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Whether it's a trip to the city or into the wilderness you don't have to travel far from Knoxville to find it! Come explore the region (and more) with me, because no matter what day it is, it's always "trip time."

Riding down the Virginia Creeper Trail

Riding down the Virginia Creeper Trail

 The Shuttle Shack is one of about half a dozen bike rental/shuttle companies in Damascus, Virginia a small town at the halfway point on the Virginia Creeper Trail.

The Shuttle Shack is one of about half a dozen bike rental/shuttle companies in Damascus, Virginia a small town at the halfway point on the Virginia Creeper Trail.

Start your ride with a shuttle to the top

It’s early on a Saturday morning in early August and we pull up to the Shuttle Shack in Damascus, Virginia.  This bike rental shop is one of about half a dozen scattered throughout this small town nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  For decades, Damascus has welcomed hikers along the Appalachian Trail which runs through the heart of town.  In the late 1980’s an old rail line was transformed into another National Trail named after the rail line that "creeped" up into the mountains. The Virginia Creeper Trail quickly grew into a juggernaut of outdoor recreation now drawing more than 100,000 people to this part of Southwest Virginia each year.

 There are more than 45 bridges along the Virginia Creeper Trail.

There are more than 45 bridges along the Virginia Creeper Trail.

I attended college not far from Damascus at Emory & Henry. That was in the early days of the Virginia Creeper Trail.  Despite my close proximity to the trail, I had only been on a few very short walks on it until this most recent visit.  My son, however, had already biked the stretch from Whitetop to Damascus, three times with one of those journeys down the mountain starting in the snow.  Needless to say, I was excited about tackling the trail which took me to new places in an area I already knew well.

 Be sure and drink lots of water and pack a few snacks while on the Virginia Creeper Trail.

Be sure and drink lots of water and pack a few snacks while on the Virginia Creeper Trail.

We were the first people to arrive at the Shuttle Shack that morning.  I had chosen them after "googling" it and seeing they had very reasonable rates, with a discount for weekday excursions.  Eventually more people started arriving until there were two van loads of us ready to take the 17-mile journey up to the Whitetop Station to being the ride out of the mountains.  For people not familiar with the trail, the shuttle service is something I would consider to be vital.  From Damascus to Whitetop, the trail steadily ascends toward one of the highest peaks in Virginia, so naturally starting at the top and coming back to Damascus is certainly easier on an “old” body like mine.

 The historic Whitetop Station on the Virginia Creeper Trail has restrooms, historical exhibits and a gift shop.

The historic Whitetop Station on the Virginia Creeper Trail has restrooms, historical exhibits and a gift shop.

Arriving at the top

As the vans and trailers filled with bicycles pulled up to Whitetop Station, dozens of riders shuttled by other companies were getting ready for their trips along the trail.  Our guides told us to make sure and check out the inside of the Whitetop Station and a few other places further down the trail.  

 As you enter the community of Green Cove you get a view of Whitetop Mountain, the second highest peak in

As you enter the community of Green Cove you get a view of Whitetop Mountain, the second highest peak in

Two of the state’s highest mountains are nearby.  The highest is Mt. Rogers (5728 ft), the other is Whitetop Mountain (5518 ft.), which my son and I had visited earlier in the summer. (It is the highest point in Virginia where you can drive). This is an area known for its wild mountain streams, thick forests and thousands of acres of Christmas Tree farms.  After a quick look inside the old train station and its historical displays, it was time for the ride down the mountain to begin.

 This bridge near the Whitetop Station on the Virginia Creeper Trail is 63 feet high ad 270 feet long.

This bridge near the Whitetop Station on the Virginia Creeper Trail is 63 feet high ad 270 feet long.

Whitetop to Green Cove

After leaving Whitetop Station, the Virginia Creeper Trail moves into the forest.  Almost immediately that fresh mountain air overwhelms you and you know it’s going to be a refreshing ride.  Just a short distance down the trail, you cross one of the largest of the more than 45 trestles.  According to  vacreepertrail.us, this bridge (#46) is 270 feet long and 63 feet high.  So, if you’re afraid of heights just get across it as fast as you can, but if not, slow down a bit to enjoy the view from the top of the bridge.

