One of the “must do blue blazes” on the A.T. is the Virginia Creeper Trail (VCT). The VCT runs 35 miles from Abington, VA, thru Damascus, VA, to Whitetop, VA, and is part of the National Rail-Trail Network. There are numerous outfitters in Damascus that, for $25, will provide you with a bike and drive you to Whitetop Station, where you can coast the 17 mile section back to town.
My companions for this outing were Chunky Monkey and Survivor, who are both staying at the Woodchuck Hostel. Chunky Monkey is from Raleigh, NC, and is retired from the USMC and the NC Highway Patrol. Survivor is an Architect from South Africa. They are about 100 miles ahead of me on the A.T., but returned to Damascus to nurse what may be a broken bone in Survivor’s foot.
After a winding, 45 minute drive to the top of Whitetop Mountain, we were deposited at Whitetop Station to begin our journey. At one point in time, Whitetop Station was the highest standard gauge rail station east of the Rockies to be served by a regularly scheduled train. While the Abington to Damascus section was completed in 1900, The track to Whitetop was built by the Virginia-Carolina Railway in 1912, mostly to carry red spruce from the forests high atop Mount Rogers. From this station, the trail descends 2,000 feet to Damascus. Very little peddling is required, but good brakes are a necessary requirement.
The last train ran on this section of the VCT in 1977. The trail is named (depending on the source) for either the Virginia Creeper vine that grows along the sides of the path, or the “Creeper” speed of the old steam engines chugging along with their heavy loads. After the tracks were removed, the rail bed was converted to the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail in the 1980’s. The trail is maintained through a partnership among the City of Abington, the town of Damascus, and the National Forest Service.
After its initial descent from Whitetop Mountain, the trail joins Laurel Creek and passes through a beautiful section of forest. There are numerous bridges over the creek, and a few of them are restored wooden trestle bridges that were once used by the railroad.
In under three hours (with just a tiny bit of peddling), you find yourself back in Damascus. Even though we wore our rain gear, the rain stopped as soon as we started the trip, making for a totally enjoyable adventure. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to explore the VCT, and definitely agree that this is a “must do blue blaze” if you are in the area.