Jeepers Creepers:! Strike out on adventure on scenic Virginia Creeper Trail
By Melanie Tucker | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Blount County has its share of great biking trails and back roads to explore, but a short trip up the road into southwest Virginia is catching a lot of attention as well.
It’s the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 33.4-mile shared-use trail that connects Abingdon, Va., with the Virginia-North Carolina border. It’s open to bicyclists, hikers and also horseback riders. The trail runs through the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and also private lands. More than 100,000 people enjoy the trail every year.
The trail began as a footpath for Native Americans, and later was used by pioneers including Daniel Boone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. By the early 1900s, the Virginia-Carolina Railroad had been constructed from Abingdon to Damascus. The line was then extended to Konnarock and Elkland, N.C. The railroad hauled lumber, iron ore, supplies and passengers. The nickname “Virginia Creeper” came from the steam locomotives slowly struggling up the mountains.
The journey was treacherous with about 50 trestles and bridges, sharp curves and also steep grades. The Creeper ran its last train on March 31, 1977.
Removal of the track began that same year. The land was then secured by the U.S. Forest Service for a recreation trail.
To top of mountain
Today, the trail is lined with crushed gravel and cinders. Local bike shops in both Abingdon and Damascus rent out bikes and will haul the bikes and riders to the top of the mountain for a spectacular ride down. Weekends are the busiest. One bike shop owner said there were 2,000 people on the trail a couple of weekends ago. Mid-week is best. Some of the bike shops offer discounts for those who can plan their trip on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
The most popular stretch of the trail is from Whitetop down to Damascus. It is literally a coasting adventure as you descend the mountain top. Only the last 3 miles are flat. It’s downhill the rest of the way.
Elevation begins at 3,500 feet and drops 1600 feet in 17 miles.
The journey will take anywhere from two to four hours, depending on how many times you stop to take in the scenery. The trail runs alongside the river, so there are plenty of opportunities for resting in the shade. At mile 4, there’s an old refurbished railroad depot, Green Cove Station, where you can buy snacks and learn about this former stop on the railroad.
There are restrooms along the way, including at Taylor’s Valley, which is at mile 12. There is a cafe there where you can refuel on hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream.
If you’re only going as far as Damascus, the actual distance is 18 miles, which is what most bicyclists tackle the first time. If you’re really energetic, keep going another 15 or so miles and reach the Abingdon Trail head. Just make sure there is someone there to bring you back to your car.
If you choose to ride the portion between Damascus and Abingdon, you will pass over the longest trestle on the trail as it crosses the Middle and South Forks of the Holston River. It is 550 feet long and 100 feet tall.
On a recent Tuesday, the weather was absolutely perfect and the trail wasn’t crowded. There is so much shade along the way that heat wasn’t a problem, even on an afternoon in July. Bike shops offer both bikes and helmets, but helmets aren’t required. However, bike shop owners point out that people sometimes flip over the front of the bike as they try to navigate downhill and apply the brakes.
The trail is wide enough for passing. Families bring their small children and pull them using bike trailers. Most use mountain bikes with wide tires for better traction.
It takes less than three hours to get to the area from here. Mileage from Knoxville is 140 miles. After arriving in Abingdon or Damascus, it’s another 30 minutes up the mountain. Bike shops also close at either 5 or 6 p.m. and they want riders to have bikes back at that time. In order to have time to take it all in, it’s best to get an early start.
And don’t plan on having cell phone reception until you reach the bottom.
There are still a few days of summer left to get in one more adventure. And the views up along the tail are even more spectacular in the fall.
It’s a staycation worth every mile — and muscle ache.