 The old Green Cove Station is now a U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center. The items on the shelves are what's left of inventory on the shelves when the store closed in the early 1970's.

The old Green Cove Station is now a U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center. The items on the shelves are what's left of inventory on the shelves when the store closed in the early 1970's.

The next place that is a “must stop” is the Green Cove Station, three miles down the trail from the Whitetop Station.   This old building now serves as a U.S. Forest Service visitors center.  If it's open, go inside and you’ll be transported back into a time when the "General Store" was the cornerstone of commerce and more in a community.  From old packages of Red Man Chewing Tobacco to boxes of Royal Gelatin, all of the items on the shelves are the actual inventory left when the old General Store that operated there shut down in the early 1970’s.  Old customer credit log and the remnants of the old U.S. Post Office can also be found inside.

The serenity of your surroundings

 Much of the Virginia Creeper Trail passes through the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area of the Jefferson National Forest.

Much of the Virginia Creeper Trail passes through the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area of the Jefferson National Forest.

Much of what makes the Virginia Creeper Trail special is the serenity it can provide, even on a day when hundreds of people are out on the trail with you.  Heading down the mountain we had to stop several times as the scenery was just too beautiful to ignore.  The refreshing sounds of the nearby creeks and the abundance of wildflowers meet you at just about every turn.   For awhile you are in a place where you don’t see other roads, hear any cars, and the only sounds outside of nature are those of your fellow riders along the trail.

A stop in Taylor's Valley

As you spend time on the Virginia Creeper Trail you grow to love the small communities it runs through.  That includes, Taylor’s Valley, a place that consists of a church, a few homes and one of the most popular spots along the trail, the Creeper Trail Cafe.  On the way up the mountain our shuttle guide told us about it and said it was a great place to eat.  The restaurant is apparently well known for it’s “world famous chocolate cake.” On this trip, we didn't try out the cafe, but we will make a point of stopping there the next time, to at least have a piece of cake.

 The Creeper Trail Cafe is on the other side of the creek from the Virginia Creeper Trail. It's home to "World Famous Chocolate Cake."

The Creeper Trail Cafe is on the other side of the creek from the Virginia Creeper Trail. It's home to "World Famous Chocolate Cake."

Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area

The next few miles of the trail take you through more of the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, a part of the Jefferson National Forest.  The terrain was familiar, but the vantage different than what I saw many times traveling along U.S. 58.  At one point, the Appalachian Trail runs parallel to the Creeper Trail until the two become one for a short distance in Damascus.

 The Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail run parallel with each other near Damascus.

The Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail run parallel with each other near Damascus.

The final stretch of the trail heading into Damascus levels off a bit and works its way closer to U.S. 58.  One of the most striking remnants of the old Virginia Creeper Railroad is the old steel bridge crossing Whitetop-Laurel creek just a mile or so outside of town.  It’s one of the most photographed and recognized landmarks along the trail.

 This old iron bridge is a landmark along the Virginia Creeper Trail.

This old iron bridge is a landmark along the Virginia Creeper Trail.

Eventually, the Virginia Creeper Trail makes its way back into town.  On this trip, you had to stop for construction at the main intersection of U.S. 58 and Highway 91 (which takes you into Mountain City, TN).  We were told that a tunnel underneath the road is under construction so bikers and hikers no longer have to stop to cross.   

 From this spot in Damascus, Virginia you can hike either the Appalachian Trail or the Virginia Creeper Trail.

From this spot in Damascus, Virginia you can hike either the Appalachian Trail or the Virginia Creeper Trail.

For those who want to see even more than the 17 miles of trail running from Whitetop Station to Damascus, the trail does go on another 17-miles into Abingdon, an extremely charming town that is home to the world renowned Barter Theater, the Martha Washington Inn and the William King Arts Center.

A few tips before hitting the Virginia Creeper Trail

  • Book your bike rental and/or shuttle in advance

  • Allow yourself 3 to 4 hours for the entire experience from Whitetop to Damascus

  • Bring snacks and plenty of water

  • There are restrooms along the trail, with most near the top part

  • Have a repair kit for your bikes (some rental companies provide them)

  • Have a first aid kit or at least some bandages

  • Remember to bring a camera

  • Remember you may not have a cell phone signal along parts of the trail

 

 

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