Embark on a breathtaking journey through nature’s masterpiece by biking the Virginia Creeper Trail. Nestled in the heart of Virginia’s landscape, this iconic trail offers an unforgettable adventure for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
With it’s rich heritage as a former railway line, the Virginia Creeper Trail stretches 34 miles through the picturesque Appalachian Mountains, showcasing nature’s beauty at every turn.
Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist seeking a thrilling ride or a leisurely explorer savoring the scenery, this comprehensive guide will equip you with everything you need to know for a memorable biking experience along one of Virginia’s most beloved trails.
Get ready to pedal through lush forests and across historic trestle bridges, immersing yourself in the magic of the Virginia Creeper Trail.
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History of the Virginia Creeper Trail
The history of the Virginia Creeper Trail is just as fascinating as the trail itself. Originally built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a railway line, the trail served as a vital transportation route for timber and passengers in the Appalachian region. The trail’s name is derived from the steam locomotives that traveled the rugged terrain, slowly and steadily climbing up the steep mountains, resembling the slow-moving insect known as a “creeper”.
The railroad played a crucial role in connecting the remote mountain communities of southwest Virginia, facilitating the timber industry’s growth and fostering economic development in the area. However, with the decline of the timber industry and the rise of modern transportation, the railway’s significance waned.
In the 1970’s, the trail was decommissioned as a functioning railway, and the tracks were removed. Local communities and conservationists worked together to transform the abandoned railway bed into a multi-use trail, preserving it’s historical charm and natural beauty.
In 1987, the Virginia Creeper Trail officially opened as a recreational trail, offering a scenic escape for hikers, cyclists, and equestrians to explore the stunning Appalachian landscape.
Today, the trail is managed by the US Forest Service and remains a popular destination and continues to draw visitors from far and wide to immerse themselves in this captivating piece of Virginia’s history.
Virginia Creeper Trail Routes
The Virginia Creeper Trail offers a variety of routes and biking options to suit riders of all skill levels and preferences. The trail spans 34 miles, but riders can choose from several entry and exit points, allowing for a customizable biking experience.
One popular route is the entire end-to-end ride, beginning at Whitetop Station near the North Carolina border and ending at Abingdon, Virginia, near the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop.
For those seeking a shorter and more leisurely ride, the Whitetop Station to Damascus route covers about 17 miles and is the perfect option for a half-day adventure. Starting at Whitetop Station was my preferred way since I’m not an experienced cyclist. Most of the trail going this route is downhill so it was a pretty easy ride. You end up in the town of Damascus, also known as “Trail Town, USA”. For a more challenging ride, you can do this trail backward, from Damascus to Whitetop. This will be more of an incline and be more strenuous.
Riders looking for a family-friendly or beginner route can start at the Abingdon trailhead and bike the 8-mile stretch to Alvarado station. This portion of the trail features a smoother ride. The scenic views along the way, including the lush fields of Alvarado and glimpses of the Holston River, make it a delightful ride for families and beginner cyclists.
No matter which route you take, the Virginia Creeper Trail promises an enchanting journey through some of Virginia’s most captivating landscapes, combining the thrill of outdoor adventure with the charm of historical heritage.
Where to Rent a Bike/Shuttle Services
There are plenty of places to rent a bike and take a shuttle for this trail. I was staying and visiting Abingdon, Virginia so I chose the Virginia Creeper Bike Shop.
I had a really good experience with this shop. I also met some really great people. I was on the shuttle with the sweetest, most fun group of ladies. I didn’t get to chat much with them on the way up to Whitetop Station because I was experiencing horrible motion sickness.
On the way back though, I was able to chat and enjoy their company. I ended up skidding out on one of the trestle bridges about a quarter of the way into my ride and banged myself up pretty good. I ended up only doing half of the trail (Whitetop Station to Damascus) and taking the shuttle back to Abingdon. They checked on me while riding back to Abingdon and chatted with me which helped take my mind off how much pain I was in.
Best places to rent bikes/schedule shuttle:
Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop: Located in Abingdon
Blue Blaze Bike and Shuttle Service: Located in Damascus
The Bike Station: Located in Damascus
Creeper Trail Bike Rental: Located in Whitetop
Gear for Biking the Virginia Creeper Trail
Before embarking on your thrilling adventure along the trail, it’s essential to equip yourself with the right gear.
First Aid Kit
You should carry a first-aid kit. Even if you think you won’t need it. I certainly didn’t think I would. If you don’t want to bring a whole kit then make sure you at least bring bandaids, Neosporin, wrap, pain relievers, and antiseptic so you can address minor injuries or discomforts.
Hydration and Snacks
There are places to stop and use the bathroom, eat, and get water along the trail. Be sure to either bring water or plan on stopping to get water. You need to make sure you stay hydrated.
As I mentioned, there are places to stop and eat. Bringing snacks can ensure you don’t have to stop more than necessary. I always bring granola bars, protein bars, and a caffeine bar or two.
Comfort is key for a long ride and bike seats are not comfortable. At all. I even had a seat cover and was still in pain. Invest in quality padded bike shorts or pants to enhance your biking experience.
Comfortable and supportive footwear is a must. Opt for closed-toe and sturdy footwear to protect your feet. These sneakers are my favorite for everything and they did not disappoint on this trail either.
They are super comfortable and waterproof so I could explore the streams without worrying about having wet feet for the rest of the ride which would have definitely given me blisters.
You’ll want to dress in breathable, moisture-wicking clothing to stay comfortable. Make sure to bring layers because a lot of the trail is in the shade and stays cool.
