Fun trail, run like an amusement park - but still fun.
I met my uncle down in southern Virginna for two days of late October trail riding. We hit this trail the second day, after riding the New River trail the day before. Both were great, but for different reasons.
After having done 55 miles the day before we wanted a more leisurely ride, so parked at Abingdon and called a shuttle service to take us to the top of Whitetop mountain, from where we would ride back to our cars at the other end of the trail. There are a lot of people that do this - I mean a lot. While were were being unloaded, with the 10 other passengers in our shuttle, two other full vans showed up to unload. The shuttle service we hired had at least 8 vans, and they weren't the largest outfit. I can only imagine the crowds they get barreling down that mountain on summer weekends. Yikes! Mental note - only do the Virginia Creeper off summer, on a weekday.
That being said - it really is a very fun trail. I was glad I brought my mountain bike for this trail, especially the first half going down off the mountain to Damascus, although most folks were on hybrids. The trail surface isn't nearly as smooth as the New River Trail, but still wasn't too bad. You can basically coast for about the first 15 miles - it's all downhill. I would love to get up there pre-dawn to do a run off of the mountain without having to worry about running into someone - I bet you could beat the shuttle back down. Too many folks going down to do this - but it's still pretty sweet.
I actually enjoyed the run from Damascus to Abingdon more. It's more remote feeling as most of the shuttle born folks stop at Damascus. You cruise through cow pastures and across many high bridge trestles - great scenery. I'm told some of the last three miles is uphill...if it is it's so gradual you won't even notice it. The whole trail is a very easy ride - you won't get a great workout, but you will enjoy great scenery and have a fun morning in the saddle.
The Best Trail I've Ever Been On
We love rails-to-trails and have done many in our local area of NJ/PA. This September my husband and I made the 34 mile Virginia Creeper Trail our vacation destination, and, wow, I was so glad we did.
We parked our cars at the trail head in Abington (the low end) and had the nearby bike shop shuttle us and our own bikes to the top of the trail at White Top (the high end). It was approximately an hour shuttle ride, and the drive to the top was on beautiful twisty mountain roads.
About the first quarter of the trail is down hill (you barely peddle but you'll wear out your brakes), through lovely mountain scenery and along a tumbling river. The next quarter of the trail starts to level out a bit as you peddle towards the small town of Damascas, which is the half-way point, crossing the AT along the way. Damascas is a great place to take a lunch break (we bought huge icre cream cones) and see some civilization. Many riders stop in Damascas, call it a day, and will have had a terrific ride. If you have the time and strong legs, plan to continue on.
The second half of the trail is different from the first. The second half is mostly through privately owned farmland with the river now slow and rather still continuing to follow beside you. You probably will peddle past some cows enjoying the river. It is also mostly a gentle uphill grade, and you'll feel it. Then just about when you think you have had enough, the last little bit is downhill, and you zoom back into Abington on a strong finish ending where the day began at the parking lot at the trail head. If you brought your own bikes, there is no need to return to the bike shop.
You would think the ride would only take a couple of hours at the most, but plan on stopping, and stopping, and stopping some more to take pictures and enjoy the surroundings. I do not have the words to describe how beautiful this trail is. Be sure to set aside the entire day to enjoy it.
Great Family Trip
My wife, my son, my five year-old daughter, her little brother (in the trailer) and I did the downhill run into Damascus. It was a beautiful trail, through rocky terrain along streams and occasionally through farm fields. There were plenty of opportunities to stop and let the kids throw rocks in streams, or take water, snack or potty breaks. There were a phenomenal number of trestles, from short things to a striking long high wooden bridge to an iron trestle right before Damascus. We stopped for only a few of the many geocaches along the trail, and the places where the Appalachian Trail joined with the Virginia Creeper Trail captured my wife's imagination.
Unfortunately, the top of the trail was closed, and so we could only start at Green Cove. We had tried to get information in advance of closures or trail work, but we could only get information from the shuttle company. There was work on some of the trestles, when a number of riders would pile up, but the workers allowed us across when they could. We didn't see the crazy bikers bombing down the hill that other folks mentioned, but we were travelling during the week. Hopefully, our delays will pay off for years to come.
