Backpack the Virginia Triple Crown

Dragon's Tooth Parking Lot

This 30 mile, multi-day hike will take you to three of Virginia's most iconic views. 

The Virginia Triple Crown is a combination of three of the most spectacular and popular hikes in the region. It combines the Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee’s Knob and Tinker Cliffs hikes into one long multi day hike along the Appalachian Trail. It makes for an excellent 2 day backpacking trip, with many rewarding views.

While there are a few different route options, this version details one route option beginning at Dragon’s Tooth Parking Lot and ending at the commuter parking lot on route 220, just off of Route 81 north of Roanoke. This route is about 30 miles and takes at least two full days of hiking.

GPS Coordinates

Dragon’s Tooth Parking Lot: 37.3788, -80.1561

Route 220 Lot: 37.391058, -79.906265

Because this route does not begin and end in the same place, backpackers will need to coordinate logistics to/from trailheads. One option, if there are multiple hikers is to drive two cars to the end of the trail, leave one car, drive the other to the trailhead and then hike from there. At the conclusion of the hike, you can drive back to the trailhead and get the car left there. Additionally, Uber operates in the area, as well as some taxi services.

This route begins at the Dragon’s Tooth Parking lot off of Catawba Valley Drive (Route 311) in Catawba, VA.

Take the trail out of the back left hand of the parking lot. Follow the blue blazes for 1.4 miles until the trail intersects with the Appalachian Trail. Take a right and follow the White blazes south bound. There is rock scrambling in this section. After .7 miles and a significant elevation gain you will reach the ridgeline. Take a left and follow the blue blazes .1 miles to Dragon’s Tooth, the first Crown on your hike.

Head back to the white blazes of the Appalachian trail. Return the way you came, heading northbound on the AT. After .7 miles, pass the junction you originally made when turning onto the AT but instead stay straight and on the white blazes. You will begin heading into Catawba Valley.

After 1.4 more miles you will cross Newport Road (Route 624) and cross the adjoining stream. Stay on the white blazes. After 1.5 more miles you will pass through the valley and cross Blacksburg Road (Route 785). After passing through the field you will cross a small stream, this is your last water source for 5 difficult miles and a lot of elevation gain. Continue on the the white blazes through Beckner Gap and up the switchbacks onto the Catawba Mountain ridge. This ridge will run for 3.2 miles into the McAfee’s Knob parking lot.

Walk through the lot, cross the road, and head up the path to continue on the AT. After 1.2 miles you will pass the John Springs Shelter. There is no backcountry camping permitted along this entire hike, so you must camp at shelters or designated campsites. This is the first one you will pass on your trip. There is a water source back and to the left of the shelter about 200ft, but it is not completely reliable.

After another mile, the Catawba Mountain shelter will be to your right. There is a spring here, about 300ft behind the shelter, though there are reports that it is also unreliable. The blue blazes lead you to the spring.

Another 1.7 miles on the trail and you will arrive at McAfee’s Knob. This is crown number 2. To reiterate there is no camping allowed on any part of this trail except at shelters and designated campsites, no camping on or near the knob.

Continuing .7 miles on the AT you will pass Campbell Mountain shelter. There is water here. You will need to walk about 300ft beyond the shelter. It is crudely marked but the stream is on the far side of the powerlines. This is the last water for 8 miles or so.

Now you will continue onto the 3rd Crown. You will hike along the Tinker Mountain Ridgeline for another 5 miles before reaching Tinker Cliffs, the 3rd crown. After resting and celebrating your epic victory, hop back on the AT headed north again. You will wind down the backside of Tinker Mountain, and after .8 miles you will come to a trail junction, stay on the AT’s white blazes to the right. After another .8 miles or so you will cross Lamberts Meadow shelter. There is water in the stream next to the shelter. This is the last water source of the hike.

To finish your journey you have 9 moderately difficult miles hiking along the rocky back half of the Tinker Mountain ridge line. Once you descend down the ridge you will pass over a cement bridge and train tracks, you are getting close to your finish line. Keep your eye open for a very sharp left hand turn on the AT, there is a trail heading straight with yellow blazes. Take this trail, in .3 miles it will put you out by the commuter parking lot on Route 220.

Congratulations!`

Topographical overview of the Virginia Triple Crown

Pack List

  • Backpack
  • 3-4 Liters of water
  • Water filtration system
  • 3500-4500 calories for each full day out on the trail. Approximately 2 for this trip.
  • Sleeping bag and pad
  • Map
  • Headlamp
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RT Distance 29.26 Miles
Elevation Gain 5728 Feet
Activities Camping, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Advanced
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Point-to-Point
Features
Easy Parking
Forest
Scenic

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Alone

This is the best backpacking trip I have ever been on, I recommend trying to get up to dragons tooth before night time and staying at the top, because the night sky is the most beautiful I have ever seen up there


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