15 Amazing Things to Do in Damascus, Virginia (2023)

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With so many hidden gems and fun things to do in Damascus, Virginia, the small mountain town will feel like your little secret. Tucked away in the southwestern corner of Virginia and intersected by seven trails, Damascus is the perfect under-the-radar destination for anyone looking to get outdoors and enjoy a different pace of life.

Known as the “Friendliest Town on the Appalachian Trail”, Damascus is a charming community with so much to do. However, if you are not prepared for your visit, it’s easy to miss much of what makes Damascus so special. That’s why we are equipping you with this list of 15 amazing things to do in Damascus, Virginia!

1. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail

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If you’re like us, the Virginia Creeper Trail is what brought you to Damascus. The experience lived up to its reputation as a unique outdoor adventure and we have been raving about it since we left! The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 33-mile recreational path that is popular for cycling, walking, running, and fishing. It used to be a railroad and got its name from the slow speed of the trains as they creeped their way up the steep mountain grade.

The most popular stretch of trail runs northbound from Whitetop Mountain to Damascus. That 17-mile stretch runs mostly downhill, so it doesn’t require much pedaling! The trail also merges with the Appalachian Trail as it enters Damascus, which we thought was really exciting.

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The landscape around Damascus and the Virginia Creeper Trail is so serene. The trail passes quiet farmland, dense forest, and stretches of open valleys on its way down the mountain. We took almost an entire day just to complete half of the trail because we kept stopping to admire the scenery, meditate in nature, read historical signs, and snap pictures.

What makes the Virginia Creeper Trail more special is that it crosses over 47 original train trestles from the locomotive days. Visitors get to ride (or walk) over each trestle and look out at the landscape the same way train conductors did so long ago.

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You can complete just half of the trail and finish in Damascus (like we did!) or complete the entire 33-mile path to Abingdon! The section of the trail between Damascus and Abingdon is relatively flat, so it’s not a difficult ride, and it features the largest train trestles along the entire trail!

The Virginia Creeper Trail is perfect for families, couples, and individuals looking to get out and move their bodies! The Virginia Creeper plant, which grows along the trail, turns a vibrant yellow in the fall. We can’t wait to make it back to Damascus in autumn to admire the foliage across southwestern Virginia! You can check out our Simple Guide to Virginia Creeper Trail Planning to help you prepare for this incredible experience.We include information on bike rentals, lodging, and other things to do in Damascus.

2. Local Artwork & Murals

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Downtown Damascus is filled with intricate and colorful murals. A short stroll through the town will put you in front of many enormous beautiful pieces of art. You’ll find depictions of nearby landscapes and heartfelt tributes to the Appalachian Trail. A mural tour would make for a lovely morning activity while sipping tea or coffee before the streets get crowded with foot traffic and vehicles.

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Don’t forget to check out the custom bricks on Laurel Avenue that make up the Community Pathways Project on the Appalachian Trail. Hikers and Appalachian Trail enthusiasts purchase and paint bricks to honor their journey on the trail or to honor a loved one, often referring to the hiker by their trail name. As you walk downtown, you can see all the effort and love these people have shared with the town. A mural tour is an excellent activity to experience the culture and charm of Damascus!

3. Backbone Rock

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Backbone Rock is a large outcropping of stone that is actually an extension of nearby Holston Mountain. In 1901, a 80-foot-tall hole was blasted through the rock to create a passageway for a new railroad. An additional small arch had to be chiseled by hand to create space for the smokestack on top of the engine. At only 20 feet long, Backbone Rock is the shortest tunnel in the world!

Simply walking the grounds and admiring the rock is worth the short drive. If you have more time, we recommend the short 0.3-mile hike to Backbone Falls, a 45-foot waterfall and swimming hole in the Backbone Rock Recreation Area. For an even more low-key experience, try going at night! A local barista told us the most romantic date they went on was stargazing at the top of Backbone Rock, accessible via the built-in staircase along the edge of the rock. Technically, Backbone Rock isn’t within the Damascus city limits, but it’s a short 4-mile, 7-minute drive down Highway 133.

