DAMASCUS, Va. (WJHL) – Thousands of Appalachian Trail hikers are in Southwest Virginia this weekend for a bucket-list event in the hiking community.

Appalachian Trail Days in Damascus is expected to draw in over 20,000 people this weekend, but many were already in town Friday.

It’s a celebration of the Appalachian Trail, visited in droves by the people who walk it. A visit to Trail Days has become a highlight of any full-distance trip on the Appalachian Trail.

Joe McCann, a hiker from New Hampshire, had made 600 miles on his journey and already passed through Damascus but came back just for Trail Days.

“It’s become kind of folk lore. If you do the trail, you should show up at Trail Days,” McCann said.

McCann stayed in the tent city just outside of Damascus. After weeks and months of hiking, he said it’s nice to have some time to rest.

“It’s a very nice little break. Still a lot of walking downtown. Even though we’re walking 2,000 miles it doesn’t mean we like to walk,” McCann said.

The event was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and the crowd last year was around half the usual size, so town organizers were thrilled with early turnout.

After a town-wide investment into Appalachian Trail tourism, Trail Days Chair Susan Coleman said it’s paying off.

“The businesses do well. The restaurants do well. Everyone loves being back in town,” Coleman said. “This is the friendly town on the trail.”

She said a record number of vendors join the usual music, food, drinks, and several activities throughout the weekend.

It’s the biggest economic weekend for Damascus, but it affects the town year-round.

“They actually come back and maybe visit or do the Creeper Trail or just come back and stay for a weekend or week and visit the town, so this means a whole lot to the town,” said Tom Snow of Damascus Outfitters.

For hikers, the weekend is also an opportunity to meet up with people met on the trail.

“You get to see people that you met through the trail, because you know everybody has a different speed, different paces, and it’s a good time to get everybody back together again,” said Daniel Bauer, a hiker 700 miles in to his Appalachian Trail journey.

Appalachian Trail Days continues through Sunday.

On Saturday, the main attraction will be the traditional Hiker Parade.