Virginia Creeper Trail

Virginia Creeper Trail

 

 

 

 

The Virginia Creeper is a shared-use trail connecting Abingdon, Virginia, with the Virginia-North Carolina border 1.1 miles east of Whitetop Station, Virginia. The total length of the trail is 33.4 miles.

History of the Virginia Creeper Trail

Virginia's finest rail-trail, the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail occupies the bed of what was once a rugged mountain railroad between Abingdon and the Virginia-North Carolina border about a mile east of Whitetop Community. At the trail's lowest point, where it crosses South Holston Lake on a huge curving trestle, it is 2,000 feet above sea level, but, by the time it reaches Whitetop Community, it has ascended 1,600 feet, some of it at nearly 7 percent grade!

The trail began as a Native American footpath. Later it was used by European pioneers including Daniel Boone. By 1907, W.B. Mingea had constructed the Virginia Carolina Railroad from Abingdon to Damascus. In 1905 the line was extended by Hassinger Lumber Co. to Konnarock and Elkland, NC. It hauled lumber, iron ore, supplies and passengers. It got its nickname "Virginia Creeper" from the early steam locomotives as they struggled slowly up steep grades.

With about 100 trestles and bridges, sharp curves and steep grades, the Virginia Creeper was the quintessential mountain railroad. Crews faced wash-outs, rock slides and other hazards, but it was economics that sounded the line's death whistle. Having failed to turn a profit since the Great Depression, the Creeper ran its last train on March 31, 1977.

From Abingdon to Damascus, the trail right-of-way belongs to the two towns, but most of the actual land is private. While you do have the right to use the trail across their property, please respect landowners. Stay on the trail, close gates, keep dogs under control, don't frighten livestock and be friendly!

The trail between Damascus and the North Carolina border, except for a short stretch through Taylor's Valley, is administered by the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area staff.

Rules of the Trail

The Virginia Creeper can get pretty crowded during busy summer weekends and, while most folks are just out to enjoy themselves, a few simple rules have proven necessary to protect the environment and to make sure everybody has a good time.

  • The trail is for non-motorized traffic only.
  • Bicyclists and hikers meeting horses should yield the trail.
  • Horseback riders should allow bicyclists overtaking them to pass.
  • Horseback riders should dismount and lead their mounts across bridges and trestles.
  • Bicyclists should use caution crossing bridges and should dismount and walk their bikes if conditions dictate.
  • Pack out all litter, including cigarette butts.
  • Camping is allowed, but please camp well off the trail, away from streams and springs.
  • Never camp on private land without permission.
  • On the Abingdon to Damascus portion of the trail, hunting or carrying firearms is prohibited at all times.
  • On the Mount Rogers portion, hunting is allowed in season. Firearms may not be carried at any other time.
  • Target shooting is prohibited.
  • Helmets are not required for bicyclists or horseback riders, but are HIGHLY recommended.
  • Fireworks are not allowed.
  • Do not block gates or park on the trail.
  • Dogs must be kept on a leash not to exceed 6 feet.

Trail Log

Miles are measured from the Abingdon trailhead. Mileages in parentheses are from the VA-NC line.

  • (33.4) Abingdon Trailhead: Limited parking. Locomotive on display was last steam engine on the Creeper Trail.
  • 2.9 (30.5) Highway 677: Limited parking
  • 3.7 (29.7) Dry Branch Trestle
  • 7.2 (26.2) South Holston Trestle: Scenic trestle over conjunction of South and Middle forks of the Holston River at head of South Holston Lake. Lowest point on trail (1,900 feet above mean sea level)
  • 8.5 (24.9) Alvarado: Limited parking
  • 15.5 (17.9) Damascus: The red caboose is a seasonal information station. Parking, restrooms in town park. Snacks, etc. in town.
  • 17.5 (15.9) Iron Bridge: Enter Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
  • 19.5 (13.9) Straight Branch parking lot.
  • 21.0 (12.4) Taylor's Valley: Parking.
  • 24.0 (9.4) Konnarock Junction: Parking. Access to special regulations fishing stream (single-hook artificial lure only)
  • 25.0 (8.4) High Trestle: 550 feet long, about 100 feet tall.
  • 29.3 (4.1) Green Cove Station: Seasonal Forest Service information station. Portable toilets. Parking. Drinks and water when open.
  • 32.3 (1.1) Whitetop Station: Highest point on trail. Parking.
  • 33.4 (0.0) VA-NC border: Land on the North Carolina side is private property and most of it is posted. It is NOT a trail.

Useful and Interesting Information

The last Virginia Creeper train ran in 1977.

Much of the trail goes through private land. In many places, the public trail corridor is only 80’ wide.

Three agencies manage the Virginia Creeper Trail: Damascus and Abingdon administer the trail from Abingdon to Damascus (mile 0-15); and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area manages the trail from Damascus up to the NC line (mile 15-34).

There are 3 visitor centers along the trail: one at the Damascus Caboose, the old Green Cove Station, and the rebuilt Whitetop Station. All are open weekends May-October. Mount Rogers Interpretative Association has a variety of items for sale at each center.

There are 47 trestles on the trail. The U.S. Forest Service and Virginia Creeper Trail club volunteers have refurbished the decking & railings on 23 trestles in the last three years.

Bathrooms are available at the Abingdon parking lot, in Damascus near the caboose, Straight Branch parking lot, Creek Junction parking lot, Green Cove train station, and Whitetop train station.

Refreshments can be purchased at several places along the trail. Communities along the trail such as Abingdon, Alvarado, Damascus, and Taylors Valley have businesses that offer refreshments. Bottled water and drinks are for sale at Green Cove on weekends from May-October. Free water is available at Whitetop Station during frost-free months.

The only public phone along the trail is in Damascus. Cell coverage is poor.

Over 100,000 people enjoy the trail each year.

The U.S. Forest Service operates a bike patrol along the Creeper from Damascus to Whitetop Station from May-October.

Bicyclists and hikers should yield to horseback riders. When passing a horse, a biker should yell out that they are “passing left”. A fast moving biker or a hiker with a large backpack can easily spook a horse.

Visitor Centers on the Creeper Trail

The NRA maintains two visitor centers on the on the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail: Whitetop Station and Green Cove.  These visitor centers are staffed spring through fall.

Whitetop Station is a replica of the original train station and contains displays of the history of the area, the railroad, the people of Whitetop. Interpretive items such as maps of the NRA and railroad memorabilia are available. Outdoor and flush toilets are available.

Green Cove is the original train station/country store/post office/western union office that has been converted to a visitor center. Most of the contents were left in the station when it closed in the 1970's and are still there for visitors to see. Interpretive items - maps, books, sweat shirts, t-shirts, drinks and snacks are available for purchase. A outdoor toilet is available.

The Caboose is located in the Damascus town park and offers brochures pertaining to the surrounding area as well as maps, books, and t-shirts. It is within walking distance of local businesses. Restrooms are located in the park.

 

For additional information on the Virginia Creeper Trail, please contact the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area at:  276-783-5196.