4. Shop Local Outfitters

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Cruise through these local Damascus outfitters to browse the assortment of gear, supplies, and souvenirs they offer. There are three outdoor outfitters in town. You’ll know Damascus Outfitters as soon as you see it! A colorful mural decorates the exterior of the building with hikers, mountains, and geometric designs. The less-flashy Mt. Rogers Outfitters is affiliated with a hostel frequented by thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail and is known for the expertise and specialized goods it provides! Then, there’s Sundog Outfitters, which offers bike rentals and is conveniently located next to Mojo’s Trailside Cafe & Coffee.

You’ll also find local art and music are available for purchase or on display, giving you a closer look at the culture of the area. Shopping at the local outfitters is a classic mountain-town activity and easily one of the best things to do in Damascus!

5. Jump on a Trail

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Did you know Damascus is known as Trail Town, USA? Seven nationally known trails intersect in this little town. If you’re walking down Main Street, you’re on the Appalachian Trail! Follow the white blazes through town, past Damascus Town Park, and to the iconic wooden arch that welcomes NoBo (northbound) hikers to the city!

A stroll through the woods will give you a glimpse of what Appalachian Trail thru-hikers see everyday on their 2,000+ mile journey. At the time of our visit (August 2021), we stumbled upon a brand new riverfront plaza near the Old Mill Restaurant with a spectacular stone compass paved into the sidewalk honoring the seven trails that meet in the town. Stop by the plaza for some inspiration before heading out on your walk!

In addition to the Virginia Creeper Trail and the Appalachian Trail, these other trails pass through Damascus: the Trans-America National Bicycle Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail, the Crooked Road Musical Heritage Trail, and Virginia’s Birding and Wildlife Trail.

6. Damascus Brewery

The Damascus Brewery & Tap Room is a favorite among locals and visitors to Damascus, Virginia! They offer an extensive list of beers some of which are “year-rounders” plus others that are seasonal and special brews that rotate. The brewery also hosts events and live music. After exploring such an outdoorsy town, wind down in a groovy environment with some tasty beverages.

7. Great Channels of Virginia

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The Great Channels of Virginia, less than hour’s drive from Damascus, is a 20-acre sandstone labyrinth that was formed by permafrost and ice wedges during the last ice age, approximately 400 million years ago! The labyrinth is essentially a large stone maze. The experience is similar to the slot canyons found in the American West, but there isn’t anything like this anywhere else on the East Coast!

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It’s a 3-mile round trip hike to the entrance to the Channels. You’ll pass a historic fire tower constructed in 1939 and take in glorious mountain views before arriving at the entrance. We got there before sunset and had the entire place to ourselves! It’s highly recommended that you keep track of each move you make so that you don’t become lost inside.

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The only caveat is that the Great Channels are a good drive out of town, fair warning! Rebecca stumbled upon some information about the Great Channels of Virginia online and we knew we had to make the 50-minute drive to Saltville to visit. If you’ve got time during your visit to Damascus, it’s a great outdoor and adventurous thing to do.

8. Virginia State Parks

Those with more time should explore some of the nearby state parks. Grayson Highlands State Park (~43 minute drive) and Hungry Mother State Park (~41 minute drive) are the closest to Damascus. Grayson Highlands is known for its rock climbing or “bouldering” and wild ponies. There are great hiking trails to gorgeous waterfalls and summits of 5,000+ feet with remarkable overlooks that are exceptionally beautiful at sunset.

Hungry Mother is known for its 108-acre lake and water sports. With plenty to do and tons of natural beauty, you won’t be disappointed with a trip to either of these remarkable parks!

9. Damascus Town Park

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Damascus Town Park is a quaint riverfront park that highlights Laurel Creek, which runs through Damascus. The park gives visitors the chance to walk across Virginia Creeper Trail Trestle #16! Before leaving town, we stopped at Damascus Town Park to walk the dogs, enjoy the creek, and check out the historical signs! At the park, you’ll find a historic caboose/camp car from the 1940s and a small train engine. Both of the exhibits recognize Damascus’ local history and the importance of the railroad in its development.

The playground and gazebos make this a popular spot for picnics and gatherings. In the warmer months, there are often live local bands playing in the gazebo on Friday evenings. Be sure to look out for a variety of trout species in the creek water!