I personally opted for leggings which I am thankful for. It helped shield me from my fall a bit. Although they did end up ripped and I had to throw them away but at least they protected my legs a bit.
Don’t forget to bring bug spray to ward off pesky bugs and ticks, especially during the warmer months.
A mountain bike or hybrid bike with sturdy tires and good shock absorption is ideal for the different terrains of the trail. If you don’t have a bike then you can rent one. I rented from the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in Abingdon and had a great experience.
Safety should always come first when biking. Protect your head with a helmet to ensure a secure ride and provide peace of mind. I was able to rent a helmet from the bike shop as well.
You’ll need something to carry your essentials in. Make sure it’s big enough to hold your snacks, water, and your extra layers, but not too big that you are uncomfortable riding.
Optional Safety Gear
If you rent your bike you will most likely have these extra items just in case.
Be prepared for unexpected tire deflations and carry a portable bike pump.
Things happen sometimes. Bring along a spare tube or tire repair kit. A flat tire can happen to anyone, and having the necessary tools to fix it will save you time and hassle during your trip.
Wearing knee pads while biking can be a wise decision for several reasons. Knee pads provide vital protection to one of the most vulnerable areas of the body to a cyclist. They help prevent injury in case of an accident or fall. They act as a cushion and absorb the impact.
They also offer a layer of confidence to new bikers. By knowing their knees are protected they can focus more on the ride. I did not have these when I did the trail but since I fell and hurt myself, I will definitely be wearing them next time.
Safety Tips and Trail Etiquette
Biking safety is paramount while exploring the Virginia Creeper Trail or any biking destination for that matter. Here are some essential safety tips and etiquette to keep in mind while riding.
1. Wear a Helmet: Always wear a properly fitted and certified biking helmet. It’s the best protection against head injuries and is a non-negotiable safety measure.
2. Follow Traffic Rules: Treat the trail like a roadway and obey all traffic signs and signals. Keep to the right side of the trail and pass on the left, alerting others by saying “on your left” before passing. Some of this trail does cross over streets, so watch for stop signs and cars.
3. Yield to Pedestrians: Be courteous to hikers, joggers, and walkers on the trail. Slow down and give them the right of way, passing with caution, and announcing your presence when necessary.
4. Control Your Speed: Maintain a safe and controlled speed, especially when navigating or turning. Slow down in crowded areas and yield to uphill riders or those with limited visibility.
5. Use Hand Signals: Indicate your intentions by using proper hand signals to alert other cyclists and pedestrians of your turn or stop.
6. Stay Alert: Be aware of your surroundings and avoid distractions like using your phone while riding. Keep your focus on the trail and be prepared to react to any unexpected situations.
7. Be Mindful of Wildlife: The Virginia Creeper Trail is home to various wildlife. Slow down in areas with increased wildlife activity and respect their natural habitat.
8. Check Your Gear: Regularly inspect your bike and equipment to ensure they are in good working condition. Carry a basic repair kit with essential tools and a spare tire in case of emergencies.
9. Stay Hydrated: Drink enough water to stay hydrated during your ride. Biking can be physically demanding, especially in warmer weather, so drink water regularly.
10. Respect Private Property: Stay on the designated trail area and respect private property boundaries. Trespassing can disturb the environment and local residents.
11. Leave No Trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles by disposing of trash properly and avoiding any damage to natural surroundings.
By following these biking safety tips and observing trail etiquette, you’ll not only enhance your safety but also contribute to a positive and enjoyable experience for all trail users.
Recommended Stops Along the Virginia Creeper Trail
There are several great places to stop along the trail that offer scenic beauty, historical landmarks, and charming towns to explore. Here are some of the must-visit stops along the trail:
1. Whitetop Station
This is actually where I started my journey on the trail. Located near the North Carolina border, Whitetop Station serves as the highest point of the trail. Take a few moments to appreciate the beautiful views.
2. Green Cove Station
About 5.5 miles from Whitetop Station is Green Cove Station. This provides a lovely rest spot with bathrooms and a scenic picnic area. Enjoy the tranquil ambiance and the creek.
3. Creek Junction
About 2.5 miles from Green Cove Station is Creek Junction. This is where the Virginia Creeper Trail intersects with the Whitetop Laurel Creek. This spot is perfect for pictures or exploring the creek.
Known as “Trail Town, USA” Damascus is a charming town about 17 miles from Whitetop Station. This is the halfway point of the trail and is perfect for stopping for lunch before heading back on the trail or stopping here and enjoying the rest of your day exploring Damascus.
5. Alvarado Station
About 8 miles from Damascus is Alvarado Station. It offers a beautiful setting with scenic farmlands and the Holston River in view. This is a great spot to relax and enjoy a moment by the river.
6. Taylor’s Valley Station
2.5 miles from Alvarado Station is Taylor’s Valley Station. You can find bathroom facilities and a shaded area to rest here.
7. Watauga Trestle
Admire the historical significance of the Watauga Trestle, one of the trail’s iconic landmarks. The majestic trestle is about 2.5 miles from Taylors Valley.
At the end of the trail (if starting from Whitetop Station) is the beautiful, historic town of Abingdon. Abingdon shouldn’t just be a stop, you should consider spending a few days here. I was visiting Abingdon when I decided to do the Virginia Creeper Trail and it was beautiful. Read this blog post to see all the great things to do in Abingdon.
There are so many stops along the trail. Should you have the opportunity stop at as many as you can.
I hope this blog post inspired you to embark on your journey through the Virginia Creeper Trail. From breathtaking landscapes to historical landmarks, the trail’s 34 miles hold a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered. Have you ever biked the Virginia Creeper Trail?