Welcome to Trail Town, USA. It’s a well-deserved nickname for Damascus—a tiny Southwest Virginia speck on the map that is a literal trail hub leading into the vast expanse of the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. With the Appalachian Trail, Iron Mountain Trail, and Virginia Creeper rail trail slicing right through town, Damascus is a fast portal to endless exploration in the majestic windswept highlands of Virginia’s tallest peaks. Jeff Patrick—a Damascus native who runs his family business, Mount Rogers Outfitters, on downtown Laurel Avenue—shared some of his favorite outdoor spots.
I always send people to Mt. Rogers, because it is the highest point in Virginia at 5,729 feet. The best part about it, though, is getting there. The beautiful hike from Massie Gap has amazing views in all directions and it goes through a lot of amazing rock formations and boulders. It’s a sweet stroll that’s all right around 5,000 feet. For more seclusion in Grayson Highlands State Park, hikers should check out the Listening Rock and Wilson Creek areas.
Best Day Hike
Pick up the Appalachian Trail from Summit Cut and hike back to town. There’s a great stretch that has four hill climbs before it drops down through Grassy Ridge and eventually reaches the gorge at the Virginia Creeper Trail.
Backcountry Camping Spot
Rhododendron Gap is a beautiful place to pitch a tent. You hold camp with wild ponies surrounded by huge views of the high country.
Spin Your Wheels
Pedaling the perimeter of Shady Valley is an awesome road ride for cyclists in the area. You ride straight south out of town on 91 and then loop around the base of Holston Mountain, cut over on 421, and loop back to town on 133. In addition to beautiful forest, you’ll pass some old cranberry bogs.
Whitetop Laurel Creek is great for experienced whitewater boaters. Depending on water levels, there are big drops and tricky rapids. Maybe I’m showing my age here, but these days I like the mellow waters of Bear Tree Lake. It’s a scenic and secluded 10-acre lake right in the middle of the mountains.
Check out the new locally owned Whistlepig Bistro for some upscale Southern cuisine.