Biking This Scenic Trail From Abington To Bristol, We Find Everything From Beer And Theater To Spooks And Seafood
On a sunny morning in Abingdon, I take off on the Virginia Creeper Trail, a recreation route built on the old Virginia-Carolina Railway. From Abingdon, it’s about an 8-mile bike ride to a railroad station replica at Alvarado. And, from there, I take a side trip to the Abingdon Vineyard & Winery, a refreshing and remote retreat where varieties include Appalachian Autumn, Creekside Blush and Misty River.
Tracking the trail back to Abingdon, I pedal uphill, crossing South Holston Lake and slip past rock cuts carved to accommodate steam trains. I wind into Watauga, rolling uphill. But it’s none too strenuous—and well-maintained, a true treasure of a trail.
I catch a Friday night show at Abingdon’s Barter Theatre. This official “State Theatre of Virginia” took its name from all the ham and beans once bartered for admission when it opened on Main Street in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression.
Also in Abingdon, I find the lively taproom of the Wolf Hills Brewing Co., where the names of fresh pints like Creeper Trail Amber Ale reflect the local landscape. Troopers Alley IPA recalls a small side street infamous for wild living in the late 1700s while White Blaze Honey Cream Ale takes its name from the white blazes of the nearby Appalachian Trail.
About 10 miles from Abingdon, the Appalachian Trail intersects the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail at Damascus, a town that serves as home base for several shuttles to “the top” of the Virginia Creeper Trail at Whitetop Station. From that point, at an ear-popping 3,500 feet above sea level, bicyclists can roll easily for 17 miles downhill to Damascus.
Talk about a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. On this section, lying mostly in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, it takes only about three hours to cruise “The Creeper”—even if you stop for souvenirs at the restored Green Cove Depot and brake for ice cream in Taylors Valley.
Back down in Damascus, be sure to savor a sandwich at In the Country on Fritz Street. Then step into the Damascus Brewery and sample the Beaver Rage IPA, a name that fits the brewery’s beaver logo: a tribute to the tiny town’s place on Beaverdam Creek.
Near the heart of Abingdon, Rain makes a great dining destination for Saturday night. On Main Street, this upscale eatery showcases local artists on its walls while serving scallops and steaks.
You can rest easy in Abingdon at the elegant Martha Washington Inn, a magnificent resort with a spa and an indoor pool. Come spend an unforgettable evening sipping port wine by the fire. Then retire to a spacious suite, artfully adorned with fine furniture.
Incorporated in 1778, Abingdon stays connected with brick sidewalks leading to landmarks like charming churches and the stately Washington County Courthouse. Here, too, you’ll find The Tavern, serving award-winning soups plus spirits in a building that’s been standing since 1779. The Tavern has served as a post office and a bank. It was also once a Civil War hospital—and, some say, it’s haunted.
Abingdon’s ghosts, still, are not limited to The Tavern. Why, some say, you’ll find several spirits drifting through the walls and on the lawn of the Martha Washington Inn—what was once a college for women and, like The Tavern, also a Civil War hospital.
About a block from “The Martha,” look for the Abingdon Farmers Market, bustling like an old-fashioned town square each Saturday morning from mid-April to mid-December on Remsburg Drive. Come shop for spinach, spuds and soap or even some socks made from the fiber of an alpaca living on a farm in nearby Meadowview. There, too, in Meadowview, you can dine at one of the most popular farm-to-table options in the Abingdon area—The Harvest Table serves chicken, trout and stone-oven pizzas.
Just off I-81’s Exit 14, Abingdon’s crafts community unites at Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway. Year-round, you can shop for pottery or CDs by local artists who perform the mountain music made famous along The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Yet, Heartwood is also known for its seafood. And it’s a fine place to tap into local wines and beers at its quaint bar.
Heading south, continue the trek along I-81 for 10 miles to Bristol, where State Street straddles the Tennessee-Virginia border with a string of stores offering art and antiques. In this downtown district, you’ll also find the Bristol Station Brewery & Pub on Piedmont Avenue.
A historic railroad town, Bristol lays claim to being the official “Birthplace of Country Music,” and it has a well-designed museum to share its story. That claim comes from a string of recordings made in 1927 by Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family, country music’s first pair of long-lasting stars. Decades later, Bristol was the site of country music superstar Kenny Chesney’s first recordings at a small studio called “Classic” on Moore Street, just months before Chesney graduated college in 1990.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum overlooks the city’s Cumberland Square Park, which, in turn, overlooks Studio Brew, a craft brewery perched just above the banks of Beaver Creek. Studio Brew bubbles with both dark and light varieties. And it is quite handsome. “Beer is an art,” says a sign on the wall. “A very tasty art.”
Extending Your Stay
Abingdon Vineyard & Winery
Martha Washington Inn
Wolf Hills Brewing