The small Virginia town of Damascus has been on the map since well before 1987, but the annual Appalachian Trail Days Festival has become a boon for the town’s (and region’s) tourism.
For 36 years, the town of Damascus has hosted a festival in mid-May that coincides with the northbound hiker “bubble” as the majority of AT hikers walk right through town on their way to Maine and Katahdin, the northernmost terminus of the AT. Damascus falls approximately at AT mile marker 470 northbound from Springer Mountain in Georgia.
2023 Appalachian Trail Days was a non-stop party from Thursday, May 18 through Sunday, May 21—and the rain on Saturday evening didn’t dampen the festivities one bit. The town park featured live music from nine bands, several food trucks, and hundreds of local vendors and globally known gear companies hosting raffles and sales for thru-hikers and gearheads alike.
One local business, Sundog Outfitters, has been a vendor at Trail Days since its inception. “We’ve been doing this for 36 years, since the very beginning,” Shuttle Driver Tom Snow said. “It’s the single biggest weekend of the year, and I always volunteer to work down here,” Snow said. “I like the mix of different people that Trail Days brings to town. I’ve been here five years, and I love it.”
Another local vendor, Lori Briscoe of Appalachian Teas and Botanicals is a relatively new business to Damascus but loves the festival for more reasons than one. Briscoe doesn’t currently have a storefront, so Trail Days is a great way to display her herbal teas, salves, and other products. “I’ve met some amazing people and had incredible conversations,” Briscoe said. “This is the best, most incredible energy. Everyone is so happy to be here!”
This is Briscoe’s second year selling at Trail Days, and she said that she designed several of her new products with hikers in mind, including Trail Blazers Blend, a caffeinated tea blend comprised of anti-inflammatory herbs and Wound Paint, an herb tincture that serves as an all-purpose, packable first-aid kit.
Locals and businesses love the festival, but Trail Days also draw visitors from around the country and the world.
Megan ‘Mystic Aqua’ Tremaine hiked the AT in 2022, and she and her fiancé made the trip from upstate New York to Damascus to celebrate Trail Days with her tramily or hiker family. Tremaine had a great experience in Damascus on her thru-hike and couldn’t wait to come back to town. “I loved hiking through Damascus,” Tremaine said.
Chief of Police Kermit Turner and the Damascus Police Department were present at Trail Days but didn’t expect too much trouble, at least not from hikers. “True hikers we have zero problems with,” Turner said. “They’re on a mission and have a schedule to keep. They’re here to rest, resupply, and get back on the trail.”
Since the hostels and Airbnb’ in Damascus were already at maximum capacity for the weekend, many hikers stayed in Tent City, a campground on S Shady Ave just south of Main Street. Turner said that police were present at Tent City, the Town Park, and throughout the town, with surrounding law enforcement departments on call should a situation occur.
The Damascus branch of the Washington County Library provided a number of free services to hikers in what they called a “Relax and Chill Zero Day,” including wifi, device charging, water, and snacks, as well as crafts, games, and books for all to enjoy. Several churches and ministries in town provided free haircuts, laundry services, showers, and even foot washing.
"The Appalachian Trail Days Festival provides a big boost to Damascus, both to the local economy and to our reputation as ‘Trail Town USA’ and ‘The Friendliest Town on the Trail,’ said Recreation Program Director Julie Kroll. “Trail Days brings in thousands of people each year, including visitors that stay in our lodging overnight, eat at our restaurants, and shop at our retailers,”
Trail Days is a unique example of a small community coming together to celebrate and care for one another, and it’s become a treasured tradition in Damascus and the surrounding area. Locals either love it or hate it, but there’s no denying that Trail Days has become a trademark of Damascus, and the festival isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“Many of the people who come to Trail Days return year after year. The event has become a trail reunion of sorts, and it just keeps getting bigger each year,” Kroll said. “For locals, there is a strong sense of community pride in being the home of Trail Days.”
Trail Days 2024 is already scheduled for May 17-19. For more information about Trail Days, visit https://www.visitdamascus.org/traildays.html.