad, the trains creeped up the mountain carrying the logs from the forest, thus the name Virginia Creeper.  By 1930, the forests were completely clear-cut and the railroad began to fail. Almost all the native wildlife species, alongside the trees, had been wiped out, deer, elk, bear, beaver, otter. The beaver was believed extinct in 1911 in Virginia. We Americans are really good at decimating our environment. The forest is grown back now and the meadows have recovered but in the early 1900s, the settlers described trees with 12 foot diameters. Unfortunately, those are gone forever. In an ironic aside, they did leave a few old growth trees which still remain, due to low branches or twisting trunks that wouldn’t make good lumber. One such white oak in Abingdon has a 19 foot diameter.

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We found a practically deserted campground in Damascus with the bus backed up to the creek and just behind the trail where we set up shop for riding the entire trail from Abingdon to Whitetop Station, a total of about 70 miles. Damascus was a great jumping off point, the town has several bike shops, places to eat and interesting architecture. Plus they have alleys, so fun to ride.

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Since we were in the middle, we basically rode the whole distance twice. The first day after getting our brakes adjusted on the bikes, we took off for Abingdon, about 17 miles. It was a fairly level ride but increased some in elevation as we neared Abingdon, a good preamble to the other section where the elevation was much steeper. There were lots of high trestles, over 100 on the entire trail. The meadows were loaded with flowers and we rode along for miles with the river on one side and the bluffs on the other.

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On the Damascus to Abingdon leg, the trail narrowed to a very small track in some places and we encountered some wildlife.

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We made it to Abingdon just fine but as soon as we got there it started raining! Not again! Fortunately we rode out of it fairly quickly and the rest of the way back was fairly dry.  We took a day off before heading on to the other steeper section of the trail and explored Damascus. DSC_0261 IMG_6718  DSC_0248

The Old Mill House was a good restaurant and we ate there after our successful ride to Whitetop Station. They had ducks too!

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After a day of rest, we headed for Whitetop Station. We knew the elevation increase would be interesting but it was very doable and pleasant. We met some of the folks coasting back down and it looked like some of them hadn’t been on a bicycle in ages; they looked terrified. The meadows rolled alongside and we passed fields loaded with pumpkins. It’s getting to be that time of year.

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Another monster tree at Green Cove Station; getting close to the top.


The miles went by more slowly now and we took about two and a half hours to reach the top. But we made it!

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Coming back down was a breeze; the miles flew by in contrast to the climb to the top. It was fun to coast back down after having ridden up, very rewarding. It didn’t take long at all to get back. We celebrated with dinner at the Old Mill House restaurant where they served up a good sized piece of local brook trout. Delicious!

Next stop: Asheville, North Carolina to see the Biltmore Estate.

More photos on Flickr.




4 comments on “The Virginia Creeper Trail

  1. Wendy…. be sure and plan at least two or three days at the Biltmore. Take the standard tour first and then consider the three behind the scenes tours. More interesting and personal than the main tour. And the gardens are very extensive – many acres. The Biltmore was the first truly “green” and nearly self sustaining estates built in the US. And the architectural detail is to die for. Frederick Law Olmsted (father of US landscape architecture – Central Park – Boston Commons et al) designed the entire estate’s landscape and planted millions of trees since the area had been logged and was barren. This was the start of the US Forestry Service. Biltmore’s story is fascinating. This Biltmore was a real decent guy and he married a good lady too. Together they were real pioneers is how to do things right. Of course he had the money to do it.

    Also visit the River (Riverside) Art district. A lot of buildings and artist. However, they are not all open on the same days. There is a website with all the details. And there are several large and impressive galleries in the downtown area. The best small restaurant is the Kitchen Corner and it’s in the Biltmore Village at the foot of the hill at the entrance to the Biltmore road. You’ll need reservations since it is quite small. There are many good restaurants in the downtown. No idea where you will be able to park the Bus? We’ve consider retiring to Asheville.

    You are also right there in the Smokies. Fall color is fabulous but you will be a bit early. Many waterfalls and roaring mountain streams but you’ll have to hike to many of them. Cherokee has a great museum and a quality gift shop run by the tribe. The native show they put on in the park was okay not great. Stop at the ranger station before you start over the mountain. They have the best homemade jellies I’ve ever had. Dianne orders them online now.

    Drive over the mountain to Cade’s Cove – the road to Cade’s might be a challenge but they have camping areas. It’s a valley lost in time. Farther west is Gatlinburg Tenn, but we did not go since we were told that it’s a tourist trap. But you can get to Nashville by turning left out of Cade’s Cove and going west into Gatlinburg.

    And sometime you need to do the Greenbrier River Trail in the mountains of southern WV. It’s an old train track and mostly a moderate grade. Look up Marlinton WV and Pocahontas County. Tons to do in that county.

  2. Pingback: The Silver Comet Trail | Mighty Bus

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