Have you ever thought about a place where you can walk through history, ride a bike while seeing amazing sights, and enjoy a cozy mountain town? Well, that place is Damascus, VA!
Nestled in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, Damascus, Virginia, is a picturesque town that embodies the spirit of outdoor adventure, community, and small-town charm. With a population that hovers around 800 residents, Damascus may be small in size, but it’s grand in character and natural beauty.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Damascus is its designation as “Trail Town, USA.” This title is not just a badge of honor; it signifies the town’s strategic location as a gateway to some of the East Coast’s most renowned hiking and biking trails. The Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail converge in Damascus, drawing outdoor enthusiasts from all over the country.
Damascus is a mecca for outdoor adventurers. The Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile rail-to-recreation trail, offers breathtaking scenery for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. The Appalachian Trail, with its iconic white blazes, is a hiker’s dream come true. Fishing, kayaking, and camping opportunities abound in the surrounding wilderness.
Throughout the year, Damascus comes alive with a variety of festivals and events, including the Appalachian Trail Days, a gathering of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, and the Christmas in Damascus celebration, which transforms the town into a winter wonderland.
Let’s check out the top 15 things to do in Damascus, VA, and discover why it’s such a special and fun place to visit!
Things to Do in Damascus, VA
1. Conquer the Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail, often referred to as the “AT,” stretches over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, passing right through Damascus, VA. Embarking on a hike along this legendary trail is like stepping into the shoes of countless adventurers who have come before you.
The section that crosses through Damascus offers a taste of the trail’s magic, winding through lush forests, and open meadows, and offering breathtaking panoramic views.
For those looking for a shorter jaunt, there are accessible day hikes that allow you to experience the trail’s beauty without committing to a through-hike. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the awe-inspiring vistas that have inspired generations of explorers.
2. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail
The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 34-mile scenic route that follows an old railway bed through the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. Starting from Whitetop Station, the trail winds its way down to Damascus, offering a downhill adventure perfect for bikers of all levels.
The trail is renowned for its stunning beauty, passing through verdant forests, alongside sparkling streams, and offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
3. Explore Mount Rogers National Recreation Area
Located near Damascus, the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area is a nature lover’s paradise. Encompassing over 200,000 acres of diverse landscapes, from highlands to woodlands, this area offers a plethora of outdoor activities. Hiking trails meander through the hills, leading to the summit of Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia.
4. Unwind in Abingdon Vineyards
Just a short drive from Damascus, Abingdon Vineyards is a haven for wine enthusiasts and those who appreciate serene landscapes. The vineyard’s picturesque setting along the South Holston River offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
You can sample a variety of wines made from locally grown grapes while basking in the stunning views of the vineyards and the river.
5. Step Back in Time at the Barter Theatre
Imagine watching fantastic plays and feeling like you’re back in time at the Barter Theatre. Established during the Great Depression, the Barter Theatre holds the distinction of being the nation’s longest-running professional theatre. Its unique name originates from a time when patrons bartered food for admission, a testament to the enduring spirit of creativity.
The theatre offers a diverse repertoire, ranging from classic plays to contemporary productions. From comedy to drama, every show is a testament to the power of storytelling and the arts.
6. Go Fishing in Laurel Creek
Have you ever tried fishing? Laurel Creek is a wonderful place to go fishing, especially if you like peaceful streams and catching fish. This picturesque mountain stream winds its way through lush forests and tranquil meadows, providing an idyllic setting for fishing.
The creek is known for its healthy population of brook and rainbow trout, making it a popular spot for anglers seeking a rewarding fishing experience. Whether you’re an experienced angler or a novice looking to try your hand at fishing, Laurel Creek offers an opportunity to connect with the outdoors and enjoy the simplicity of the moment.
7. Discover the Backbone Rock Recreation Area
Prepare to be amazed by the captivating natural wonder known as the Backbone Rock Recreation Area. Here, you’ll encounter the “Shortest Tunnel in the World,” an intriguing geological formation that has sparked the curiosity of countless visitors.
