Photo by Cameron Davidson/CameronDavidson.com. Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corp.
Virginia Creeper Trail
The Virginia Creeper trail follows the former route of the Virginia Creeper railroad for 34 miles. The scenic route is popular with cyclists.
In the heart of Abingdon, Va., begins the Virginia Creeper Trail, a former train line turned multi-use pathway for recreation. The 34-mile trail climbs from its base, marked by a historic Norfolk and Western engine 433, once used on the tracks, to nearly 4,000 feet at the Virginia/North Carolina line. Much of the trail is in the Jefferson National Forest.
The Virginia Creeper Trail, administered by the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area staff, was conceptualized in the 1970s when Norfolk and Western wanted the railroad shut down and local planning commission members suggested using the old line for recreation, akin to a trail that had been developed in Wisconsin. However, the idea got some backlash—property owners didn’t want to share their land. The towns of Abingdon and Damascus eventually purchased the trailway with Virginia Division of Conservation & Recreation grant funding. There were negotiations with N&W to keep the train trestles in place, and eventually, work began decking the trestles, grading and shaping the trail, which was completed in 1984.
Today, the trail welcomes walkers, bikers, hikers, and horseback riders. No motorized vehicles are permitted on the trail. From beginning to end, travelers cross 47 train trestles—one is a replacement brought in from Yadkinville, N.C., when the original trestle just south of Watauga Road burned, and another was destroyed by a tornado in 2011 but rebuilt.
Biking is the trail’s most popular activity, and bike rental locations are easy to find in both Abingdon and Damascus—seven Damascus rental locations are listed on the trail’s website. Those who bring their own bikes can choose their own adventure by riding any portion of the trail, the whole trail end-to-end, or go for a full 68-mile round trip journey. Shuttles are available from rental locations and will transport riders to selected points on the trail, and even go to the top of the trail so that riders may cruise down. No one has spent more time on the trail than Lawrence Dye, a quietly friendly man who, in his retirement, has become the Virginia Creeper Trail’s official ambassador. He’s pedaled enough miles on the trail to circle the equator three times over, he says.
Look for nature’s companions along the trail—birding is a popular activity. Louisiana waterthrush and Carolina Wren often be seen flying along the creek. Black-throated blue and black-and-white warblers and warbling vireos can be found, along with Carolina chickadees. Beavers’ work also can be seen among the trees.
For more information, visit vacreepertrail.us or call 800.628.7202.