Five days in Damascus VA…
Why we came…
To bike the Virginia Creeper Trail and to hike the Appalachian Trail to Mount Rogers. Plus, it was a good stop with a decent campground roughly half way between Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Laurel Creek RV Park was decent. It’s a fairly new, no frills, small RV park, backed up against the scenic Laurel Creek on the east side of town. The sites are adequate width and composed of dirt and crushed gravel. It rained a bunch during our stay which made things a bit sloppy. There were no bathrooms or laundry facilities. Dirty clothes had to be washed in town. Wi-fi worked great for us, likely because there was just one or two other RVs sharing the campground. Cell phone was reliable 4G. The two owners/managers were very welcoming and full of good information. We would certainly stay there again, especially during the less busy “shoulder season”!
Damascus, population 814 and elevation 1,952 feet, was quiet and laid back during our stay. Both the Virginia Creeper Trail and Appalachian Trail go through town. There isn’t much to Damascus, but there are at least SIX bike shops! They rent bikes and shuttle riders to higher spots on the trail so the cyclists can coast back to town with minimal effort.
Laurel Creek and other nearby creeks have good trout fishing. If we had stayed longer, we would have purchased fishing licenses and wet our lines.
With the great trails and fishing, Damascus is our kind of place!
Laurel Creek is in our back yard…it has good trout fishing. The RV park was nearly empty!
On 6 November we biked a section of the Virginia Creeper Trail…
The Virginia Creeper Trail, a hall of fame Rails to Trail, is 35 miles long. Damascus is conveniently located near the middle of the trail. We had planned to ride the entire trail on two separate rides, both starting from our home. Unfortunately, soaking weather allowed us just one opportunity.
We started in Damascus and rode east towards the trail’s end at Whitetop, roughly 17 miles away and 1,500 feet higher. We began our lengthy uphill ride around 9am and hardly saw anyone the first hour…it was beautiful and peaceful. The deciduous trees had dropped nearly all of their leaves. Rhododendrons were numerous…we imagined how they’d look full of purple flowers towards the end of each May. There was also moss growing everywhere. The various carpets of green constantly caught our eye. The creek was really pretty too. We stopped at many of the 22 bridges to enjoy the view. I always had to look for trout and imagined myself fly-fishing the sweet runs and pools. Even during brief sections when the trail left the river out of sight, we could still hear the creek. Occasionally, the river sounded boisterous, alerting us to pretty cascades. All of this was experienced nearly completely away from the sounds of civilization…it was great!
Sometime around 10am, we noticed a few cyclists cruise past us going the opposite direction. They had been dropped off on rental bikes miles higher up the trail and were coasting back to Damascus. For the rest of the day, there was a steady stream of similar bike riders consisting of all shapes, ages, and experience levels…it was cool. Many of them noted that we were riding the tougher uphill direction and made encouraging comments that gave us brief spurts of extra energy.
We decided to stop at Green Cove, just a couple of miles short of our goal…we were whipped! We were satisfied to make it 15 miles and had climbed roughly 1,300 feet. We took a lengthy break and refueled our bodies. Then it was time for the fun part…15 miles of downhill!
We pedaled most of the way back. The bridge crossings were trickier at 15-20mph. We had big smiles on our faces and felt like kids having a blast. We also blew by slower folks, always alerting them with a hardy “on your left!”. It took us less than an hour to ride back home. It was a great ride!
Bike route on the Virginia Creeper Trail / Goofball!
See the bridge across Laurel Creek?
One of the 22 bridges we crossed
A pleasant spot in southern Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains
There are some beautiful spots along Laurel Creek
It was a great bike ride on a nice fall day!
Headed back into Damascus on the Virginia Creeper Trail
On 8 November we hiked near Mount Rogers…
Our goal was Mount Rogers, the highest spot in Virginia at 5,729 feet. We chose to start at Grayson Highlands State Park to increase our odds of seeing the wild ponies.
The Crooked Road was in fact, quite crooked! It took us an hour to drive about 35 miles to the State Park. The scenery was pretty the entire route. The numerous tight turns forced us to keep our speed low which allowed us to enjoy the drive. Thankfully, there were few other vehicles. It would have been a bit tricky to avoid oncoming cars on the hundreds of tight curves.
We were surprised to learn that there were roughly 150 wild ponies spread across the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park. The ponies were released in the area years ago to eat and help control invasive vegetation. Not only has the program been fairly successful, but thousands of visitors enjoy the special opportunity to see the docile critters. Click these links for more info about the ponies: 1 and 2.
It was chilly! The temperature was around 40 degrees and the winds were 20mph…brrr. We bundled up and hit the trail. Mount Rogers was roughly 4.5 miles away, normally a 2 hour hike.
Just a mile up the trail, we spotted the first ponies! There were about 15, all with different colors and patterns. Arleen eagerly approached the first few while I stayed back and took pictures. Arleen stopped within a few feet, and then the ponies carefully approached her. They sniffed her hands, hoping that she had a snack to share. I kept taking pictures until one of the nosy ponies snuck up and started sniffing around me. They do occasionally bite, so I gave them space while fearless Arleen continued to press her luck! The ponies behaved themselves and Arleen had some new friends.
We continued up the Appalachian Trail towards Mount Rogers. Once we got to Wilburn Ridge, the trail crossed open meadows, known in the Appalachians as “balds”. The views also opened up…it was incredible! Visibility was good and our vista stretched nearly 360 degrees. We went from one rock outcropping to the next, enjoying the view and taking a bunch of pictures.
We had been walking slower than usual. This section of the AT was quite rocky requiring to take extra time in our footing. It was getting late so we decided to turn around short of our goal, Mount Rogers. While taking a final scan of the incredible view from our turnaround spot, I noticed a few ponies about a half mile from us.
I guided us to the isolated herd of seven ponies…we had them all to ourselves! Like the first time, we approached slowly and stopped a few feet from them. A couple of the ponies stopped munching grass and slowly walked up to us, wondering if we had snacks. Two of the ponies lingered, seemingly liking the attention…it was really cool! One of them, a stallion would chase off the other ponies if they approached us reminding us that they are wild animals.
We said goodbye to the ponies and headed back. There were no stops until we approached the other herd of ponies. We quickly said goodbye to them too and kept on moving. During our last mile, we rehashed the day and the extraordinary moments. It was a special adventure!
Hike route towards Mount Rogers / On the Appalachian Trail again!
Okay…we’ll be careful!
The trail was rocky in places. See the white “blazes”? They indicate that we are on the Appalachian Trail.
Smile for the camera!
The ponies are very friendly
This is the second herd of ponies…it was just us and them!
Looking east over southern Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains
There are expansive views along the Wilburn Ridge Trail…looking south towards the Great Smoky Mountains
The weather was soggy so we only did two adventures. We could have ignored the rain and played anyway, but it would not have been too enjoyable. Besides, we are retired and can wait for the nice days!
Radar showed 1.5 inches to 2.5 inches of rain on 9 November. We also got about an inch on 7 November.
We’ve been busy and are behind on the blogs: Since Damascus we’ve been in Cherokee NC, Columbia SC, and Savannah GA. We are currently at Fort Clinch State Park FL. Our next couple of stops are Disney World and then Flamingo Bay, Everglades National Park in Florida. Life is good!
It’s official, we’ve been to Virginia!