The 4.8-mile out-and-back Dragon’s Tooth hike is one leg of the Virginia Triple Crown, a trifecta of three scenic hikes near downtown Roanoke, Virginia.
This strenuous hike in the Jefferson National Forest follows the Appalachian Trail and the Dragon’s Tooth Trail to Dragon’s Tooth, a 35-foot-tall rock spire.
On the way to Dragon’s Tooth, you’ll cross streams, step across flat stones, traverse footbridges and scramble rocks to reach the top of Cove Mountain.
The elevation gain is 1,200+ feet and the hike can be technical at times, more so than the other Virginia Triple Crown hikes, McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs.
|Mostly rock & dirt, challenging rock scrambles
Dragon’s Tooth Hike
There is a parking lot for the Dragon’s Tooth Trail that has two restrooms. An information kiosk and trail sign are just to the left of the vault toilets.
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).
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. There are 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 informing you that the next mile of hiking 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.
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 geological feature called Dragon’s Tooth by way of this southbound section of trail in 0.7 miles.
From here, there is a series of rock steps, as well as areas where you feel like you are scaling Cove Mountain, even iron ladder rungs to climb the rock face.
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, I suggest that you 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 0.1-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 good 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 panoramic 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 I would advise against bringing a dog on this hike.
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 list of must-do hikes.