Spring is in the air. The skies are bluer, the leaves greener, and the temps warmer which translates to…bring on the outdoors! If you are looking for a fun way to spend some time with friends and family outdoors, be sure to check out the Virginia Creeper Trail.
What is it?
Officially known as the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail, the well-kept trail is a 34.3 mile long trail that runs along an old railroad route through the gorgeous rolling hills, over 47 trestle bridges, and down along Whitetop Laurel Creek. The rail trail is mostly known for biking, but can also be used for many other recreational activities such as running and fishing. 34.3 miles on a bike sounds like a long time, and it most definitely is if you plan to do the entire trail, but the good news is you don’t have to do the entire trail. If you know how to ride a bike, you can do this trail! And for those who are too little to ride their own bikes, they can hitch a ride behind you in a trail-a-bike or a baby buggy. The trail runs at a downward slope making the effort minimal for much of the way down the trail and truly a fun-for-the-whole-family activity! Let me explain in more detail!
How does it work?
For the most family-friendly option, drive to Damascus, Virginia which is approximately 2.5 hours from Knoxville east down I-40 and up I-81. Damascus is the half way point of the trail so you’ll be starting there, shuttling up to the top and riding back downhill to the half way point. Once in Damascus, you’ll want to rent bicycles (and buggies if needed). Bonus: Helmets are included in the bicycle rental for most rental shops, but if you have a child who is particular about their helmet, you may want to pack one from home! The staff will load up the bicycles for you and you’ll hop on their shuttle to make the drive up to Whitetop. This drive takes you up an elevation change of approximately 1600 feet in 17 miles. If you get carsick, be sure to request the front seat for the winding drive up! Once you’ve reached the top, the staff will unload the van and bicycles, sending you off on the roughly three hour journey down the mountain.
What do I need to bring?
You will be coasting with little effort for the majority of the trail, but do keep in mind it is in fact a trail. This is not a paved path, but a dirt and gravel packed trail. It is a bit rough in places and special attention will need to be paid in order to avoid injury. Helmets are recommended for all ages. If you have a beginner rider in your group, you may want to consider the bicycle attachment (trail-a-bike) in place of their own bike. For reference, our group had one five-year-old that did the entire 17 miles themselves and another five-year-old who did the trail-a-bike attachment. Both enjoyed the ride!
If you have your own bicycles, you are able to book a shuttle and bring your own bikes, helmets, and attachments on the shuttle. Whether you choose to rent bicycles or bring your own, you will need to be sure to book everything in advance to secure a guaranteed spot. The trail is very popular for fall leaf peeping and will need to be booked 3-4 weeks in advance for the weekends at that time. Summer may not require reservations as far in advance. The trail is open all year, weather and road conditions permitting. Also note the elevation is quite a bit higher than Knoxville, making it 10-15 degrees cooler than Knoxville. Much of the trail is shaded so plan attire accordingly. If it’s a cooler time of year, I recommend planning the trip when the sun is high midday. Cruising downhill can get pretty chilly! You don’t want to forget gloves for the colder days.
The ride is plenty long enough to work up a decent appetite. Approximately half-way down to Damascus, there is a little restaurant along the trail with a great empty field to run and play. It was a popular place when we went and wait times were long. Be sure to factor in at least an additional hour if you plan to stop for food on a busy day. A backpack with snacks for all is highly recommended, even if you do plan to stop at the restaurant along the way. There are also lots of restaurant options once you return to Damascus.
How much does it cost?
There are many bicycle rental places up and down the main street of Damascus. Rental rates vary slightly from place to place, but typically range from $30-40 per person, including bike, helmet and shuttle. Bike attachments for children and shuttle tickets with your own bikes will cost less. We chose Sundog Outfitters because the shop runs right along the Creeper Trail, but there are many shops to consider.
How do I plan it?
We enjoyed the trip all in a day (sample itinerary below), but there are plenty of hotels and cute cabin rentals in the nearby area to make an overnight or weekend trip out of it too. Abingdon, Virginia also has lots to do and is only about 20 minutes away. You can check out this post to read about all there is to do in Abingdon.
Sample day trip itinerary:
7:00AM Leave Knoxville
9:00AM Breakfast in Bristol
10:00AM Drive to Damascus
10:30AM Arrive in Damascus, organize backpack/attire/snacks/water and check in at bike rental shop
11:30AM Shuttle to Whitetop
12:00PM Start the trail
1:00PM Snack break/playground/creek
2:00PM Stop for lunch at restaurant
3:00PM Back on the trail
4:30PM End trail in Damascus
5:00PM Dinner in Damascus/Abingdon/Bristol
6:30PM Head for Knoxville