Virginia's Triple Crown Loop

HARD 14 reviews

Virginia's Triple Crown Loop is a 35.1 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Mountain Brook Estates, Virginia that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

DISTANCE
35.1 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
9835 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Loop

dogs on leash

backpacking

birding

camping

hiking

nature trips

walking

forest

views

wild flowers

The Virginia Triple Crown is comprised of what many consider to be the state’s three best hiking destinations: McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs and Dragon’s Tooth.  All are conveniently located within a few miles of each other just outside of Roanoke.  McAfee Knob affords a 270-degree view of the Catawba Valley far below and has been called the most photographed spot along the Appalachian Trail.  Just a few miles north on the AT is Tinker Cliffs, another prominent outcropping of rock offering a view of the same valley and distant mountain ranges.  A few miles southwest just inside the boundaries of Jefferson National Forest resides Dragon’s Tooth, a unique geologic feature consisting of spires projecting up to 35 feet from the surrounding rock. Any of these is a worthy destination for a challenging day hike. You might be able to hit 2 of 3 on an extended day hike, but taking in all three requires an overnight stay.  The more common routes are either shuttle hikes or require lots of backtracking.  This is a 3-day, 35-mile loop that circumnavigates the entire valley, hits all three viewpoints, and minimizes backtracking.  In this route, you’ll hike the AT for several miles, camp at an AT shelter, cross the valley, return on the western side of the valley via the North Mountain ridge, cross the valley again, and rejoin the AT to return to your car at the Catawba Mountain parking area on Route 311.  As designed, this 35-mile loop is broken roughly into thirds.  There are several parking areas, shelters and backcountry camping spots along the way, so you could divvy it up differently to suit your needs.  WARNING: This trek is not recommended for beginners.  This route involves lots of climbing, rock scrambles, blustery ridges and a whole day without water sources (you’ll have to carry lots of water up North Mountain for Day 2). 

backpacking
8 days ago

Great hike! Did it in 2 full days. Lots of uphill, lots of sights, and lots of bears!

hiking
13 days ago

backpacking
28 days ago

July 16 – July 20, 2017

Description:
The way we ended up doing the trek work out very well, especially for a couple of old men not in the best of shape. We have a good deal of trail experience and have done several multiple day hikes; however, looking back on it this was a pretty advanced course to tackle. Especially since this was our first longer that 2-3 days. The original plan was to do this in 3.5 days but we quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen. We doing it over 5 days with a half day the first and last days which really helped considering we had a 3+ hour drive back home. If we lived closer to the trail, we could have done it in 4 days. We started and ended the trek at the McAfee Knob parking area which was best for us; if we had started at Dragon’s Tooth we may not have completed it because DT is pretty overwhelming. Big Tip: when tackling Dragon’s Tooth stash your pack somewhere at the DT Trail & AT intersection that way you don’t have to lug those things up and down Dragon’s Tooth. We probably wouldn’t have thought of doing that on Day 1 but by Day 4 that was an obvious choice. Also we stashed water at the Dragon’s Tooth Parking Area because we weren’t sure what the water situation would be like. As it turns out there’s a big creek there that I’m sure is only dry in the most extreme conditions, if ever. This loop definitely lives up to its difficult rating and should not be taken lightly. Water was a major concern as well as the difficult terrain, especially on the back half of the loop.

Day 1 (McAfee Knob):
After driving 3+ hours we hit the trail around 1330. We hiked to the Campbell Shelter which is just past McAfee Knob. McAfee Knob was spectacular and a great way to start the trek. The hike itself was fairly strenuous as you’ve got a long vertical climb to get to the knob. There was little water along the way. Campbell Shelter had water but the spring was at a trickle. Some ingenious thru-hikers (thanks Enoch of the Mountains, and Mountain Nav) set up a piping system so that the water was easier to access. Slept great as we were tired from the hike and our new hammocks were very comfortable. Lots of people and dogs on the trail but there were only a few of us at the shelter.

Day 2 (Tinker Cliffs):
Our first full day on the loop. The plan was to go 11.3 miles but we only made 8.2 miles. We were pretty well beat up and dindn.t have it in use to do the Catawba Valley Trail. The dog was also showing signs of fatigue. He’s only 2-1/2 and still bull of every and doesn’t know how to pace himself, so he probably walked and ran at least twice the distance we had so far. Tinker Cliffs were awesome. We got within about 10 yards of a doe before she was spooked and ran off. One of the coolest things about the cliffs is that the AT actually goes along the edge of the cliffs. The topos are a little misleading, even though you’re on a ridgeline to Tinker Cliffs there are still a lot of up and downs. Plus, the downhill from Tinker Cliffs was brutal, I’d rather go uphill than downhill.

Day 3 (North Mountain):
This was our best day on the loop mileage-wise. We were able to cover 11 miles and only stopped because we were coming down from the ridgeline into the valley and we were concerned about the lack of good camping spots. As it turned out this was a pretty good decision since the next good camping area was at the intersection of Dragon’s Tooth Trail and the AT. The Catawba Valley Trail leading up to the North Mountain Trail was defiantly very difficult. The North Mountain Trail was a nice hike but also had lots of up and downs. Saw a Timber Rattlesnake.

Day 4 (Dragon’s Tooth):
Wow. Dragon’s Tooth was tough, and a spectacular view. There were some pretty awesome rock scrambles, especially near the top. They were difficult for the dog to negotiate and had to assist him a few times but he made it. Coming down was a challenge and there were lots of ups and downs as we continued north on the AT and several rock obstacles to overcome. We were pretty tired after Dragon’s Tooth and the hike out. Saw a black bear as we were hiking out. We ended up camping at the first good water source next to a creek after hiking about 7 miles. I was so glad we decided to stash our packs at the top of Dragon’s Tooth Trail before continuing on to Dragon’s Tooth.

Day 5 (Hike Out):
Not a bad hike out for the final leg. A lot of softer terrain (no rocks) which was very nice for the dog as his paws were very tender at this point. Next time I do anything this adventurous I’ll have booties for him. Lots of ups and downs as we were on ridgelines most of the way; however, there was on long tough vertical climb at the end. Pizza time and a 3-hour drive back home.

hiking
1 month ago

backpacking
1 month ago

backpacking
1 month ago

1 month ago

Just got home from spending the weekend enjoying the views from this awesome hike. It's a hike that all hikers should do.

1 month ago

Amazing hike! Incredible views all three days. Wear good shoes and pack plenty of snacks and water! Did this with my dog who loved it.

backpacking
1 month ago

Great trail but do not underestimate the difficulty, especially during the heat of the Summer. Recommend start at Dragons Tooth. Not as crowded and you can stash supplies and water at your vehicle after you come down from North Mountain ridge. You will need them.

1 month ago

hiking
2 months ago

Great challenging trail. It poured the days I was walking

4 months ago

backpacking
5 months ago

Amazing 36 mile loop. Great for a 3 day 2 night backpacking trip. Lots of ups and downs and it is a pretty difficult hike, but it is something you should check out. The three points of interest are dragons tooth, McAfee knob and tinker cliffs. Great stuff

hiking
11 months ago