Virginia Triple Crown Loop

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The Triple Crown is a combination of three amazing hiking destinations in Virginia. And they’re all conveniently located right around Roanoke. This overnight backpacking trip begins and ends at the Route 311 Appalachian Trail head. This is a difficult hike totaling about 32 miles.

There are several options for hitting the Triple Crown. There are shuttle systems that will transport you from trailhead to trailhead. You can also take advantage of the Appalachian Trail and hike your way between the trails on the Virginia Triple Crown Loop. The conditions for backpacking are subject to change. Stay updated before your trip and check in with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club.

Up for the challenge? We broke it down for you.

McAfee Knob


The most photographed site on the Appalachian Trail includes a nearly 270-degree panorama of Catawba Valley, Tinker Cliffs, and the Roanoke Valley.

  • Where: Off Route 311
  • Length: 8 mile round trip (out and back hike)
  • Difficulty: Moderate (gradual uphill on way up, downhill on return)
  • Estimated time: Plan for at least 5 hours
  • Map and directions

Breakdown: Beginning opposite of the parking lot off Route 311, you join the Appalachian Trail and head north toward the Knob. There’s an informational kiosk about 0.3 miles in. Follow the white blazes (rectangular paint marks on the trees) to stay on the right path. You’ll cross four wooden walkways and see the Johns Spring shelter. Then you’ll cross five more and pass the Catawba Mountain shelter. Next, cross an old fire road and power line clearing. Walk for another 0.5 mile and turn left on the McAfee Knob spur trail to arrive at the lookout. Come back the way you went up.

Insider Tips:

  • Parking fills up quickly, and you can’t park on the shoulder of Route 311. Your best bet to guarantee parking is to visit on a weekday or before 8 a.m.
  • Another option for larger groups is to stop at the I-81 Exit 140 Park and Ride (click on the green car right by the ‘R’ in Roanoke on the map for directions) and carpool to the trailhead.This hike is lengthy and not to be underestimated, despite being considered the “easier” of the three Triple Crown hikes.

Tinker Cliffs/Andy Layne Trail

tinker-viewStreams, creek drainages, rock formations, and lush forest offer pleasant views on the hike up, which rises 1,700 feet in elevation. Bluff top views at the peak with a 180-degree panoramic view are spectacular.

  • Where: Off Route 779 (Catawba Road)
  • Length:7 miles (out and back hike)
  • Difficulty: Difficult (lengthy with steep elevation gain)
  • Estimated time: 4-5 hours
  • Map and directions

Breakdown: You’ll start off of Catawba Road and follow the yellow-blazed Andy Layne Trail. You will cross two fence stiles, then two Catawba Creek bridges. Continue as trail bears left, then right after 100 feet. The hardest part of the hike includes a steep elevation gain with some areas of no switchbacks (zig-zagging). Three miles in, you will join the Appalachian Trail (white blazes). Continue and you will see a view of Broad Run Mountain. Next, you will reach a view of the Catawba Valley. The better view is 200 yards beyond this first view, with McAfee Knob clearly visible. Come back the way you went up.

Insider Tips:

  • Stay on the trail – the area around the trail is private and belongs to Roanoke Cement Company.
  • The trail gets steep in places, so be prepared.
  • Explore the cliffs once you reach the top!

Dragon’s Tooth

dragons-toothTuscarora quartzite spires that outcrop on the top of Cove Mountain are the distinguishing feature with the tallest “tooth” projecting about 35 feet above the surrounding “teeth.” The trail ascends the spine of Cove and North Mountain, called “Dragon’s Back” because it is composed of steep rock.

  • Where: Off Route 311, past Catawba Grocery
  • Length: 5 mile round trip (out and back hike)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to difficult (not lengthy, but steady incline that leads to a steep, rugged section)
  • Estimated time: Plan for at least 4 hours
  • Map and directions

Breakdown: The trail starts with a kiosk at the back of the parking lot. You will follow the blue-blazed trail to the top. Go 0.25 mile and cross two small bridges. You’ll see the intersecting yellow-blazed Boy Scout Connector Trail. Bear right and continue on the blue-blazed trail. Continue for nearly 1.5 miles, crossing the creek several times on a steady incline before reaching the Appalachian Trail intersection. Turn right to go south on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. There will be 0.7 miles of steep rock steps before bearing left at the intersection to follow the blue-blazed trail to Dragon’s Tooth. Come back the way you went up, or once you reach the Appalachian Trail, go beyond the blue-blazed trail you started on and continue north on the A.T. until you reach the yellow-blazed Boy Scout Connector Trail. You’ll go left on this trail until you reach the blue-blazed Dragon’s Tooth Spur Trail, and go right toward the parking lot. This second route back offers different scenic views.

Insider Tips:

  • Take a picture of the map at the kiosk, or bring your own. Despite new signs and a well-marked trail, people can still get lost on the way back down.
  • This hike is considered to be harder than McAfee Knob, and the last mile is very rugged, so conserve your energy.
  • The parking lot here fills up quickly. The tips for McAfee Knob parking also apply.

Bonus Challenge: Virginia Triple Crown Loop

For added challenge, you can hike all three trails in one continuous backpacking adventure, since they’re all connected by the Appalachian Trail.

Heads Up: That’s 36 miles of hiking in one trip! (This route is not recommended for beginners.)

There are several options for hitting the Triple Crown. There are shuttle systems that will transport you from trailhead to trailhead. You can also take advantage of the Appalachian Trail and hike your way between the trails on the Virginia Triple Crown Loop. The conditions for backpacking are subject to change. Stay updated before your trip and check in with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club.

Don’t Forget Supplies

Here’s what we recommend taking for your day hike. (You’ll need more if you’re doing the Triple Crown Loop.)

  • Water: Stay hydrated! These hikes are challenging. At least one quart of water per person (2 on a hot day) is strongly recommended. If you’re bringing a four-legged friend, make sure there’s enough water for them as well.
  • Snacks/lunch: You’re going to want a bite to eat at some point. Plus, a picnic at the peak of the trail is a great reason to stay longer to soak in the view!
  • Camera: Snap a picture from the top so you can always remember the view.
  • Supportive shoes: You’ll need sturdy shoes to venture up the mountains – especially the rocks at Dragon’s Tooth.
  • Hat/sunglasses/sunscreen: Protect yourself from the sun.
  • Rain jacket: In case of pop-up showers.
  • Flashlight or head lamp, and warm layers: If the hike takes longer than expected and the sun starts going down, you should be prepared.

Leave No Trace

Stay on the trails and don’t shortcut switchbacks in order to maintain the trails and prevent erosion. Take out anything you bring in. You can also volunteer to join the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club or their Meetup group to keep the Triple Crown trails beautiful. (Special thanks to the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club for their insider tips!) 

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    Open Wednesday-Saturday.

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    Open Tuesday through Sunday.

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    The tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday.

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    The winery and tasting room are open Wednesday through Sunday.

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