10. Main Street Coffee & Ice Cream

Eula, a hairdresser who has lived and worked in Damascus for decades, stopped and chatted with us for a while as we strolled around town one morning. As she swept the front steps of her beauty shop, she told us that all the locals rave about the ice cream from Main Street Coffee & Ice Cream!

The ice cream shop also offers a variety of lunch specials, though Eula strongly recommended the cheese sandwich and tuna salad. Check out their full menu of local coffee, pastries, deserts, and sandwiches. It’s a perfect place to fuel up for a day of exploring or cool off with an ice cream cone after getting off the trail!

11. Damascus Old Mill Inn & Restaurant

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The Damascus Old Mill is a historic hotel and restaurant situated just off Laurel Creek. It is the home of the iconic Damascus LOVE sign, which overlooks the waterfall created by Mock’s Mill, which used to be a grist mill that was an extremely important business in early Damascus. When operations at the grist mill stopped, the building was repurposed into the present-day Inn and Restaurant.

We recommend grabbing a meal at the restaurant. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offer both fine dining and casual dining options! The environment is charming and serene with the sounds of the nearby waterfall. The Old Mill also offers a Bourbon Bar and Craft Beer Pub, perfect after a long day exploring! If you’re interested in staying at their boutique hotel, each room is filled with unique character and luxury accommodations.

12. Kayak Laurel Creek

Kayaking is becoming a popular sport and hobby in southwest Virginia, with Laurel Creek in Damascus emerging as a booming kayaking destination in the region. Rent a kayak from a local outfitter and head out on the water! Depending on your comfort and skill level, you can raft class I and II rapids on the lower Laurel or test your skills on class III and IV rapids around Whitetop Laurel when the water levels are high enough! Pack a cooler and some fun drinks, but be sure to leave no trace!

13. Self-Guided History Tour

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If Appalachian history is your thing, you’ll love the history tour of town! The city of Damascus provides an online map and walking instructions for the tour. Photos and information about the natural land and human inhabitants dating back to the indigenous Cherokee and Shawnee people are provided. There are “stations” with informational signs throughout the city, but the information is also provided on their website. In all, the tour covers 2.4 miles and can be completed by foot or bike. It’s a fun and active way to continue exploring Damascus!

14. Damascus Farmers Market

The Damascus Farmers Market is held every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon in Laurel Creek Park from May until October. It’s the perfect event to browse with a friend, partner, or family member. Check out all the local produce, meats, and baked goods. They also have local artists displaying handmade ceramics and crafts. Grab a coffee, search for some neat finds, and listen to live music as you see what this town is all about!

15. Trail DaysFestival

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If you’re looking to plan a visit to the area, consider aligning your trip with the annual Trail Days festival! The town TURNS UP for this five-day festival supporting the Appalachian Trail and its hikers. The festival is planned around the typical northbound hiking schedule, meaning most of the NoBo hikers who started in Georgia will be in the area at the time of this festival. That usually means the festival takes place in mid- to late-May.

It’s a wonderful time to serve and support people completing this remarkable feat. You’ll find all kinds of events including: beauty pageants, feasts, booths, craft tables, speakers, raffles, tons of giveaways, and services for thru-hikers (even check ups for hiking dogs with a local vets office). Eating contests and live music are a big part of the festival as well. Those wanting to live like a hiker can lodge in the popular Tent City. There is also a community-wide yard sale the weekend before Trail Days if you’re looking to snag some good deals on secondhand items.

Conclusion: Things to Do in Damascus, VA

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When choosing when to visit Damascus, it’s important to remember that the town takes a slow start to the week. By that, we mean most businesses are closed Monday and Tuesday. So, if you want to check out local shops and restaurants, schedule those activities on a day during the second half of the week.

We visited during the late summer and were enchanted by all the stunning sunflowers that grew all over town. If you visit during the autumn, you’re in for a treat — colorful foliage lights up the town in the fall months with beautiful colors.

For anyone looking for low-key outdoor fun and natural beauty, Damascus is the place to be! With no shortage of things to do in Damascus, Virginia, it’s a place where you can reconnect with the outdoors and create special memories that last a lifetime.

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