In the southwest corner of Virginia, not far from the Tennessee state line, is a cluster of outdoor adventure opportunities that makes for a great long weekend. We spent 3 days hiking and biking there a few weeks ago.
First up, a bicycle ride on the renowned Virginia Creeper Trail. A rail trail along the historic Virginia Creeper narrow-gauge train route, this trail is very popular with families. Another rail trail not too far away is The New River Trail, which we rode earlier this year. The trail surface is gravel with some rough spots and embedded larger rocks, and therefore road bikes with narrow tires are not suitable. Restrooms and information boards are spaced at convenient intervals…
The first 17 miles of the trail, from Whitehead Mountain to Damascus, are downhill through the forest. Some hardy cyclists were riding the other direction, i.e. up the hill. We went with the majority and caught a shuttle to the top, and then coasted down! The shuttle service we used and would recommend was The Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in Abingdon; we had our own bikes and the cost was a reasonable $15 per person for the 50 minute transfer. This section of the trail is quite scenic, and follow streams for much of the way.
A total of 45 trestles remain from the railroad days, and add a fun element to the ride…
After a lunch stop in Damascus, we pedaled the remaining 17 miles to Abingdon through rolling hills and farmland. The day was perfect, with a brilliant blue cloudless sky.
Our advice if you are going: bring enough warm clothes, take your time, and be sure to follow all instructional signs such as this important one! 🙂
Day 2 saw us exchange our bikes for hiking boots. We found out about an undiscovered gem of a hike called The Great Channels. The trailhead is located 14 miles up a twisting mountain road from I-81. The trail itself is for the most part a wide path through the forest, with pretty much a constant incline for the first 3 miles.
A half-mile spur trail then takes you to your destination. From the top of the rocks, you can appreciate deep fissures.
And soak in the long-range views…
But the real geological uniqueness of this location is found down below, as you weave your way through passages between the tumbled boulders.
The forces of ice and erosion have carved some of the passages into configurations resembling the slot canyons of the southwestern USA. Note the small figure of one of the two happy travelers at the bottom of this picture. Truly a unique destination for this part of the country.
Day 3 was another hiking day. Starting at Grayson Highlands State Park, we set out to reach the summit of Mount Rogers, the highest point in the State of Virginia. The trail eventually leaves the park and joins the famous Appalachian Trail; those of you who have hiked on the AT before will recognize the familiar rectangular white trail blaze.
We really enjoyed this hike because of the near-constant open views…
At the summit of Mt. Rogers, the terrain changes from open grassy balds and rocky boulders to mossy forest. A great spot to stop and take a much-deserved rest!
On the return hike, we encountered the park’s most famous residents: the wild ponies. The term “wild” may be a bit misleading; people have ignored the signs warning about feeding and petting them, and the ponies have become somewhat tame. We were thrilled to see them nonetheless.
For a base of operations on this long weekend, we chose the town of Abingdon. The venerable Martha Washington Inn has stately public areas and a great modern spa including an indoor pool and large outdoor jacuzzi which was perfect for soaking our tired muscles.
Feeling like we burned plenty of calories, we topped off our stay with dinner at the most-recommended restaurant in town, The Tavern. We enjoyed great food and atmosphere in an historic setting.
And that ends our little active adventure in the southwest corner of Virginia. See you next time!