Viriginia Creeper Trail

The phrase “reuse and recycle” is all too familiar when it comes to grocery bags, newspapers and plastic bottles. But the Virginia Creeper Trail, a popular destination for active individuals and families nearly four hours from Charlotte, is the ultimate example of reuse and recycle. What started out as a footpath for Native Americans, and then was a railroad line toting lumber and passengers in the 1900s, is now a multi-use recreational trail that runs from Abingdon to Damascus.

When the rail line was abandoned in the 1970s, the United States Forest Service secured the portion from the North Carolina state line to Damascus, Va., and began pulling up the rail line to make it into a hiking trail. The surrounding towns had the vision to see how what used to be a bustling railway could be turned into a tourist destination, and continued what the forest service started.

Today, the 34 miles of scenic recreational trails are maintained by the City of Abingdon, the Town of Damascus and the USFS. Visitors enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding and even access to some great fishing spots, as the trails run alongside a narrow river.

My family made the decision to bike the trails after my parents, both in their 60s, called to tell us they’d just done a 17-mile bike ride and couldn’t stop talking about how much fun it was. These are two people who, although healthy, are not avid cyclists and probably hadn’t been on a bike for at least 20 years. I was in shock they’d ridden bikes for 17 miles. And then I thought, if they can do it, so can we. So my husband and I packed up the travel bag full of snacks, books and games and headed out in the early morning with our 14-year-old and 4-year old for a family adventure.

One of the best things about the trails is that your adventure can be as challenging or as laid back as your family chooses. We chose to bike the same route my parents did, renting bikes and a pull-along for the little one at The Bike Station in Damascus, which included being shuttled up to the top of the trail at White Top Station. My parents claimed the trail was all down hill, and they were right for about the first half. You hardly even have to pedal. Then the trail flattens out a little, but it’s not strenuous.

We decided to stop at a small place on the trail to buy lunch, rather than carry a picnic with us. If you decide to do the same, be prepared to bike for about an hour and a half first. The Creeper Trail Café, located midway on the trail between White Top and Damascus, has great burgers and even better ice cream. If you choose to get started around lunchtime and bike all afternoon, then you can eat your picnic lunch at White Top Station, where there’s a nice gift shop inside the recently rebuilt train station, a park for the kids and plenty of picnic benches.

We’d started with the plan to take it slow, allowing for a lunch break, eating ice cream beside the river and even parking the bikes and letting the kids play in the water for a while. We completed the entire ride in about three and a half hours, which was long enough on a bike seat for me. If you’re family won’t be biking the trails with a small child, or you’re up for more adventure, you can bike the entire 34-mile trek, or go up instead of down, starting at Damascus and letting the shuttle pick you up at the top.

No matter how you choose to enjoy the trails, it’s a beautiful and relaxing way to spend some time together as your family.

If you go, you need to know:
The Virginia Creeper Trail

Bike rental:
The Bike Station
501 East 3rd St., Damascus, VA, 24236
Rates: Shuttle and bike rental are $15 for four hours; $37 for a full day.
Shuttle and bike transport: $13 adults, $8 12 and under
Shuttles run March-November, every hour from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations recommended, arrive 30 minutes early.

Lunch stop:
Creeper Trail Café
37077 Chestnut Mountain Road, Damascus, VA, 24236

Places to stay overnight:
Apple Tree Bed and Breakfast
115 E. Laurel Ave., Damascus, VA, 24236

Nancy’s Cottage
22618 Fisher Hollow Road, Damascus, VA, 24236

Karen Alley is web editor for Piedmont Parent magazine.