By Andrea Nordstrom Caughey
For more than 30 years, the award-winning Virginia Creeper Trail has entranced cyclists, hikers, runners and equestrians alike with its magnificent 34.3-mile rail trail. Spanning two counties in Virginia, the well-traveled trail intersects Abingdon, Damascus and finally Whitetop Station in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
On its descent near the North Carolina state line, the trail passes through beautiful national forests, crossing bubbling creeks, more than 100 restored trestles and bridges, past rolling farmland and along parts of the Appalachian Trail.
With deep roots in the past, the trail runs on a railroad right-of-way dating to the 1880s. An original steam locomotive is located next to the trailhead at Abingdon. The trail also passes several restored stations and two vintage cabooses.
Suited to all levels of cyclists, the trail is very family friendly. In addition, there are various ways to tackle more manageable sections. Access points, bathrooms and emergency call boxes are located at many points along the stretch.
Making Life Easier: Shuttle and Bike Rental Services
For those looking to rent bikes rather than bring their own, there are many outfitters available. Also, check into shuttle services that can transport riders to the top of Whitetop, making it easy to travel down the 17 mile incline back to Damascus.
One 18 year veteran offering daily shuttle service and rentals is the Damascus-based Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop and Shuttle Service, located near the head of the trail.
Historic Lodging Sets the Tone
When tackling the trail, consider an overnight stay at one of the region’s hotels, bed and breakfasts or inns, such as Abingdon’s The Martha Washington Inn & Spa. Lovingly preserved for more than 150 years, the inn offers modern amenities, too, including fine dining, indoor pool and spa. The AAA Four Diamond-rated inn began as the retirement home for General Robert Preston, following the War of 1812. Preston’s original brick mansion remains as the centerpiece of the inn and his living room is now the lobby.
Small Town Explorations
Small towns around the Virginia Creeper Trail route are worth exploring as well. The mountains, in particular, tempt visitors to revel in the beautiful scenery.
Two of the most central destinations are Abingdon and Damascus, VA, known for their historic downtowns, with brick sidewalks, quaint shops and restaurants and tree-lined streets. Abingdon has received the “Best Small Town Food Scene” designation by USA Today’s 10Best (2019 and 2020). And Damascus, dubbed “Trail Town USA,” boasts seven nationally recognized trails and neighboring peaks of the Appalachian Mountains.
After invigorating outdoor activities, check out the range of restaurants in the region, including Abingdon crowd pleasers: White Birch Food and Juice or The Peppermill.
White Birch Food & Juice: Priding itself on its locally sourced ingredients, try White Birch’s cold-pressed juice and craft smoothies, plus breakfast, lunch, brunch and Friday cocktails with food.
The Peppermill: Located in an historic house in the heart of Abington and down the street from The Martha Washington, this homespun restaurant specializes in American cuisine, along with soups and vegan options.
Try Hiking and Kayaking, Too!
While biking is the most common draw for the Creeper Trail, other pastimes attract outdoors enthusiasts. Hiking parts of the nearby Appalachian Trail, as well as fishing and camping lure travelers in all seasons.
Or if the vision of rapids or a calm float spur your taste for adventure, consider kayak, raft or tube trips on the New River, roughly 1 ½ hours away in Galax, VA.