Damascus was a wonderful town, although I don't understand their affinity for cute B&Bs that are not family-friendly. There was a playground for the kids on the west side of town.
Hopefully, the next time we make it out to Virginia, we'll be able to do more, both at the top of the hill and west of Damascus.
Love the Creeper!
Connie in TN
I'm totally convinced you find what you're looking for. Think about it. The Creeper is a wonderful trail which winds through both mountains and scenic farmland; definitely not the place for pavement! We have ridden the upper section (Whitetop to Damascus) many times.....admittedly we took the shuttle up to Whitetop Station and 'coasted' down. But it was enjoyable, exhilarating, and downright beautiful! In Nov 2009 we parked in Abingdon, rode our bikes to Damascus, caught the shuttle up to Whitetop Station and rode all the way back to Abingdon. The trip was approximately 51 miles and although it was pretty cool (the temperature, that is) , we loved it! It was a really good experience......and would definitely NOT have "been the same" had the trail been paved!
This spring (early April 2010) we parked in Damascus, rode to Abingdon then back to Damascus where we stopped for lunch. Took the shuttle to Whitetop and "coasted" back down to Damascus. Again, another 51 mile trip, and yes, it was cool in the early morning, but the wild flowers were blooming, the creeks were full, the birds were singing, the sun was shining.....need I go on and on? We've met lots of really nice folks on the trail, both locals and visitors
We ride Trek hybrids and have had no problems whatsoever. Oh, and did I say we drive over 100 miles to do this, and that we're "seniors?"
This is a wonderful rails to trails. In Demascus there are plenty of B&B places to stay, but if you care to have a bit more rustic experience, you can stay at the Iron Horse. Iron Horse has individual connected cabins with just a bed and place to hang some clothes. The clean showers are in a different building just a short walk or 1 second bike ride. It is really nice sitting on the deck enjoying the peaceful setting with a nice creek running close by. We really enjoyed staying at the Iron Horse. Now, to the bike trail. It is a wonderful trail. If you happen get a ride up to White Top and don't feel ready to head down the hill, try going the other way for a few miles. That part of the trail isn't kept up as nicely but it is a easy ride all the same. There are lots of places going down the hill to catch your breath to get a bite to eat, an ice cream cone, almost anything really, or just enjoy the view. Just remember one thing - watch yourself when crossing roads, stay to the left when people are riding by you, give people a nice heads up to let them know you're passing, and last but not least -- please do not litter.
Don't Fear the Creeper
Following the advice of others, we arranged for a shuttle to Whitetop Station through the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in Abingdon. We arrived at the Whitetop Station just as several bus loads of elementary school children were preparing to start their ride downhill. Hoping to give them a head start, we cycled in the opposite direction toward the VA-NC line. The trail in this direction looks rarely used and is in poor shape. Other than one beaver dam there wasn’t much to see in this section. We returned to the Whitetop Station to find groups of children still being “released” in groups of ten or so. After weaving our way through the remainder of the group we headed downhill toward Damascus. The trail between Whitetop and Damascus is quite steep, rough in spots and contained numerous wash-outs. There are long stretches that require no pedaling at all. The scenery is stunningly beautiful but unfortunately the quick descent makes site-seeing somewhat difficult. We were fortunate to arrive in Damascus during the 2008 Appalachian Trail Days celebration. The town plays host to hundreds of trail folk and hikers as well as food, craft and equipment vendors. Everyone was quick with a smile, a wave and pleasant conversation, bolstering Damascus’s claim as the “Friendliest Trail Town”. Leaving the celebrating crowds behind, we continued our ride toward Abingdon. The trail west of Damascus is quite different from the previous section. The trail flattens considerably and takes you through the rolling farmland of southwest Virginia. After reaching about Milepost 9 the trail ascends gradually, but noticeably, into Abingdon. Overall this is a beautiful trail. Although the surface is not as smooth as many rail-trails, my daughter had no trouble navigating with her narrow tired, no-suspension fitness bike. Despite the distinct differences, the two halves of the trail are both nice and would recommend riding the entire trail for your first visit
A National Treasure
"My bike team, reduced to only three this year, did our early summer tour on the railtrails of VA/WV, including the Creeper, New River and Greenbrier in early June 06. It was a great week of riding and pleasant scenery. By far the most spectacular scenery is on the Creeper. The 38 mile roundtrip from Damascus to the NC line and back was definitely the highlight of the week. The 17 mile climb was fantastic. We wouldn't make it more than a mile or two before hopping off for photos. We spent about 4 hours going up and 1.5 coming back down. (Without stops we averaged 11 mph r/t.)
