Dragon’s Tooth: Slay This Bucket List Hike in Southwest Virginia

Virginia’s 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 the three hikes 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.

Trail Stats 
Length4.8 miles
DifficultyStrenuous
Trail TypeOut-and-Back
Elevation Gain1,309 feet
Duration3-4 hours
TerrainMostly rock & dirt, challenging rock scrambles
Dog-FriendlyNo
FeeFree
Driving DirectionsClick 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 parking lot is a good size, but given the popularity of this hike, it’s not big enough. It is legal to park parallel along much of 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).

Dragon’s Tooth Trail

The hike begins with a climb along the blue-blazed Dragon’s Tooth Trail. You’ll encounter four or five rocky stream crossings, as well as a few stepping stones.

Bypass the Boy Scout Trail, then cross a couple of wooden bridges that break up a relatively 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 easy.

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.

Appalachian Trail 

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 white-blazed Appalachian Trail.

You will reach 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 are steep rocky steps and areas where you feel as though you are scaling the side of Cove Mountain, even iron bars 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.

If you have trekking poles, you may want to collapse them and tuck them into your daypack until you complete this rocky stretch.

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.

Dragon’s Tooth

In a few more steps this magnificent spire will come into view and you’ll be thrilled to have reached your destination.

There is an open area at Dragon’s Tooth where you can settle down on a small rock for a breather.

There are plenty of viewpoints here to take in the breathtaking mountain views, including from atop the 35-foot-tall rock spire if you choose to make the climb.

Once you’ve savored all the views, simply re-trace your steps to return to the parking area. Take it slow as not to trip or slide on any rocks on your way down.

Wrap-Up Notes

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 hike more than deserves a spot on anyone’s hiking bucket list.