Single-track Trails in the Damascus Area
by David Cardwell

Each year thousands of people visit Damascus to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail. But that’s not all Damascus has to offer. The Iron Mountain Trail is a nearby single-track trail system which consists of the Iron Mountain Trail itself as well as several trails which branch off from the main trail. Local riders usually park somewhere along forest service road 90, or a little further up the mountain at Skull’s Gap. From either of these starting points you can follow the Iron Mountain Trail straight back to Damascus, or you can drop down one of several single-track trails which branch off of the main trail. There are several such trails along the section of Iron Mountain between Skull’s Gap and Damascus. Some of these include “the Rush Trail,”“Shaw Gap,”“Yancey Gap,”“Chestnut Ridge,” “Highlands Race-course Trail,” “Beech grove,” and “Mock Holler.”

Maryn takes a break
The Rush Trial is aptly named, a relatively short, exciting section of trail that connects to forest service 90 at each end. Beginning near the top of FS 90 the trail itself is approximately 2 miles from start to finish, with relatively no uphill. The trail is strewn with small rocks and has a nice overall flow with a couple of short steep segments. That drops you on the bottom of forest service road 90 on the northern side of Iron Mountain. This makes a great ride for when you just want to ride but don’t have all day.

Shaw Gap is similar to the rush trail in distance and time, only a little faster and smoother, a curvy ride which branches off of the Iron Mountain Trail about 2 miles north of the Top of FS 90 and ends within sight of the gate to Beartree campground. You’ll finish up with a short trip down highway 58 back to FS 90. It is one of the mildest and fastest trails on the mountain.

Yancey Gap Begins Next to Shaw Gap and the two run almost parallel to one another, both ending within sight of the Gate to Beartree. Yancey is a little more rocky and technical with a little slower flow to it.

Chestnut Ridge is the Third trail to branch off the Iron Mountain at the same point as Shaw and Yancey Gap, only down the other side of the mountain; it ends up back on FS90. This trail is one of the most exhilarating on the mountain, starting out with a short climb up from the Shaw Gap intersection, it quickly turns into a fast rolling descent with panoramic views and the kind of curves you just lean into and grin. After about a mile of this, the pace changes a little into a moderately technical, narrow, washed out, gully about 6 inches deep. This goes on for about a half a mile, then the pace picks back up for a fast paced finish through some wide, sweeping curves to end up back on FS 90.

A rider heads down the trail.
If you head south on the Iron Mountain Trail from the top of FS 90, after about 2 miles you come to a trail that branches off sharply to the right. This is what the locals call “the racecourse” because it was created as part of the “highlands challenge mountain bike race” several years ago. This trail is very smooth and can be ridden at high speeds. Made up of rolling hills and swooping curves, and featuring a great view “The Racecourse” finishes up back on FS 90 near the bottom of the Rush Trail.

If you head south on the Iron Mountain Trail from the top of FS 90, past the turn onto “The Racecourse” you will come to a trail which branches off to the left. This is Beech Grove, also known as “the Motorcycle Trail”. There should be a sign here pointing to Damascus, which is straight ahead and to the Creeper Trail, which is at the bottom of Beech Grove. This is one of the more technical trails on the mountain, starting out as a smooth, buff, single track, with a couple of nice switchbacks near the top, after about a quarter mile it turns into a gnarly rock garden, with some larger rocks and water bars, as well as a couple of creek crossings, then after you cross a “French drain” the last hundred yards is a wide open double track with some nice opportunities to catch a little air.

If you keep going straight past Beech Grove, there is a short climb for about a mile, and then you will be standing on top of what is arguably the fastest trail on the mountain, Mock Holler. A double-track trail, the top of the trail is smooth and has some nice swooping curves, followed by some short rock gardens, and then it gets really fun, opening up into some long, steep, smooth stretches which will test your nerve at keeping your fingers off the brake. Featuring several creek crossings “the holler” is the longest continuous descent on the Iron Mountain Trail.