Bicycling the Virginia Creeper Trail

Bicycling with our in-laws has become one of our favorite exercise-adventure pastimes, and we decided to explore the well-known Virginia rails-to-trails Creeper Trail. The adventure began with an 11-hour drive on Friday with our bicycles to Abingdon, Virginia, where we met up with Julie’s sister & brother-in-law, Pam & A.J. We had decided to stay at the historic Martha Washington Inn which was built in 1832 as a southern mansion for General Francis Preston & his family. After the family left the residence, it was converted to a college for young women (Martha Washington College), before becoming a civil war hospital and then finally closing . In 1934, the facility was used to house aspiring actors who appeared at the Barter Theatre (located across the street). It has been a hotel since 1935, and has active fireplaces, a library, a bar and restaurant, a pool and hot tubs, a spa and saunas, tennis courts and an 18-hole putt-putt golf course with surrounding gardens.  Many of the furnishings and antiques are original to the property.  

The Historic Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon Virginia
The Martha Inn Pool

We have a lovely room on the 3rd floor, twice the size of a normal hotel room, with antique spindle beds and glass chandeliers. We walked the grounds and then strolled to the trailhead of the bicycle trail to see where we would be riding on Sunday, (we had decided to use Saturday to explore the town and relax from the long car ride). The day slowly devolved into cool weather and a misty rain with more of the same predicted for tomorrow (Saturday). We enjoyed dinner (included with the room) at the bar and enjoyed a game of cards on the hotel veranda before enjoying a complementary port by the fire in the library.

Our Room at The Martha

The next morning, we arose for a lovely complementary coffee and breakfast in the Sisters’ Restaurant, which included muffins with yogurt & granola followed by a huge plate of biscuits &gravy, sausage, quiche, and hash browns. Then, we headed out with umbrellas to window shop the downtown area. Negotiating the rain, we visited a number of boutiques and antique shops. before taking a late lunch at a Greek restaurant and heading back to the hotel where we relaxed with a glass of wine in the hot tub and enjoyed a game of cards on the veranda. Then, it was off for a light dinner in the bar and a glass of port on the veranda before preparing our bikes for an early start in the morning.

On Sunday morning, we collected a quick coffee and muffins from the restaurant before boarding our bikes and riding to the trail head by 7:30am. The first 17-miles of the trail are relatively flat heading slightly downhill for the first 9-miles, and then up. We initially traveled past large houses and a city baseball park along the South Holston River, where the water was high due to the week’s past rain. We pedaled past large farms of cattle and crops in the rolling hills of the Appalachian mountains. This trail was originally a pioneer footpath (aka – Daniel Boone).  Then, in 1900, the Virginia North Carolina Railroad was built to haul lumber, iron ore and supplies over the range. The train was nicknamed “The Virginia Creeper” since the steam engine locomotives crept along the trail so slowly. The original steam engine is still on display at the head of the trail. The trail included 47 trestle bridges and numerous gates between properties, both private and public. The last train ran in 1977.

The Original Creeper Locomotive
The Four of Us at the Trail Head

We rode the trail for about 20 minutes when Julie’s sister suffered a flat tire.  After a quick replacement of the tube, we were on our way again along the trail. There were very few people on this part of the trail and they were mostly locals walking their dogs. We rode through farmlands and the Mt. Rogers National Forest. After 17-miles in 2 ½ hours, we arrived in Damascus where we met our shuttle to take us to the top of Whitetop Mountain.

A Flat Tire Along the Way
The Trail to Damascus
A Stop on one of the 47 Trestles

This part of the trail is muddy, rutted and steeply uphill, and our shuttle drive tells us stories of when the train used to still run behind his house, and of spotting bears last night. Wild turkeys ran across the road in front of shuttle when we got near the top of Whitetop Mountain and the North Carolina border. At the top, we got back on our bikes and started heading slowly downhill. Our first stop was a ranger station, and then the trail became more challenging. The downhill is steep and rocky with no need to peddle. Instead, we coasted carefully, holding tight, steering, and breaking to stay on the trail. Next, we stopped at Green Cove Cooperative (a restored train station) that sells souvenirs, drinks, snacks, and a good selection of warm clothing to cater to those who are not fully prepared when the mountain top is cold. Along the trail, we crossed the Appalachian Hiking Trail, before we rode into Taylors Valley and stopped for a light lunch at Hellbender’s Café. After lunch, we rode 6 more miles of trail before arriving in Damascus, which was hosting an annual hiking trail convention, (there are 7 trails that leave from the town of Damascus). This completed the additional 17-miles downhill from Whitetop which took us about 2 ½ hours.

At Whitecap Mountain ready to ride Downhill
One of the Many Streams and Rivers along the Trail

Then, it was onward to Abingdon – 17 more miles back along the trail we had covered in the morning.  We passed a group of horseback riders and now, saw many hikers on the trail. All along the lower trail are places along the river to sit, to camp, and to picnic. Eventually, we reached the confluence of the Middle Fork Holston and South Fork Holston rivers, but much of the remaining trail is in the sun, and day was getting hot. We finally arrived back at the hotel at ~4:30pm – it’s been a long day! After stowing our bikes, we needed showers to wash off the mud and then we all jumped into the hot tub with a cold drink. That evening, we played cards in the garden, enjoyed celebratory drinks at the bar and had a nice,  relaxing dinner.

A Stop in a Hillside Cut
The Longest Trestle at the Confluence of the Holston Rivers
A Rest on the Home Stretch of our 51-mile Ride

Later, we packed our gear and the next morning we all met for an excellent breakfast before saying our “goodbyes” and heading off our separate ways.

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