I’ve been birding along the Blue Ridge in North Carolina and Virginia for 20 years, and one of my favorite local spots is the Virginia Creeper Trail. A rails-to-trails project, it traverses a variety of habitats and elevations, making diversity its hallmark.
Riparian-associated birds are plentiful along the trail because it follows streams and rivers the whole way. From Abingdon to Damascus, it goes through residential land that consists primarily of open pastures. Look for edge species like Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, and Field Sparrow, in addition to raptors. From Damascus to the trail’s eastern terminus near Whitetop, you’ll pass through a predominantly forested landscape, where you can see or hear Ruffed Grouse, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Northern Parula, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. If you enjoy birding by bike, you can rack up an impressive day list.
Season and elevation are important. Spring migration offers many forest songbirds destined for northern breeding grounds. And while spring and summer are probably the best seasons for seeing multiple species, no time of year is a bad time to bird the trail.
Pastures, hay meadows, riparian areas, forests, and rural residential habitat.
Gently sloping path traverses steep or flat terrain, depending upon location. Accessible via motorized wheelchairs.
Spring and fall: Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Acadian and Great Crested Flycatchers, Wood Thrush, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, Ovenbird, Worm-eating, Black-and-white, Yellow, and Hooded Warblers, Northern Parula. Breeding: Warbling Vireo and Blue Grosbeak (between Abingdon and Damascus), Chestnut-sided Warbler, Ruffed Grouse, and Least Flycatcher (near Whitetop). Winter: White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, and Loggerhead Shrike.
When to go
Public and private campgrounds along the higher, eastern half of the trail. Restrooms available in Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area near Damascus. Restaurants and stores close to Abingdon and Damascus.
Public-private recreational trail operated by the towns of Abingdon and Damascus and the U.S. Forest Service. Open year-round. Several access points with parking lots, most of which are free of charge. A few Forest Service facilities may require a daily fee. Trail is on public lands but is adjacent to many private lands; please respect private property and remain on trail.
Dress in layers; weather can change quickly in spring and fall. While walking the trail, stay alert for bicyclists.
Eric Harrold is a naturalist, environmental educator, and tour guide in northwest North Carolina. He studied Barred Owls as a graduate student and has worked on bird-conservation projects in the Midwest and East.
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