Would you feel nervous at the prospect of riding 34 miles down a mountain? The guides at Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop assure mountain bikers in this Southwest Virginia town that it’s easy. “It’s all downhill,” they wink.
The Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon is one of the most famous multiuse recreational trails on the East Coast, and yes, when an outfitter launches you from the top of Whitetop Mountain, it’s 34 miles of mostly downhill terrain. The trail undulates through the lush forests of Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. You’ll smell the woodsy, citrusy fragrance of pine as the trail traverses over the Laurel River and maybe hear splashing from riders who stop for a refreshing dip.
The Creeper Trail terminates in downtown Abingdon, a National Historic District, where many of the beautifully preserved buildings were constructed between 1778 and the early 1800s. If you’ve whipped up a serious appetite, dine on mushroom-topped jägerschnitzel at The Tavern; built in 1779, it’s the oldest bar in Virginia. Top off your meal with a cold mug of Oktoberfest beer at Wolf Hills Brewing.
You can soothe those tired muscles in the saltwater pool at The Martha Washington Inn & Spa. This grande dame is the perfect home base for exploring Abingdon and the Crooked Road, a nickname for a road that rambles through Southwest Virginia, the birthplace of country music. Across from The Martha, as it’s called, is the historic Barter Theatre, a venue that earned its name when townspeople traded their produce and dairy products to gain admission.
Turns out Abingdon is an ideal place to learn about and shop for Appalachian handicrafts. Art enthusiasts should tour the William King Museum with its sculpture garden and collection of quilts, furniture, and pottery from the Virginia frontier. Don’t miss Abingdon’s Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace where a consortium of artists and regional musicians sell and perform their work. The modern structure resembles a barn with a silo and showcases pottery, textiles, wood, and glass that invite discovery and wonder.
Mayor Derek Webb, a trail runner and pharmacist who was born and raised in Abingdon, shares why his family loves living here: “The thing that impresses me most about Abingdon is that we have a little bit of everything. We have a robust historic district. We are ranked the best small-town food scene in the country. There’s a thriving art community, especially with the Barter Theatre and Southwest Cultural Center. We also have the Creeper Trail, kayaking, and it’s one of the top places to go fly fishing.”
To explore Abingdon as a foodie destination, try downtown favorites starting with Jack’s 128 Pecan and Tumbling Creek Cider Company for handcrafted cider made from local apples. Locals rave about the Tour Bus Shrimp at Luke’s Café and Rain Restaurant’s rack of lamb seasoned with garam masala and sorghum.
There’s a lot to love about Abingdon. Some relish relaxing at The Martha, while others want to immerse themselves in Appalachian Mountains music, food, and culture. But try riding down the Virginia Creeper Trail, and you’ll have a vacation filled with adventure.
Where to Shop
Find authentic local crafts and see the artists at work at the Arts Depot in a former railroad building. There are two main galleries showcasing juried work and pieces by resident artists. We like Sara Reese’s whimsical clay animals and sculptures. 314 Depot Sq., Abingdon
Stock up on the latest fashions, home goods, and accessories at Market on Main with its irresistible finds and products representing 70 Appalachian vendors, including Black Mountain Artisan, Abingdon Bee Company, and Pebble and Glass. 160 E. Main St., Abingdon
Where to Stay
Abingdon’s most treasured landmark is The Martha Washington Inn & Spa. The building dates back to 19th century, and the décor and furnishings are classically elegant. Sisters Restaurant is a cozy spot where guests come for the complimentary breakfast. The hotel has a therapeutic heated saltwater pool, as well as a full-service spa and fire pits. On Saturdays, they serve afternoon tea. Guests are welcome to use the hotel’s bikes to explore Abingdon, and play the 18-hole mini-golf course. 150 W. Main St., Abingdon
What to Do
Today, the Barter Theatre hosts dynamic musicals and dramatic performances, but its history is quite a story, too. The theater opened its doors at the height of the Depression in 1933, when people were allowed to barter goods for a ticket. Townspeople would offer cow’s milk, eggs, and homemade jam from their farms. 127 W. Main St., Abingdon
Trek the Appalachian Trail at Grayson Highlands State Park with easy to moderate trails and spectacular panoramas of rocky peaks. You’ll see Mount Rogers, which is the highest mountain in Virginia at 5,730 feet. Keep your eyes peeled for Grayson Highlands’ wild ponies that roam the grounds. The park is located one hour from Abingdon. Grayson Highland Lane, Wilson
Learn about Southwest Virginia’s musical roots at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum just 20 minutes from Abingdon in Bristol. An affiliate of Smithsonian Institution, the museum has exhibits and multiple theater experiences and performances. 101 Country Music Wy., Bristol