This short tunnel was blasted through a solid rock ridge in the early 1900s to allow a railroad track to pass through. Today, it stands as a unique testament to human engineering and the forces of nature.
The tunnel, the recreation area offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, picnicking, and wildlife observation. The Backbone Rock Trail takes you on a short but rewarding hike, leading to stunning overlooks that offer panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
8. Stroll Through Charming Downtown Damascus
Downtown Damascus is a quaint and inviting hub that beckons you to explore its charming streets. As you stroll through this pedestrian-friendly haven, you’ll be greeted by a delightful blend of local shops, eateries, and friendly faces. The town’s warm hospitality is palpable as you engage in conversations with shop owners, who are always eager to share their stories and recommendations.
You can find all kinds of unique things in the shops, like handmade crafts and outdoor gear. And when you’re hungry, there are cafes and restaurants where you can taste yummy Southern food.
9. Attend the Annual Trail Days Festival
Imagine a big party where everyone loves hiking and being outdoors. That’s the Trail Days festival in Damascus! This vibrant event is a testament to the trail’s significance and the camaraderie that exists among hikers and nature lovers.
The festival features a diverse array of activities, including live music, outdoor gear vendors, workshops, and presentations by experienced hikers.
One of the highlights is the hiker parade, where thru-hikers proudly display their trail names and celebrate their achievements.
10. Attend the Annual Trail Days Festival
Imagine a lively festival where nature lovers and adventurers come together to celebrate the amazing Appalachian Trail. That’s the Trail Days festival in Damascus, VA! Every year, this event draws outdoor enthusiasts from all around. It’s like a big party dedicated to hiking, camping, and everything outdoors.
At the festival, you can listen to live music, check out cool outdoor gear, and learn from experienced hikers. But the highlight is the hiker parade. Hikers proudly show off their trail names and share their incredible stories.
11. Learn at the Virginia Creeper Fly-Fishing School
Have you ever wanted to learn the art of fly fishing? The Virginia Creeper Fly-Fishing School is the perfect place to master this skill surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. Located near Damascus, this school offers lessons on the art of casting a fly line and catching fish in a gentle, flowing way.
Expert instructors will guide you step by step, from choosing the right gear to casting with finesse. You’ll learn about the delicate balance between technique and nature, creating a connection with the water and the fish.
12. Connect with Nature in Cherokee National Forest
Picture yourself surrounded by the beauty of nature, with endless opportunities for hiking, camping, and outdoor fun. That’s what awaits you in the Cherokee National Forest near Damascus. This expansive forest is a playground for nature enthusiasts, offering a range of activities that allow you to fully embrace the outdoors.
Hikers will find trails that lead to stunning viewpoints, lush woodlands, and serene waterfalls. Campers can set up tents in designated areas and spend nights under the stars. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot a variety of animals, from deer to wild turkeys.
13. Visit the Historic Carter Railroad Museum
Step back in time and explore the fascinating history of the region’s railroads at the Carter Railroad Museum. Located in downtown Johnson City, this museum offers a journey into the past through exhibits and artifacts that showcase the importance of railroads in shaping the area’s development.
Whether you’re a history buff or simply curious about the past, the Carter Railroad Museum provides a captivating experience that sheds light on an important aspect of the region’s heritage.
14. Enjoy a Picnic at Adventure Damascus Park
Sometimes, all you need is a peaceful spot to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Adventure Damascus Park offers just that—a tranquil oasis where you can unwind, have a picnic, and let your worries melt away.
Situated along Laurel Creek, this park is the perfect place to recharge in the midst of nature’s beauty. You might even spot a friendly duck or two as you take in the serene surroundings.
15. Take a Horseback Riding Adventure
Imagine exploring the scenic landscapes of Damascus on horseback, feeling the rhythm of the horse’s hooves and taking in the beauty around you. Horseback riding is a wonderful way to experience the outdoors, and Damascus offers the perfect setting for such an adventure.
Guided horseback rides allow you to traverse picturesque trails, passing through forests, meadows, and scenic viewpoints. These guided tours provide a safe and enjoyable way to connect with nature and appreciate the landscapes from a unique perspective.