After wrapping up the Big Trip in mid-June, we made plans to take the Airstream to a music festival in late August, so in early August we went camping for a few days to make sure everything still worked and we remembered how to do it all. Good news: yes, everything still works, and we remember how to do it all!
Damascus, VA is in FAR southwest Virginia. It’s a tiny, granola-y town, with a few casual restaurants and a surprising number of bike shops and outfitters catering to the hikers and bikers who frequent the area. Four trails run through Damascus: the Appalachian Trail, Virginia Creeper Trail, Iron Mountain Trail, and the Transamerica Bike Route–giving Damascus the nickname Trail Town USA (and if you count a driving “trail,” you can add the Crooked Road Music Trail). If you like hiking and biking (mountain biking OR cruising), Damascus’ location in the mountains is hard to beat, and after our initial “holy crap there’s nothing here” reaction to the town, we had a great time!
We stayed at Laurel Creek RV Park, which was fairly deserted when we were there in mid-August. It’s a friendly, quiet, convenient little campground, with full hookups and wifi but no other amenities (not even an office or camp host–just show up, choose your spot, and call a phone number on the campground website to let them know to come collect your money). The wifi was good enough for us to stream the Olympics each night! All the sites are along the creek, with the sites closer to the entrance having a better view of the water. The sites are all back-in, and there’s no room at the end of the strip to turn around, so if you choose a spot past the exit you could be backing up a good distance. We were just past the exit drive, which was fun for me because I got to practice backing up!
Eating and Drinking
The best place for food in Damascus was in our Airstream. No offense, Damascus. The best place for beer in Damascus is in Abingdon, 15 miles north–but I won’t say “no offense” to that because the Abingdon option is AWESOME, so you shouldn’t feel bad about that one, Damascus.
We ventured up to Abingdon our first night in town out of beer necessity: Damascus Brewery is only open Thursday through Saturday nights, and here we were, thirsty on a Tuesday. Wolf Hills Brewing is just up the road, and it’s a pretty drive, so we went… and loved it. It’s a big, open warehouse with the brewery on one side and tables on the other, with lots of windows open to the dog-friendly yard full of trees, picnic tables, and lawn games. The beer is GOOD. They only can their two flagship beers, a cream ale and an IPA, and I’d enjoyed the cream ale before, but at the brewery I could not get enough of the Summer Lovin’ Pils. It’s low-alcohol and fresh for summer lazy-day drinking, and I liked it so much I got a growler filled on our second visit. Yes, we went back on Thursday for more, and to show Bugsy a good time.
We had big beer drinking plans for Thursday. In a tradition started in 2002 in wee Roosky, Ireland, J and I occasionally entertain ourselves in tiny towns with few drinking establishments with a bar crawl. Obviously, therefore, each tiny-town bar crawl we embark upon is called a “Roosky Bar Crawl.” After leaving Wolf Hills, the Roosky Bar Crawl continued to Damascus Brewing. And it was a total buzzkill and we ended the bar crawl and went home. Well, that’s not really fair: Damascus Brewing is a cool hangout place, much smaller than Wolf Hills but with kind of similar indoor and outdoor options. We didn’t like the beers, though–way too malty for our tastes–and our neighbors in the small backyard were smoking, so we didn’t last long. The pull of streaming the Olympics and drinking a beer (from Soaring Ridge, a Virginia brewery we visited on another Airstream trip) at our own picnic table by the creek was too strong, and so we bailed on our other two targets, Bobo McFarland’s and the Old Mill.
I was thiiis close to having a fish taco-themed vacation. Wolf Hills has a taco truck! And they have fish tacos!!! I got some, naturally, and J got some sort of fancy chicken tacos… and we were both a little disappointed. The accoutrements were tasty, but the meat in both cases was kind of flavorless.