We were also impressed with the people we met in the area. At every stop that week the townspeople were justifiably proud of ""their"" trails and made us feel welcome.
Obligatory word about the shuttle downhillers: Beware. Most of these people are novices, not bike tourers who put thousands of miles a year on their tires. A few could barely ride, much less comprehend the rules and courtesy of trail riding or touring. We knew to expect this, compensated accordingly, and did not let it detract from our enjoyment of the climb or descent. But it was still a bit unsettling having semi-controlled tonnage freights roaring downgrade at us, or trying to pass people who couldn't track a straight line on a smooth trail.
The Virginia Creeper is truly a national treasure and any cyclist would do him or herself a huge favor by riding it. I'll certainly be going back in the future. Barry (from GA), with Mike (Ala.) & Joe (Ind.)"
Worth the Trip!
"Reviews had declared the Virginia Creeper Trail one of the best trails in Virginia. Well, they were true, and then some. We detoured from Virginia Beach on our way back to Montreal, Canada (yep! a bit of a detour). We stayed in Abingdon at the Summerfield Inn (Janice and Jim are among the best hosts we have ever met and the Inn is top-class).
We decided to take the shuttle to White Top Station and ride all the way back to Abingdon. The White Top Station to Damascus section of the trail is absolutely breathtaking. The trail meanders through the country side right along the river for a good part of the way, crossing from one side to the other. There a a good number of very impressive bridge crossings.
The Damascus to Abingdon section is a complete change of scenery. Although not as impressive as the first section, it has its definite charm. The Damascus/Abingdon section is in poor shape in spots, shrivelling down to barely a single track on some of the private properties. Also, be aware that some of the bridges are getting a new deck surface and rails on this section of the trail and you are advised by work crews that you cross the bridge at your own risk.
A recommendation for occasional bikers. Do not let the White Top Station to Damascus section of the trail lure into believing that this is an easy beginner`s ride. The Damascus to Abingdon section goes uphill (although ever so slightly) most of the way, which can become tiresome for the unexperienced.
All in all, this was one of our most memorable trail rides this year."
Choose your challenge level
"As this site indicates, this trail got its name from the steep grades which made the
locomotives ""creep"" up the tracks in different parts of the trail. However, only about half the trail is that difficult and only if you're going uphill. At Abingdon, the elevation is 2065 ft and gradually drops to 1900 ft at mile 8.1. The elevation rises gradually to 2000 ft as you come into town of Damascus (more on the town later). Then, the grade up to Whitetop Station (mile 33.2, 3576 ft) averages 2.2% to 2.85%. However, the actual grades can vary between 0% and 6% between Green Cove (mile 30.2) to Whitetop Station! Since my riding partner and I were up for a challenge, we decided to start at Abingdon and ride past Whitetop Station to the end of the trail. Then turn around and go back downhill ending at Damascus, making a 52-mile ride. Things started out well enough. We found the trailhead in Abingdon and marveled at the old locomotive that was there.
