In the mountains of Southwest Virginia sits the little town of Damascus, whose population as of the 2020 census was a booming 775. It's the small quaintness of this town that I adore. It's not overcrowded and there is plenty of room to breathe and feel small in the heart of the mountains.
In the 1900s, Damascus was one of the largest towns within the timber zone. The towns along the railroad, including Damascus, flourished. It was truly the happening place to be.
Today, Damascus is still the happening place to be and much for the same reason. While back in the day big companies had their eyes on the mountains for profit, today we have our eyes on the mountains for pleasure, which for Damascus also brings in profit.
For adventures in the great outdoors, Damascus is your one-stop shop. Also known as Trail Town, USA due to the fact that four scenic trails converge down into this little town. These are The Appalachian Trail, Virginia Creeper Trail, Iron Mountain Trail, and Crooked Road Music Heritage Trail.
I came to learn of this little trail town when I started planning to hike the Virginia portion of the Appalachian Trail and I instantly fell in love. The Appalachian Trail doesn't just converge down into Damascus, it is a part of Damascus. A casual stroll down the sidewalk will literally have you walking down the Appalachian Trail.
Damascus is an important part of A.T. culture and history. Every year it's estimated some 20,000 tourists converge on this little town for the annual Trail Days Festival. Trail Days kicks off around mid-May, and here you can find vendors, music, and the fan-favorite hikers parade, where onlookers and hikers engage in a water gun war as they stroll down the main street. It is a very unique parade!
While the town is set up to accommodate hikers with hostels, restaurants, and shops providing gear, biking is just as important. If you do any amount of traveling around Elk Garden and White Top Mountain, you will likely see vans hauling cyclists and a trailer full of bikes up the mountain. These services offer you the opportunity to be shuttled to White Top Station so that you can casually cruise down the Creeper Trail into Damascus. Some rental shops will even accommodate your riding the full 34 miles into Abingdon, Virginia and will pick you up there.
I hadn't been to Damascus since covid had reared its ugly little head, but on a recent trip back through the area to look at fall leaves, I discovered several "new to me" shops.
I was very excited to see new development in this little town and I hope this will pave the way for other communities in southwest Virginia to embrace the natural beauty that makes their towns unique. We stopped at this little coffee shop for hot cocoa and a Cinnabon, and we were not disappointed.
So, if you're looking for an adventure that won't break the bank, let Damascus be the starting point for you. I've had the pleasure of attending three Trail Days Festivals and it's a fun little experience and a great opportunity to snag some gear, as vendors usually do a lot of promotional giveaways. Also, many well-known brands will repair or replace damaged/worn gear.
For convenience, here are a few shuttle services you can call today to get a quote or reserve a spot.
Sundog Outfitters - Shuttle service for both hiking and biking and rentals - 276- 475-6252
Shuttle Shack - Bike rental/shuttle service - 276-475-3773
Blue Blaze - Bike and shuttle service -276-475-5095
After all that biking, you're gonna need a place to eat, this is my personal recommendation:
7 Trails Grill - 338 Douglas Dr, Damascus, VA 24236 - 276-415-7777
A little suggestion: from Damascus, you have access to White Top Mountain and Grayson Highlands State Park via US -58 E. White Top is roughly 17 miles away. It is a beautiful scenic drive, which follows the river, oftentimes with small cascading waterfalls and pull-off points to enjoy the sights and sounds of the river. Traffic does tend to speed through this area, so I don't recommend making it too much of a leisurely drive.
As always, keep it safe, keep it cool, and stay curious.