Dragon’s Tooth: Slay This Epic Appalachian Trail Hike Near Roanoke, Virginia
The Virginia Triple Crown had been on my bucket list for some time. I was eager to hike all three segments: Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs
I noticed that a local MeetUp group had scheduled an overnight hiking trip to tackle these three hikes with great views in one weekend. I was so completely in.
I may have been the first person to sign up. I had no idea who else was going or whether I was even available. I was checking this hiking trifecta off my bucket list.
You can hike the three segments in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley in any order that you want, but many people tackle this adventure over two days.
As in, slay Dragon’s Tooth on Day One, then close out McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs on Day Two.
The out-and-back hike to Dragon’s Tooth, mostly along the Appalachian Trail, may only be 4.8 miles, but it is strenuous.
Not only do you need to manage an elevation gain of more than 1,200 feet, but the last mile or so to the rock spire is rocky, steep and technical at times.
|Elevation Gain||1,309 feet|
|Terrain||Mostly rock & dirt, challenging rock scrambles|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
Dragon’s Tooth Hike
There is a dedicated parking lot for the Dragon’s Tooth Trail with two restrooms. Sadly, on my visit in September 2020, the restrooms were locked due to COVID.
The Dragon’s Tooth parking lot is large, but given the popularity of this day hike, it’s not big enough. It is legal to park parallel along Catawba Valley Drive (VA-311).
That’s likely your best option and honestly it will be much easier to exit from one of the parallel spaces. The trailhead is easy to find in the back of the parking lot.
It’s a short uphill walk that gives you a quick taste of what’s to come as you hike mostly uphill to Dragon’s Tooth (trust me, it will all be worth it at the top).
The trail head is located at the rear of the parking area. There is a large sign, so you should have no problem finding the blue-blazed Dragon’s Tooth Trail.
Dragon’s Tooth Trail
The hike begins with a climb along the Dragon’s Tooth Trail. Follow the blue blazes. You’ll encounter several stream crossings, as well as a few flat stone steps.
Bypass the Boy Scout Trail, then cross a couple of small bridges that break up a straightforward hike through the leafy Jefferson National Forest.
At the 1.45-mile mark you’ll see a trail sign on the right politely informing you that the next mile is not going to be an easy path.
To be specific, it’s going to be “rocky and steep.” The rock scrambles are simple enough to start and are a nice change from mostly dirt trails.
In a few more steps, you’ll see a trail sign for Lost Spectacles Gap. It’s here that you turn right to switch over to the Appalachian Trail.
Follow the white blazes. You will reach the unique geologic feature called Dragon’s Tooth by way of this southbound section of trail in .7 miles.
From here, the hike takes a turn, both literally and figuratively, as you will shortly encounter very challenging sections of trail.
There is a series of rock steps, as well as areas where you feel like you are scaling the side of Cove Mountain, even iron ladder rungs to climb rock faces.
You will need full access to hands, feet, elbows, toes, fingers and knees to make it to the top from this point given the steepness of the trail.
If you have trekking poles, you may want to collapse them and tuck them into your daypack until you complete this section of rock scrambling.
Once you step foot on dirt trail again you’ll see a sign urging you to turn left onto the blue-blazed trail. From here, Dragon’s Tooth is a short .1-mile stroll.
In a few more steps this magnificent spire will come into view and you’ll be thrilled to have reached the top of Cove Mountain.
There is an open area at Dragon’s Tooth that is the perfect place to settle down on a small rock for a breather. Revel in the plentiful rugged outcrops of quartzite.
There are plenty of viewpoints here to take in the panoramic views, including from atop the 35-foot-tall rock spire if you choose to climb to the top of the Tooth.
Once you’ve savored all the magnificent views, re-trace your steps to return trip to the Dragon’s Tooth parking area. Take it slow on the rocks on your way down.
From the parking area, it took me 2.5 hours to complete this hike, including time spent at Dragon’s Tooth taking in the views I had worked so hard to achieve.
Dogs are allowed on this trail – and I did see several dogs on the way up and down – but there is no way I can in good conscience suggest that anyone bring a dog.
Obviously, you know your own dog and what he can do, but the last mile to the top was way too rocky and treacherous for any pups (in my opinion).
I would also say that this trail should only be taken on in fair weather conditions. As in, no rain, hail, snow or even wind.
You need to be hyper-focused in the rockier sections of trail so there’s no need to be unnecessarily abused by weather elements on the way up or down.
Dragon’s Tooth was unquestionably one of the most challenging trails I’ve ever hiked, but the reward was beyond what I’d imagined.
If you feel comfortable with the elevation gain and tricky rocky sections, I say go for it. This really great hike deserves a spot on anyone’s hiking bucket list.
Eager to get more steps on local trails? Here are more of the most popular hikes in the area when you want to go hiking in Roanoke, Virginia (or near Roanoke).
Erin Gifford is the editor of Go Hike Virginia. She has completed more than 300 hikes in Virginia. She is also the author of three hiking guidebooks from Falcon Guides. Need help finding a hike? Check out the Trail Finder feature or send Erin a message.