Getting its name from the steam locomotives that would slowly struggle up the mountain passes, this 34.3-mile former railway attracts over 100,000 visitors each year since it opened in 1987. The trail is open to hikers, bicyclists and horses but bikes dominate the pathway. Riders range from cycling pros and enthusiasts to grandparents taking their younger family members out for a ride.
Most riders get a shuttle (there are many to choose from) and start at Whitetop Station, (elevation 3,700 feet) and coast downhill 17 miles until reaching the town of Damascus. This mostly downhill portion of the trail is easy enough for novices and several stops along the way provide plenty of opportunities to rest and sightsee. There are restrooms and visitors centers and the trail crosses 46 train trestles, follows alongside Laurel Creek, provides a couple of waterfalls for viewing and takes about two-three hours to reach Damascus.
“The Virginia Creeper Trail is especially beautiful during the fall,” says Kevin Costello, Director of Tourism for the Abingdon Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The setting is stunning and the leaves falling down as you ride by makes for a fantastic autumn experience.”
Riders wanting to get a better workout may opt to tackle the remaining 17 miles from Damascus to Abingdon. This piece of the trail is more strenuous with uphill and downhill sections but traverses some beautiful countryside.
If staying at the historic Martha Washington Hotel in Abingdon, the hotel rents bikes and has its own shuttle available. If staying at a nearby bed and breakfast such as the Summerfield Inn, just ask Innkeepers Janice and Jim Cowen to arrange for an outfitter that will provide bicycles, helmets and shuttle service. While in town be sure to catch a show at the 80 year-old Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia. It’s where Gregory Peck and Ernest Borgnine got their start and patrons used to barter with food for a theater seat.