Bikepacking The Iron Mountain Trail, Virginia
45 Mi.(72 KM)
% Rideable (time)
The Iron Mountain Trail in Virginia was formerly a 24 mile section of the Appalachian Trail until 1972 when they reoriented the trail slightly to the south. This ridgeline gem is perfect for an overnight bikepacking trip and can even be done without a tent or bivy via the two shelters that were built during its AT history.
The IMT traverses a long ridge in a beautiful tract of wilderness. When ridden east to west, it climbs up, then has a hearty dose of ups and downs before it finishes with 6 miles of screaming downhill, creek crossings, and rock gardens that spit you out right into the town of Dmascus.
Route orientation: I rode this route starting at the parking pull out where specified on the map. In hindsight. I’d probably recommend starting the route in Damascus, then riding about 48 miles to camp at Cherry Tree Shelter. This would allow the majority of the Iron Mountain trail to be ridden on day two. However, it does make for a solid day one of climbing (a little under 3,000ft).
- A beautiful slice of the Appalachian wilderness.
- Several old 3-wall huts from the AT days allow a tent less ride, if you wish.
- After the initial 4 mile grunt, a nice, long ridge ride awaits with several very long downhills.
- The Virginia Creeper Trail, a long gravel climb through some beautiful forests along a scenic creek.
- Because the IMT is shared with equestrians, parts can degrade in to pretty thick mud bogs. If riding the trail from east to west, most of the muck concludes after a few miles and the fun begins.
- The best time to ride it is early spring or fall. However, given the elevations, it perfectly good summer route as well. It could be ridden in the winter too, but might get pretty cold and the risk for snow and ice would be high.
- Park at the Northeast end (FSR 741 and FSR 4402) — see ‘route orientation’ above for a good alternative.
- It gets pretty muddy for the first 5 miles after a hard rain.
- The route back is has a long stretch of tarmac. There is not a heavy amount of traffic, but it’s advisable to wear visible clothes and being lights.
- A few outfitters in Damascus offer shuttles if you are interested in getting a ride back up the mountain.
- There are 2 different 3-walled shelters on the trail. One at about 5 miles (Cherry Tree) and one at about 10 (Straight Branch).
- There is also camping and lodging in Damascus. Check out Crazy Larry’s hostel for a budget alternative.
- There are several campsites along the Virginia Creeper Trail as well.
- Food and restaurants are available in Damascus.
- There are no water sources after Straight Branch until the last 5 mile descent; plenty until then though.
- There are a couple water sources along the Creeper Trail.