Parking here is more than adequate, but we could see it could fill up on nice days and weekends. Since this part to mile 8.1 is downhill, we were having a fairly nice ride with little effort and a variety of scenary. It would switch from lush hilly forest to wide open pastures and farmlands. There was a fly in the ointment, however. While the public has legal right to use the trail between Abingdon and Damascus, much of the land is privately owned. Therefore, we had to dismount quite often to open and close gates along this part of the trail. Still, there were two huge, curving trestles along
this stretch that you don't want to miss. There were two places I saw which you could
find something to eat or drink - the Riverside Market, not too far after mile 8, and
the Ironhorse Campground and Restaurant, think not too far after mile 12. The trail begins to parallel route 58 somewhere around this point and it becomes narrow in places, only enough for single file riding. In addition, between miles 13 and 15, the trail surface went from gravel to soft almost sandy material. This made for a fairly slow ride. At mile 16, we came into Damascus. Around mid-point, this quaint town caters to cyclists and hikers. The
weekend we were there (5/20/2001), the town was putting on its annual 3-day Trail Days event. In addition to the Creeper going through the town, the Appalachian Trail also runs through
it. This event is a celebration to honor the Appalachian Trail, the many trails that surround Damascus, and all the people who use the trails. You can learn more about Damascus
and Trail Days at http://www.damascus.org/default.htm. The great thing about this town is that it has 3 bike shops which have rentals and offer shuttle services to Whitetop Station. If you're looking for an extremely easy 17 miles of trail riding, this is it! You can
practically coast the entire way down from Whitetop Station to Damascus. Rentals range from $15-$25 depending on the length of rental time. You can also pay for shuttle service, separately or with a rental. You can visit Blue Blaze Bike & Shuttle Service for more info. There are plenty of other services as well at Damascus. The happening food place was Quincey's Pizza
and Callie's Dining. Reportedly pretty good and featured entertainment. However, it was too crowded the night we went due to Trail Days. You can get supplies at Cowboy's Exxon or CJ's Market. On Sunday
morning, I ate at Vicki's Restaurant. It featured ice cream in the afternoon and a fairly decent breakfast for a low price. Continuing on the trail, you cross over a few big iron trestles in and near Damascus from mile 16 to 18. Now the fun starts - uphill! Definitely started to feel the grade not too long after Damascus and it continued steadily all the way to
Whitetop Station. There were very few places where it leveled and you could up shift. There are a few places to get water and use restrooms but not much for additional supplies. Highly
recommend taking your own water and snacks - you will need to refuel often going uphill. There were many places to rest and picnic. Most of the land is now public and only a couple of gates that we had to open and pass through. Most of the scenary is mountainous and forest but there were two memorable places where it opened up into a wide pasture. We stopped both times just to take in the view. At mile 25.9, there's High Trestle - 550 feet long and 100 feet high. Also, there's a small river or wide creek which runs by most of the trail from Damascus. We saw many people cooling themselves or taking in the view on some rocks. At Green Cove Station, you can purchase trail items like tee shirts, hats, sweatshirts, and patches. There's also restrooms, refreshments, and water here. After Green Cove, it's only 3 miles to Whitetop. But, this is
some of the steepest grades as well. We were continuing to down shift into lower gears at this point and slowly counting the miles. One woman going the other way said we looked like salmon
going upstream as there was a fairly constant flow of folks coming down the trail, but not going up. At Whitetop, we found the renovated former station had nice facilities and a clean place to wash up after the effort. However, there are no supplies here. Then the trail actually continues for 1.3 miles downhill to the NC border. Since the elevation at Whitetop is so high, you may need a jacket for this part of the journey, especially if you shuttle/travel up there in the morning. After we rested a bit, we turned around and coasted (read, ""flew"") down the montain to Damascus. We then shuttled back to Abingdon. A few other notes: This trail is fairly far from the Washington DC area (6 hours driving). Might want to stay overnight and be well-rested. Be careful coming down the mountain, especially if you're on your own bike. While the trail surface is fairly compacted and smooth, there are are rocks to be aware of. I apparently hit one hard and ruined my wheel. Not enough to stop the ride but enough
to cause the bike shop to take one look at it and knew I couldn't use it anymore. This trail is definitely better-suited for mountain bikes. I have a hybrid and did fine with it, but the downhill was a bit rough. So to sum up, a great trail with lots of scenary, plenty of support, and various
challenge levels, depending on your time. Photos will be posted here later.
Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.