Nature & Outdoors
You’ve Got Trail!
Virginia Creeper Brings Bikes and Business to Virginia Towns
By Frank Ruggiero
The Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail is celebrated for its downhill course, offering outdoor recreationists a leisurely trek through some of southwest Virginia’s most picturesque landscapes.
But things are looking up for the Creeper’s lesser known trailhead, based in historic Abingdon, Virginia.
Spanning 34.3 miles between Abingdon and Whitetop, VA, the trail is named for the locomotive that once chugged along the very same path. Historically, Damascus, VA, has served as the trail’s virtual hub, offering outfitting services that shuttle cyclists to and fro the fan favorite starting point of Whitetop Station.
It’s literally all downhill from there, as cyclists cruise, wind and weave a comfortable 17 miles through forested corridors, over lofty railway trestles and aside babbling brooks on the way back to Damascus.
There, they can relax and refresh at some of the town’s numerous restaurants or watering holes, such as the popular Damascus Brewery. However, if they’re willing to cycle an additional 17 miles, they’ll find a whole new adventure awaits in—and on the way to—Abingdon.
On this stretch of the Creeper Trail, visitors—don’t call them “Creepers”—will find rolling countryside and lush valleys, with rushing rivers and other points of interest, like Abingdon Vineyards in Alvarado, the de facto halfway point between Damascus and Abingdon.
“The whole trail is beautiful,” said Amanda Livingston, assistant director of tourism with the Abingdon Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It runs through a lot of different landscapes, some more forested and others more open. The section between Abingdon and Damascus has always been popular with locals, and visitors are now discovering it, as well.”
The Abingdon trailhead, which is actually the trail’s official starting point at mile marker 0, offers visitors an entirely new experience. At 17 miles, the Abingdon-to-Damascus section is significantly flatter, although downhill portions assist cyclists to the Alvarado area, where the trail bottoms out before assuming an ever-so-slight uphill grade toward Damascus.
Livingston said one of the stretch’s more popular spots is Trestle No. 11, a bridge that crosses the South Holston River and offers some second-to-none photo opportunities—just one of many scenic stops between the two towns.
“But oddly enough,” she said, “a lot of people come and do (the trail), and they don’t ever make it into Abingdon.”
However, one of the Virginia Creeper Trail’s benchmark outfitters is hoping to change that.
Michael Wright, owner of Adventure Damascus and Sundog Outfitter, both in Damascus, offers bike rentals, shuttle service and souvenir gifts. Wright is finding more and more people extending their trips from Whitetop to Damascus to Abingdon. “People love that section,” he said of the latter. “It’s beautiful. You’re in the valley and looking up and get to see the mountain along the river most of the way, with some gorgeous bridges and scenery, as well.”
Furthermore, he’s noticed an increased demand for shuttle services that would accommodate cyclists on any section of the trail. With all that in mind, Wright will be expanding his shop to Abingdon this fall.
“With a shop in Abingdon, our plan is to have people start their ride to Damascus, and we can bring them back to Abingdon,” Wright said.
And Livingston hopes they’ll stick around, as Abingdon has much to offer.
That includes not only the world-famous Barter Theatre, but also a burgeoning dining scene. In fact, in 2019, Abingdon was voted the No. 1 Small Town Food Scene in the country by USA Today. One particular highlight is The Tavern. Originally built in 1779, the space still features its original woodwork and flooring, while its modern menu showcases upscale American and German cuisine.
For those who prefer German beverages to cuisine, Wolf Hills Brewing Co. is located conveniently at Abingdon’s Virginia Creeper trailhead.
“We have nightlife and art galleries, and the whole downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places,” Livingston said. “People here are very passionate about historic preservation, so you’ll see some very beautiful architecture downtown, as well.”
However, Livingston said the Virginia Creeper Trail remains one of Abingdon’s most prominent attractions—to those who make the trip. “The trail is now over 30 years old, and people are wanting to have even more experiences on it,” she said.
The trail itself was established in 1987 through the efforts of private citizens, local government and the U.S. Forest Service, all of whom worked together to purchase the original railroad rights-of-way to create a multi-use, recreational trail.
“The Creeper Trail area is centrally located to all of the outdoor recreation in southwest Virginia—canoeing, kayaking, bouldering, hiking, all of that sort of thing is close to us right here,” Wright said. “So, if people plan a little bit ahead, they can spend a few days up here away from the rest of the world. Just get outside and go.”