After a 40-minute twisting, curvy ascent up White Top mountain (an elevation of 3,700 feet), shuttle after shuttle drops off bicycles and riders at Whitetop Station, the starting point for many that marks the beginning of the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail.
The trail gets its name from the steam locomotives that would slowly struggle up the mountain pass, creeping along to their final destination. The former railway is popular — it attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year since it opened in 1987. Bicycles can be rented from Sun Dog Outfitters or one of the many rental businesses in the small town of Damascus. The Damascus Old Mill has an outdoor waterfall deck where diners can literally hear and see the water as it runs alongside and beneath.
With little pedaling and a lot of holding the brake, the mostly downhill trail is fairly easy and provides some amazing scenery with creeks, waterfalls and 46 train trestles along the way. Depending on the number of stops, it’s about a 17-mile journey between two and four hours from Whitetop to Damascus. Riders wanting something more strenuous may choose to tackle the remaining 17 miles from Damascus to Abingdon.
At least an overnight stay at the historic Martha Washington Inn & Spa in Abingdon is warranted. Built in 1862 as a private home, The Martha has served as a finishing school, a Civil War hospital and a women’s college.
Abingdon’s downtown historic district is walkable, with local shops, art galleries and restaurants. The Tavern Restaurant has been serving patrons, including kings and presidents, since 1779 and boasts being the oldest tavern in the state. Jack’s 128 Pecan is a great lunch spot featuring American cuisine with Southern flair.
A walking tour with History Alive Tours provides knowledgeable guides in historically accurate clothing portraying characters such as the Fightin’ Parson or a militia drummer who served at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The tour stops at several landmark and historical sites around town. At the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace, get a glimpse at the region’s music, crafts, food and outdoor attractions. It’s also the hub of
The Crooked Road, a driving trail highlighting traditional music of the area.
For evening entertainment, the 80-year-old Barter Theatre, where patrons bartered food for a theater seat, hosts world-class plays and is where Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine and others got their start. During COVID-19, the Barter has adapted with a drive-in theater where the stage is shown on a big screen and sound simulcast through your car’s radio.
Wytheville serves as a great base for exploring the 57.7-mile New River Trail. The former railroad corridor originally supplied iron ore to the commonwealth of Virginia. After the Norfolk Southern Railroad donated the railway in 1986, the New River Trail was designated an official National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
In Max Meadows, bikes can be rented at Foster Falls, also home to the New River State Park headquarters. The Park Service also rents canoes, kayaks and float tubes, and provides shuttle services and guided horse rides. Foster Falls is the midway point of the trail, and cyclists can choose a ride in either direction. To the north, the trail is a little steeper; to the south, a little flatter. Both routes cross over train trestles, follow alongside the inaccurately named New River (it’s actually the oldest river in North America) and provide spectacular scenery.
Once done riding the trail, check into one of the 30 rooms at the boutique Bolling Wilson Hotel, named after Edith Bolling Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson’s second wife, who was born and raised across the street in the Bolling family home.
Take a tour of Beagle Ridge Herb Farm, a lavender farm featuring display gardens, an education center, a butterfly house and more than 4 miles of trails. Essential oils (distilled on-site), soaps and lotions are available for purchase. Grab dinner and a show at the 200-seat Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre, a German-themed venue with musical productions and a four-course themed meal.
Dinner at the eclectic Log House 1776 offers an extensive menu with corn fritters a local favorite. Be sure to walk through its maze of dining rooms, gift shops and pathways and see its resident bunnies and doves. Grayson’s Restaurant is another local spot with simple, home-cooked Southern-style meals.
With fall temperatures still moderate and an easy three-hour drive, both trails and destinations make for a perfect long weekend.