|Looking North to Burkes Garden as seen from the Appalachian Trail near the Chestnut Knob Shelter.|
The Virginia segment begins on the Appalachian Trail as it drops off Holston Mountain and enters the trail town of Damascus where an annual ‘Trail Days’ celebration every year on the weekend after Mother’s Day. Although the Appalachian Trail has become the central focus of the party, Damascus prides itself to be at the junction of no less than seven significant trails, and a number of others are close by. The 34-mile Virginia Creeper rails-to-trails paved bike route runs roughly east-west through town and coincides with the Appalachian Trail for a few miles east of town.
The Fifty Trail follows the Appalachian Trail for 106 miles, leaving it at VA 623 on Garden Mountain in order to pass through the isolated high valley known as ‘God’s Thumbprint’—Burke’s Garden. This 8 x 4 mile valley was the Vanderbilt Family’s first choice when they sought to establish an enormous country estate in the late 1800’s. The land owners wouldn’t sell to an outsider so the Vanderbilts developed their Biltmore Estate at the second choice location at Asheville, VA. Thank goodness. Burke’s Garden remains a peaceful rural ‘Eden’ and a throwback to an era of slower life.
The Fifty Trail traverses Burke’s Garden south to north then veers westward following the Clinch River to hook up with the Trans-America Trail at VA Highway 80 at the town of Honaker. The Trans-America Trail is a 4325 mile on-road bicycle route curated by the Adventure Cycling Association. Continuing west on VA 80/US bike route 76/the Trans-America Trail for 38 miles to Breaks Interstate Park. Through the park the Fifty Trail follows the Laurel Branch Trail and Center Creek Trail for about two miles from the Visitor Center to a picnic area on route 80 just across the Virginia-Kentucky state line.
MAPS and TRAIL GUIDES:
Trans-America Trail – link for information and to purchase maps. Section 11 is the map needed for the Fifty Trail: https://www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/adventure-cycling-route-network/transamerica-trail/
Breaks Interstate Park: http://www.breakspark.com/park-information-hours/park-maps-and-trail-info/
Burkes Garden information: http://visittazewellcounty.org/burkes-garden-2/
The new Amish Settlement in Burkes Garden – Where the Vanderbilts failed, the Amish have succeeded: http://amishamerica.com/amish-burkes-garden-virginia/
HEART OF THE TRAIL:
Appalachian Trail from the Damascus Public Library to Dickey Gap trailhead, VA 16. This includes Grayson Highlands and a chance to visit with the tame ponies that keep the area ‘mowed’. They are most abundant around the Thomas Knob Shelter. Distance is 50.5 miles including the one mile side trip to reach the summit of Virginia’s state high point, 5729’ Mt. Rogers (no view).