Virginia is for Bicyclists . . . and Hikers and Outdoor Lovers
Virginia is for Bicyclists! We explored three Rail Trails in Virginia - the New River Trail State Park, the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail, and the High Bridge State Trail. We also took a quick side trip to Appomattox Courthouse and a short hike in the Shenandoah National Park. On our way we spent a few days in Ohio riding the Little Miami Scenic Trail and on the way home we spent five days in Pennsylvania riding on an old favorite - the Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail.
Olive Branch Campground, Oregonia, OH
We stopped in Ohio for a couple days on our way to Virginia to ride on the Little Miami River Scenic Trail. This was our second stay at Olive Branch and we still find it to be an excellent campground. It is a quiet, well-maintained campground convenient to the bike trail and other local attractions, like Kings Island.
Little Miami Scenic Trail
This trail is one of our favorites. It is paved, well-maintained and has plenty of places to stop and eat or rest along the way. The trail runs 78 miles from the outskirts of Cincinnati to Springfield and goes through some stunning habitats, state parks, and charming small towns. The first night we rode from Mather's Mill trailhead to the Peters Cartridge Factory where the trail is currently closed due to road construction. The roundtrip 27-mile ride is shady and flat. Our second ride was from the Monkey Bar and Grill to Avoca Park (south towards Cincinnati). This section is very fun - lots to look at and multiple opportunities to stop and re-fuel. The path goes through Milford and Loveland, both cute little towns. We stopped at the Narrow Path Brewery for a beer. Great local brewery! The ride was 37 miles roundtrip. On our last ride, we rode from Mather's Mill to Spring Valley. We made a late afternoon stop at Slim's, a wonderful local diner in Spring Valley that serves fried bologna sandwiches!
Huntington/Fox River KOA, Huntington, WV
We stopped at this campground on our way to Virginia. This was a typical very crowded KOA. It was fine for an overnight, but I wouldn't want to spend more time there. We did enjoy Al's Pizza however. It was a small New York style pizza parlor in a strip mall not too far from the campground. Some of the best pizza we have ever had. When my husband told Al that his pizza may have been the best he'd ever had. Al, in a thick New York accent, said "That's music to my ears!"
Fries New River Trail RV Campground, Fries, VA
This campground is awesome! We were in the back of the campground where there are only four sites. Tom Fries, the campground owner, met us when we arrived and led us to our site. He was so helpful and friendly. The total number of sites in the campground is around 20. The site was absolutely beautiful. We were in the woods with a deck at our site. The deck was perfect for practicing yoga. The sites were level and shaded with full hook-ups and a strong wifi signal. It was less than a half mile to the New River State Park Trail which begins in Fries. Fries is a very small town that was once a thriving industrial town with a cotton mill, that fell on hard times. The town has a wonderful park right on the river. Loved this campground and small town!
New River Trail State Park
This is a beautiful, crushed gravel trail, best traversed with a gravel or mountain bike. The trail begins in Pulaski and branches into a Y at about mile 39 (Fries Junction), following the New River to Fries or Chestnut Creek to Galax. Riding the entire Y-shaped trail would be a 56-mile ride.
The trail has many highlights besides the rivers, including tunnels, trestle bridges and steep dams. We rode from the Fries Campground to the Shot Tower, a tower that used the drop shot process to make ammunition for shotguns. The Tower is staffed and can be toured. The ride was 41 miles roundtrip. The next day we rode from the campground to Galax, about 35 miles roundtrip. This trail does not get as much attention as does it neighbor trail, the Virginia Creeper, but we thoroughly enjoyed our biking on the New River. We hope to come back in autumn. I am certain the leaves would be spectacular.
Damascus Creekside RV Campground, Damascus, VA
This is a tiny, but charming RV campground just down the street from the Virginia Creeper Trail right in downtown Damascus. The owner, Cindy, is awesome, so friendly and helpful. The sites are narrow but right on the creek. The campground is so convenient to everything in Damascus, including restaurants, ice cream shop, distillery, the bike trail, the Appalachian Trail and bike rental locations.
Virginia Creeper Trail
What fun! Damascus is smack dab in the middle of the Virginia Creeper Trail at mile 17. The first day we rode from the campground to Abbingdon. The last few miles were uphill into Abbingdon, but the climb made it an easy return trip. The sylvan trail ran along the creek, went across many trestles, through pastures, small towns and deep woods with soaring cliffs. It was late in the day so we didn't explore Abbingdon, but there appeared to be plenty of places to get something to eat or drink.
Our second ride on the trail took us to the top of Whitetop Mountain. Seventeen miles uphill and 17 miles back down. As we drew nearer to the top of the Mountain the trail became more crowded. It appeared that taking a shuttle up and riding down was on a lot of people's bucket list! There were several people with e-bikes and I appreciate that assist bikes allow people to be out enjoying trails who might not otherwise be able to, but they aren't really needed to ride down the mountain. Many who were riding them were going quite fast and were a danger to those around them.
I'm not going to say that riding up was easy. It did require a certain level of fitness, but it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. The scenery was spectacular so slower going on the way up allowed plenty of time to take in the sights.
