Damascus is unlike any town you’ll ever visit. Its unique characters and close proximity to some of the best outdoor opportunities on the East Coast make it stand out above all other Appalachian towns. Steep, lush mountains tower above pristine creeks and rivers that hold some of the most rare and biodiverse creatures on earth. Damascus is a quiet mountain town where one visits to escape the hustle-bustle of everyday life. You will feel warm and welcomed when you visit. The mountains surrounding the town call to people like the Sirens in the Odyssey with a similar captivating lure. If you visit Damascus, Virginia be warned, part of you will always remain there.
There’s a reason Damascus is known as “Trail Town USA.” The Appalachian Trail, Iron Mountain Trail, and the Virginia Creeper Trail can all be accessed from Main Street. The Appalachian Trail literally is the centerpiece of town, though the VA Creeper Trail probably draws the most attention. This 38-mile rail-trail connects Whitetop Mountain to the town of Abingdon, VA, by way of a well-maintained gravel superhighway (human-powered traffic only). You can even get a shuttle from one of the many shuttle services in town that will hook you up with a bike and a lift to whichever trailhead you wish to ride from.
If you are a boater, Damascus is the place to be. The South Fork of the Holston River runs right through town and is fed by Beaver Dam Creek, Whitetop Laurel Creek, and Tennessee Laurel Creek which are all excellent to paddle when the water is here. The South Fork of the Holston has reliable flow almost year round with the exception of late summer when the levels usually drop below 200 cfs. Within two hours from town you can access some of the best whitewater in the Southeast, including Watauga River, Russell Fork River, Nolichucky, French Broad, Guest River, New River, Doe River, and Wilson Creek.
If you are a climber you won’t have to look far either. About a five-minute car ride from town, just over the Tennessee/ Virginia border, sits Backbone Rock. There are a few lines to top rope here, so for the most part this area serves well as a place to learn anchor building and basic climbing techniques.
Hidden Valley, however, is about 40 minutes from town, but offers excellent sandstone climbing on a wide range of bolted sport routes. The climbing here seems almost too good to be true given its close proximity to Abingdon and Damascus. Hidden Valley is beautifully positioned and a resource folks in this region are lucky to have.
Grayson Highlands State Park is about 45 minutes from Damascus and offers world-class bouldering. The quality of problems is complimented wonderfully by their exposure and setting amongst the Grayson Highlands backdrop. You can spend months here and never have to climb the same problem.
Damascus is visited by a lot of people just passing through. There are multiple bed and breakfasts, hostels, and camp spots around town. The Lazy Fox Inn, the Old Mill Inn, and the Hiker’s Inn are all nice, quaint accommodations right in town. There are camping spots north or south on the AT about a mile either way. There are car camping spots up 58 next to Whitetop Laurel Creek and dispersed camping along the Virginia Creeper Trail (any place that isn’t marked with a No Trespassing sign, of course). You will quickly learn that everyone in town is extremely laid back and if you plan to camp, please do so responsibly so that resources last.
Mojo’s Trailside Café has great coffee and breakfast options and recently started serving gourmet dinners Thursday thru Sunday. It has a comfortable, cozy feel and is on the AT (so don’t be surprised to see a crowd of thru-hikers when you go). Bobo McFarland’s is an Irish-style pub with pizza, salads, burgers, and beer, also situated directly on the AT. Damascus also has its own brewery, aptly named The Damascus Brewery. The taproom is always packed with people, and live music echoes into the streets.