Rolling hills. Rugged mountainsides. Flowy doubletrack. Tight singletrack. Soul-crushing gravel climbs. Heart-stopping switchbacks. Rough roots and technical rock gardens. Teeter totters and creek crossings. Have we piqued your trail shredding interest? These are a few of tasty trail descriptors you can expect when embarking on two-wheeled adventures in Southwest Virginia.
The sleepy Appalachian Trail town of Damascus sits in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is an excellent gateway to many of the area’s renowned biking excursions. Damascus is a fantastic base camp for extended biking trips, and local shops provide all the tech wizardry and shuttle services needed to do it right. Although the Appalachian Trail needs no introduction, you won’t be mountain biking it. Lesser known and just as accessible from Damascus, however, are the beginner-friendly and ultra-scenic Virginia Creeper Trail and the legendary Iron Mountain Trail, as well as easy access to the trail systems of Mount Rogers.
The family-friendly Virginia Creeper Trail follows an old railroad grade 34 miles from Abingdon to the summit of the old rail station on Whitetop Mountain. The section from Damascus to Whitetop climbs 2,039 feet over 18.2 miles at a 5 percent maximum grade. The trail winds along the mountain’s topography and features sweeping mountain vistas, views of the waterfalls and pools of the spectacular Whitetop Laurel Creek, and several trestle bridge crossings. While this trail may not feed the beast when it comes to excitement, it’s worth checking out while staying in Damascus. This is a great intro to climbing and distance riding if traveling with kids. If you’re saving this beauty for a rest day ride and trying to save your legs, numerous bike shops and outfitters in town offer shuttle services and to the top. Check out The Bike Station or Creeper Trail Bike Rental & Shuttle.
For more of a challenge, gear up for the full-day onslaught of the Iron Mountain Trail (IMT). Considered one of Virginia’s finest mountain bike rides, this advanced point-to-point can be done as a one-way ride with a shuttle or as an out-and-back epic. Test your technical mastery on washed-out steeps, rock gardens, and gnarled roots as you traverse Iron Mountain’s backbone.
However you choose to do it, expect to set aside a full day for this bucket list ride. Starting from Hurricane Mountain and riding to Damascus covers 2,200 feet of ascent and more than 3,800 feet of descent over 20.8 miles. Riding from Damascus to Skulls Gap and back will earn bragging rights as you cover more than 3,700 feet of ascent and descent over 25.7 miles.
Located just 13 miles west of Blacksburg, Virginia, and tucked away in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest, the Pandapas Pond Day Use Area and Poverty Creek Trail System offers a wide variety of riding on 19 trails covering more than 30 miles of mayhem on rolling singletrack, rough rock gardens, heart-stopping switchbacks, and jelly leg-inducing trail climbs. Test your climbing endurance on Horse Nettle and then grab the brakes as you slither your way down 800 feet of vertical and 2.3 miles of hairpin switchbacks and bermed rollers on Snake Root.
Beginner and intermediate riders will enjoy cruising the Poverty Creek Trail and many of its more challenging offshoots. For trail beta, tubes, and repairs, swing by East Coasters Bike Shop on South Main Street. The shop’s friendly staffers ride Pandapas almost daily and are happy to share their knowledge with visiting riders.
Norton, the westernmost city in Virginia, has grown to become one of the top adventure towns in the region, with easy access to the scenic Jefferson National Forest and the camping, hiking, fishing, and water sports that are found there. But for mountain bikers, it’s the 1,000-acre Flag Rock Recreation Area that draws people to the region. Located three miles above downtown Norton on the lower slopes of the 4,230-foot High Knob Mountain, the park features eight miles of singletrack trails lined with rhododendrons, giant sandstone boulders, and large hardwoods. You’ll find a good variety of trails for every level of rider. The mile-long Lake Lake Show is perfect for beginners and offers excellent views of the Upper and Lower Reservoirs. For experts, the Lost Creek trail features about a mile of very rocky, technical riding that follows the fall line straight down into the “holler.” Trail builders are continuing work in the park, so expect the number options to grow in years to come.
While overshadowed by the technical singletrack of Pandapas and the multitude of options in Damascus, Wytheville is a great hub for distance rides in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest. For singletrack ridge riding at its finest, check out the 12-mile Walker Mountain Trail. Link it up with a gravel grinder on the 15.7-mile Walker Road, featuring 2,230 feet of descent at the eastern end, for a leg-crushing combo covering almost 30 miles. Wytheville riding is highlighted by the classic Seven Sisters Trail, named for the seven individual sawtooth summits along the ridgeline. Featuring steep ridge climbs and technical downhills over 5 miles along the ridgetop, this trail is not for the faint of heart.
For a more circuitous experience, head a few miles south to the small-but-enjoyable trail network in Crystal Springs Recreation Area, highlighted by the 7-mile Boundary Trail. For pre-ride info and post-ride repairs, swing by Adventures Bike Shop.
Hungry Mother State Park
Located just 3 miles north of Marion, Hungry Mother State Park is ideal for beginning to intermediate riders. Set among the forested hills surrounding Hungry Mother Lake, 7 trails provide 16 miles of flowy single track, rolling berms, and enough technical goodness to challenge beginners and make advanced riders smile. Primitive camping is available at the park, providing a scenic escape and excellent ride-from-camp options. Crowd favorites include the 3.7-mile Clyburn Ridge Loop Trail, the 1.9-mile Molly’s Knob Trail, and, of course, refreshing dips in the large lake. Check out Dean’s Bikes on Main Street in Marion for trail beta, tubes, and repairs.
With a multitude of options for everyone from singletrack greenhorns all the way to seasoned pros, the technical trails and spectacular scenery peppered throughout the region’s many mountain biking destinations should more than earn it a spot on your bucket list. Load up the rig, grab some spare tubes, and go see why riders are flocking to Southwest Virginia to get their two-wheeled fix.
Originally written for Southwest Virginia.