The Virginia Creeper Trail
I’ve been “chomping at the bit” to experience the Creeper Trail ever since I learned about it several years ago. I finally got the opportunity, recently, when my husband and I went on a little adventure in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Our experience began in Damascus, Virginia, where we rented mountain bikes at Adventure Damascus and took a shuttle bus up nearly 2,000 feet, to the top of Whitetop Mountain. And, then, we were off!
I thought it would be an easy trek, considering it is mostly downhill, but it is a true mountain trail of dirt, rocks, and mud. We quickly picked up a lot of speed, and it soon became clear, as I peered over the edge of the trail, that I could easily fall a great distance if I lost control of my bike. We made it, however, without any mishaps, and it was an exhilarating experience!
The trail follows along the path of a large rambling creek, with stunning views. We stopped along the way and climbed down the large rocks to enjoy the creek and the water falls. The sky was a perfect blue, the water was crystal clear, and the mountain air was fresh and clean – good for the soul!
We stopped at a small café about 10 miles down the mountain, to grab a sandwich before hopping back on our bikes to complete our journey down the trail. We made the 17 mile trip in just under three hours, ending up back in Damascus.
Those who are serious mountain bikers, wanting an even more challenging experience, can continue on the Creeper Trail to Abingdon, Virginia, for a total of 34 miles, but that would have been biting off a bit more than we could chew.
I left with some mud on my clothes, some bruises on my legs, and a scraped up ankle, but it was an amazing experience that I hope to do again one day!
White Water Rafting
Our next adventure was to go white water rafting in Elizabethton, TN, just over the Virginia state line. It was another picture-perfect day, and we were eager to engage the rapids. My enthusiasm was quickly deflated, however, when we encountered a large snake as soon as we got into the raft on the water. It’s head was reared up, poised and ready to strike, and it was coming straight toward me! I didn’t sign up for snakes! I panicked, and tried to make my way to the other side of the raft, which is a big no-no, as the unequal weight on one side of the raft could have easily caused us to flip over. The snake finally saw the back of the raft and veered off behind it, without incident, but my heart was pounding and my hands were shaking. I spent most of the trip worrying about encountering another snake. (Did I mention that I have a deep fear of snakes? Just looking at a picture of one causes me to have nightmares!) Once I was finally able to calm down, I was able to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery on the river with the mountains in the background. We didn’t encounter as many rapids as we had hoped, but it was a fun experience and we plan to go again one day soon.
Kayaking on Mendota Lake
Our third day was a bit more relaxing, as we kayaked down Mendota Lake, in Abingdon, Virginia. The folks who own and operate The Mendota Adventure, where we rented kayaks, were super nice people. They gave us a few tips for safety before helping us into the kayak and sending us on our way. Once again, we were blessed with beautiful weather and blue skies for a peaceful three-hour trip. The bed of the lake was all rock, which meant the water was clean and clear, which I loved. We came upon the edge of a farm, at one point, and several cows were resting in the shade along the bank. Some of the cows had decided to go for a swim, so we kayaked right along side of them, including one adorable little calf. We hadn’t planned on kayaking with cows; they were just an added bonus!
We spent the last day of our trip exploring the historic town of Abingdon, Virginia. Abingdon is the oldest English-speaking settlement west of the Blue Ridge. It was originally named Wolf Hills, by Daniel Boone, after a pack of wolves attacked Boone’s dog while he was traveling through the area on foot in the 1760’s. The town was officially established as Abingdon in 1778, and played a crucial role in helping those who ventured westward from the shores of the east coast. They claim that 25% of all Americans have ancestors who traveled through and/or spent time in Abingdon.
American flags wave proudly along the brick-paved streets. Flower boxes are displayed on the windows of historic buildings as well as on some wooden fences. There are many historical sites to visit, including the Abingdon Muster Grounds, offering an historical overview of life during Colonial times, The Tavern, which is the oldest known building in Abingdon, and several historic homes and museums. A self-guided walking tour of the Historic District of Abingdon offers 35 sites to visit within a 20-block area.
The town is also known for a richness in arts and culture. Art galleries and shops are plentiful, including the Holston Mountain Artisans Shop, the William King Art Museum, The Arts Depot, and Heartwood, offering juried arts and crafts, heritage music, and farm-to-table food. Public art is on display throughout the town, as well. Perhaps the most popular work of art there is the beautiful Barter Fountain. It sits in the center of town, on the property belonging to The Barter Theatre, and depicts the magical art of story-telling. It truly is a beautiful work of art!
The Barter Theatre is known as “the most famous stage in Virginia.” The theatre first opened during the midst of the Great Depression, with the motto, “With vegetables you cannot sell, you can buy a good laugh.” And that is exactly what patrons did, according to Abingdon’s tourism literature. They had no money to spare, but they bartered vegetables, milk, eggs, even chickens, in exchange for admission. It was a welcome escape from the hardships of life for those people who suffered through the Depression. In keeping with its historical roots, The Barter offers two performances per year where patrons can barter for their admission tickets by donating canned goods to an area food bank. Pretty cool!
Many famous actors got their starts at The Barter Theatre, including Gregory Peck, who performed in plays in exchange for food when he was first beginning his journey as an actor.
Another famous landmark in Abingdon is The Martha Washington Inn and Spa. This gorgeous historic mansion was originally built in 1832 as the home of General Francis Preston, who was a hero of the War of 1812, his wife, and their nine children. It was purchased from the Preston family in 1858 and turned into a private upscale college for young women. It was named The Martha Washington College, in honor of the First Lady of our nation, and was affectionately called, “The Martha.” It temporarily served as a hospital for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. The college was forced to close its doors during the Great Depression. It later opened as the Martha Washington Inn and Spa, hosting many famous people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Elizabeth Taylor.
The Inn is a stunning piece of history, with beautiful porches and sitting areas all around the property. Many original pieces of the Preston’s furniture are on display in the lobby and parlors. There is a magnificent wood-paneled library for guests to enjoy, and the rooms are filled with numerous original historical paintings. There are also many original photographs and illustrations along the hallways, telling the stories of the mansion’s days as a women’s college and Civil War hospital. Walking into the Martha Washington Inn definitely gives one the feeling of stepping back in time!
Exploring historical towns in our nation is one of my favorite things to do, and Abingdon, Virginia is certainly one to see if you love American history. And there is the added bonus of endless mountain and water adventures within a short driving distance in every direction! I look forward to returning, one day, with my daughter, because she is learning to appreciate American history as much as I do. But, if I’m being honest, there is another reason why I must take my daughter to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia; I discovered that there is a Dragonfly Inn Bed and Breakfast in Damascus, and a Luke’s Diner in Abingdon! (Any other Gilmore Girls fans out there?)