And then–on day two, we had an early dinner at Hey Joe’s in Damascus, known for their fresh and delicious FISH TACOS. Residents and signage raved to us about Joe’s fish tacos. I didn’t even need to see the menu when we sat down and ordered right away and THEY WERE OUT OF FISH TACOS. I was very disappointed, but the veggie burrito I had instead was quite good and J liked his meat-and-extra-meat burrito, so it wasn’t a complete loss.
If you like a basic down-home diner breakfast (and who doesn’t?), you’d enjoy Creekside Southern Cafe, although the one Yelp reviewer at the time of this posting disagrees. We parked our bikes out front and had a feast of egg/bacon biscuits and pancakes and it was cheap and wonderful.
Also of culinary note in Damascus: we stopped in at Mojo’s Trailside Cafe before our day of hiking for a on-the-trail snack, and coffee/tea. It seemed like a cool hangout for wifi and coffee, and the breakfast menu looked intriguing, but after our overpriced bagel turned out to be stale, we weren’t going to go back.
On Roosky Bar Crawl night, we got carryout from Rain in Abingdon (and steamed chicken with rice from a Chinese place for Bugsy, because we ran out of her food. bad parents!) and took it to Damascus Brewery to eat in their yard. The food was upscale and enjoyable, and their (not Bugsy-friendly) patio is cozy (although J reported that the interior was less inviting). Abingdon is a cute town! It’s bigger and has more going on than Damascus… and it has Wolf Hills Brewery.
Damascus is the gateway town to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park, two of the most scenic natural areas in the entire state of Virginia. My usually stellar Googling skills failed us a bit and sent us to the Mount Rogers Trail, only 15 miles from our campground, fabulously unpeopled (until it met the AT 4 miles in), well maintained, and gently sloped… but we weren’t prepared for a 13 mile hike. Good thing we got that stale bagel! The long climb kept us in the woods for a couple hours, building suspense for the glorious vistas and possible wild pony sightings (none for us, sad face) at the top–although the true top of the hike is a spur trail to the summit which, if you’ve done it once, is probably not worth doing again. Mount Rogers is the tallest peak in Virginia, but the summit is in the woods with no payoff for your efforts other than the little USGS marker. We had vague memories of hiking to the summit of Mount Rogers many moons ago when we were courting, but for some reason went ahead and slogged up there again, which probably wasn’t the best idea when we were already doing extra miles. Next time we’ll do this loop, which sounds amazing, if more crowded and so less friendly to neurotic dogs.
Damascus sits in the middle of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a rails-to-trails project linking Whitetop Station in the south to Abingdon in the north. Most people get shuttled up to Whitetop and cruise seventeen miles down the hill to Damascus, so we arranged shuttle and rentals with Adventure Damascus for Thursday morning. Don’t do this ride expecting real exercise, but do do it expecting scenery as you crisscross the creeks and pass a couple old rail stations and their little towns. There are a couple basic cafes in Taylor’s Valley halfway to Damascus, and many many places to stop for photos.
It was so much fun that upon arriving in Damascus, instead of turning in our rental bikes, we rode home and got Bugsy and taught her how to run with a bike! This was huge for us: she used to be scared of bikes, but quickly understood what we were going for, and we rode a few more miles toward Abingdon with her trotting merrily beside. (Nice Luckenbach tshirt, J!)
The next morning, our last in town, we got up early and went for a humans-only ride halfway up toward Abingdon to see a bit more of the other section of trail. It was peaceful and pretty but it was clear why the Whitetop-Damascus part is more popular.
And finally… did you notice the sad, empty bike rack on the back of the Airstream in any pictures from the Big Trip? We intended to buy some cruisers along the way, even looked at some on a Walmart run at one point, but weren’t inspired. The sister shop of Adventure Damascus, Sundog Outfitter, had a used bike sale going on, and after we had such a great time on the Creeper Trail we snapped up two of the same type of beat-up Specialized cruisers we’d rented. Our Airstream is now complete! Hooray!