Damascus, Virginia also known as Trail Town USA has everything you could want in a small town, good restaurants, brewery, distillery, ice cream, bakery, and artsy shops. It's called Trail Town because several nationally known trails - Appalachian, Virginia Creeper and the Iron Mountain Trail to name a few.
We enjoyed a beer at the Damascus Brewery and learned about the local history of crafting quality spirits at the Appalachian Heritage Distillery. The Distillery continues the legacy of Grandpa Bud who had a prominent smokehouse behind his dwelling during prohibition where customers were able to procure more than ham. The Distillery today is located in downtown Damascus and crafts vodka, gin, bourbon and rye. The packaging is beautiful and the spirits are quite tasty!
We ate lunch one day at Mojo's Trail Food. It is a really cool cafe right with a great vibe right on the Virginia Creeper Trail. Delicious! Before our ride up the mountain, we had breakfast at the Damascus Diner. Huge portions of very delicious diner food. We thought both restaurants were great.
Just outside of Damascus in the Cherokee National Forest is Backbone Rock. Backbone Rock is a solid pillar of rock which is part of Holston Mountain. The road runs through the Rock and it is possible to hike across the top of the Rock. Very cool short tunnel.
Twin Lakes State Park, Green Day, VA
Twin Lakes is a very small state park near Farmville, VA. The sites were large and well spaced out. It was very shady and the sites were fairly level. All in all a very nice state park with a couple lakes for swimming and fishing. It is a bit remote so plan ahead with groceries and any other items you may need for your stay.
High Bridge State Trail
The High Bridge Trail was nice. It's 35 miles long and runs from Pamplin to near Burkeville. The middle section that includes the High Bridge and Farmville is definitely the most interesting and scenic. We rode about 35 miles roundtrip on the middle third of the trail. The high point was definitely the bridge itself. The bridge towers 125 feet above the Appomattox River and is nearly a half mile across. During the Civil War the bridge was a strategic point for both Union and Confederate soldiers; both armies made attempts to destroy it to prevent the other side from crossing. There is a good brewery right on the trail in Farmville called 3 Roads Brewery. Great place to take a rest and re-hydrate.
In 1865, the McLean House in the village of Appomattox was the site of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia signaling the end of the Civil War. The grounds were lovely and the historical displays were very well done. Given the current turmoil in the country, it felt even more important to visit this historic site.
Shenandoah National Park
We took a quick one-night side trip to Shenandoah National Park. We camped in a perfectly lovely KOA in Harrisonburg, VA. The sites were spacious, wooded, shady and level. It was convenient to the National Park, although there are probably campgrounds that are closer. We didn't even try to get a site in the National Park although as it turned out there were some available.
What a beautiful park. We only spent an afternoon hiking up to Mary's Rock, a four-mile roundtrip hike. The views were amazing! The hike was a bit strenuous on the way up, but fairly easy coming down. Excellent cost/benefit! Can't wait to return.
Uniontown KOA, Connellsville, PA
This was our second time staying at this KOA. It is so convenient to one of our favorite bike trails - the Greater Allegheny Passage (GAP). It's a KOA, but it's on the Youghiogheny River and the KOA offers kayak and tubing trips. There are also clean restrooms, a laundry room and a nice pool.
Greater Allegheny Passage (GAP)
The GAP trail is 150 miles long and runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. The trail travels along scenic rivers and streams, forests, rocky outcroppings, and soaring bridges across valleys. There is much to be learned along the route about the coal industry of western Pennsylvania. The trail also crosses the Eastern Continental Divide and the Mason-Dixon Line.
The first day we rode 41 miles round trip from the campground to Ohiopyle. Ohiopyle is an awesome little adventure town offering white water rafting trips and rock sliding in the river. There are numerous eateries and places to re-fuel.
The second day we drove to Confluence to begin our ride. We rode 23 miles round trip to just past the Pinkerton Tunnel. This was a very nice, shady ride through the woods. On the way back we stopped at Cucumber Falls. Beautiful! We also made a stop at the Yough River Brewery in Connellsville on the way back to our campsite. Really good beer and good food from the Italian food truck.
The third day we rode from the campground to Smithton - towards Pittsburgh. It was a pleasant 32 mile roundtrip ride.
The last day we drove to Barrett Trailhead and rode to Frostburg, MD. There were two tunnels on this part of the trail - the Borden and Savage. We also crossed the Continental Divide and the Mason Dixon Line. I never knew the history of the Mason Dixon Line - I always thought it was only a line that divided the South from the North. The history is actually pretty interesting. It was surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in the resolution of a border dispute between British colonies. It established the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania as both claimed the land between the 39th and 40th parallels. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 used the term "Mason-Dixon line" to designate the entire boundary between free states and slave states. It was a long ride - 44 miles - but really fun and historical.
We were putting off going home and made another stop on the way home to Olive Branch Campground. We rode the Little Miami Trail between Yellow Springs to near Dayton. Starting in Yellow Springs is great because the Yellow Springs Brewery is open every day and a great place to re-hydrate!