Perfect Couples Getaway

Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail

Although the Virginia Creeper train sounded its last whistle in 1977, the 34-mile segment of the Virginia Creeper Trail near the mountainous North Carolina–Virginia border sees as much, or more, traffic today. Bicycle wheels, feet and hooves now replace rail cars, today allowing everyone to enjoy this wooded, pack-gravel route. But don’t let the crowds put you off; a visit in spring (blooming rhododendrons) or fall (colorful leaves) makes for the perfect couples getaway. Visit a winery, enjoy luscious food and treat yourselves to a couples’ spa experience.

Fly into Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville, Tenn., and drive 46 miles to Damascus, Va. Check into the Dancing Bear, a friendly home-like accommodation near the trail. Our proposed itinerary includes two days of riding from the midway point in Damascus, with plenty of time to explore the area.

Important: Much of the trail passes through private land; please respect these boundaries and stick to the trail corridor. In addition, trail traffic can be thick, so control your downhill speed, keep to the right to avoid oncoming traffic, and announce yourself when passing.

Day 1

Billing itself as “Trail Town USA,” Damascus is chock-a-block with bike rental shops. SunDog Outfitters has a complete line of bikes, and they also operate Mojoe’s Trailside Coffee House, serving hot specialty drinks and fruit smoothies. All outfitters offer trail shuttles; if you prefer a one-way ride, be sure to arrange a shuttle for your return.

If you want to ride out and back today, begin in Damascus; if you prefer one-way riding, the bike shop will shuttle you to Whitetop Station. From Whitetop, it’s mostly a downhill ride back to Damascus (about 17.5 miles one way). Except for a short stretch through Taylor’s Valley, this segment of the trail is part of the Jefferson National Forest, and much of the way is wooded. Locals dubbed the railroad the “Virginia Creeper” in reference to the native plant that grows along the route and because of the slow slog steam engines had to make up the Iron Mountains.

The official eastern endpoint of the trail is actually about 0.7 miles farther east from Whitetop, near the Virginia–North Carolina border. So just to say you covered the entire trail, ride to the end from the Whitetop Station trailhead. Stop by the visitor center at Whitetop Station (limited hours April–October) for an introduction to the trail. The original station was demolished in 1977, but a new building captures the feel of the railroad’s past. The host, a lifelong area resident, has a hatful of stories about the region.

 
Photo by: Cindy Elswick McCrary

Continue down the trail about three miles to Green Cove, where you’ll find the only original remaining depot along the trail. They sell drinks, snacks and souvenirs. Next, cross the trestle over the creek and stop to absorb the lush view.

In all, the trail has 47 trestles, and you’ll come to another one high over Laurel Creek in Taylors Valley. Throughout summer, the community is home to numerous musical events. If you’re feeling peckish, stop by the Creeper Trail Café for burgers and dogs. Their chocolate cake might just be the sugar rush you need for the final 6.6 miles to Damascus.

Caution: Use care when crossing the intersection of State Route 91 and US Highway 58, just before you reach town; we recommend walking your bikes across the busy highway.

This evening, explore Damascus, a hub for both the rail-trail and the Appalachian Trail (AT). Plan your visit in May and celebrate Trail Days. Though mainly focused on AT users, the event is open to all and features a parade, hiker talent show, music, craft and retail vendors, food and more. Enjoy dinner at the Old Mill; replace those burned calories with a tender steak, succulent crab cakes or hearty pasta. Sit on the deck for a peaceful view overlooking the mill pond.

Day 2

Today, ride the second half of the trail to Abingdon (about 16 miles one way). In this direction, the trail runs slightly downhill to Alvarado and then is slightly uphill the rest of the way to Abingdon. If you don’t want to ride round-trip, arrange a shuttle from Abingdon before setting out.

Leaving Damascus, the route follows a fork prong of the Holston River. Just outside of town, the Iron Horse Music Hall, next to the campground, is a favorite venue for musicians, who entertain trail-goers and locals with a variety of music.

Stop at Alvarado Station, a replica of the one that served the old railroad. Next door at Old Alvarado Station, don’t miss the celebrated BBQ, rated among the best in the area. Also here is the Creeper Trail Chapel, a ministry of the Alvarado Bible Church, offering trail users water, shelter and a spot for quiet reflection. Jump off the trail at Alvarado Road and head about 0.25 miles to the Abingdon Vineyard & Winery for a tasting of local vino and a tour.

Just west of Alvarado, you’ll cross the longest trestle on the trail, which spans the confluence of the middle and south forks of the Holston River. From here, the trail courses through a mixed landscape of forest and farmland on its way to Abingdon.

Located in the pastoral Blue Ridge Highlands, Abingdon is full of historical attractions, music and arts, and outdoor recreation. In August, don’t miss the Virginia Highlands Festival, held since 1948 to celebrate and preserve the region’s cultural heritage of arts, crafts, skills, and performance.

The perfect ending to your journey is the couples’ spa package in your own private suite at the Martha Washington Hotel & Spa. Soak in an aromatic hydrotherapy tub, and then enjoy your sumptuous massages alongside each other by a crackling fireplace. Afterward, celebrate your Virginia Creeper Trail experience with a romantic supper at The Market, a cozy dining space in the hotel.

 
Photo by: Cindy Elswick McCrary

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