There’s a saying in real estate: Location, location, location.
Damascus seems to have that concept down pat, molding itself into an active hub/terminal for outdoor recreation. We already talked about how the App Trail runs directly through it, but the town also entices many bikers due to its location smack dab in the middle of the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail.
The trail is a fine example of a movement encouraged by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines. The last train carrying coal and iron ran in 1977, earning the name “Virginia Creeper” because of the twisting mountain route and slow speeds (5 mph in some places).
Because it sits at the halfway point of the trail, businesses in Damascus can offer shuttles to either end, allowing bikers to cruise the 17 miles back into town without staging vehicles. I did the trail in two days, renting a bike and catching a ride from Adventure Damascus the first and Sundog Outfitter the second.
The ride from Abington to Damascus takes you through a number of cattle gates and hilly, golden farmland. There are a few uphill sections and it’s definitely the tougher half of the trail. The journey from Whitetop Station back to Damascus is almost entirely sloped downhill and runs right along the river, offering riders several places to stop off and rest, have a picnic, or take photos. Whitetop is recommended for families and those simply looking to go for a bike ride in the woods – it’s much easier and provides more shade than the Abington half.
The Creeper Trail boasts 47 trestles in total, and I can tell you that both sides are beautiful rides (check out the photos below). While the Whitetop section is easier, it is also consequently more crowded, and I’d recommend avoiding mid-day weekend rides if possible.
Although many hikers crash at hostels or pass through town with their tents, bikers who come to the area for weekend rides on the Creeper will be in need of some lodging and dining. Here are my recommendations on where to stay and what to eat:
Damascus Cabins: Given the reasons one would go to Damascus – to hike, bike, and enjoy nature – Damascus Cabins would be my top recommendation for a place to call home. I stayed in a beautiful one-bedroom with great outdoor seating, a screened-in porch as well as a traditional deck with a grill. Down below on the lawn a campfire was lit every night, and from my seat at the table I could see the river flowing and, at dusk, the lightening bugs come out. One of my most fond memories of the trip was coming back to the cabin after riding half the Creeper and grilling out on my back deck.
Funny story: I threw the salmon on the grill, went inside for five minutes, and came back out to two ducks on the deck, their noses in the air. That’s the image that comes to mind when I think of the town, putting my feet up on the railing with a drink after a fulfilling day, looking out at the river and having some space to move around. With rates of $120-$140 per night, the cabins are rather affordable for couples and groups.
Damascus Inn: Those looking for a more traditional hotel will find the Damascus Inn to be very pleasant, especially the balcony rooms overlooking the river. I kept the door open all night, letting the sound of the waterfall put me to sleep. The restaurant downstairs is one of the more proper settings in town, and again I would encourage grabbing a seat outside by the river.
Quincey’s Pizza: Now under the guide of new general manager Dante Tremayne, this is a fun spot to stop in for pizza and beer after a long day of exercise. With restaurant seating on one side and a bar setting on the other, this is the only “hang out” in town if you’re looking to throw a few back. Be sure to ask for Dante when you go in – he’s a good guy to grab a beer with and he’ll fill you in on all the Damascus details if you’re new to town.
I’ve already written a lot about the vibe in Damascus via two posts, one when I had a drink by the river and the other when I first arrived in town. No need to beat that over your head – I think it’s clear by now what attracts people to visit. It’s time now to move on to our last town, Hammondsport, 570-some miles north in Upstate New York.
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First four photos courtesy of Chad Arnold of Four-Thirty Photography, a local freelance photographer: