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Virginia's Triple Crown Loop

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 4.8 (30) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

A 35-mile loop featuring McAfee Knob , Dragon's Tooth, and Tinker Cliffs!


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Map Key

34.8

Miles

55.9

KM

Loop

3,170' 966 m

High

1,360' 415 m

Low

6,774' 2,065 m

Up

6,778' 2,066 m

Down

7%

Avg Grade (4°)

43%

Max Grade (23°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Commonly Backpacked · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildlife

Overview

This hike is packed with great attractions like amazing views, tough climbs and descents, and beautiful sections of trail. The loop features three popular overlooks: McAfee Knob , Dragon's Tooth Trail, and Tinker Cliffs. Hikers can choose which overlook to start at and which direction to go. We started at the 311 Parking Lot (McAfee Knob Trailhead), and hikeed to McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. Following a long ridge-hike on North Mountain Trail, we descended to the Dragon's Tooth Trail and finished on the AT North back to the 311 Parking Lot.

Need to Know

  • Water: This loop was at the time because Virginia was in a drought, but here were the water sources we found:
    1. After McAfee Knob , there was a shelter with water, but it was dry.
    2. Stream after Tinker Cliffs and at the end of the Andy Layne Trail.
    3. There is no water on the North Mountain.
    4. There was a slight stream before Dragon's Tooth Trail, and one right after Rt. 624.
    5. The last water source we saw was near the cow pastures shortly after Rt. 624.
  • There's a lot of elevation change on this route where several times a climb to descent will start over the next one back at street level.
  • North Mountain Trail is not heavily trafficked, and there's a good amount of loose rocks and shrubbery impeding on the trail.

Description

We decided to start this three-day outing on Thursday night to get to the top of McAfee Knob by sunrise on Friday morning. We parked at the 311 parking lot and started on the trail at 7:00 p.m. Thursday and headed on the AT North for 2.5 miles to the Catawba Shelter and camped out.

We awoke early Friday morning and started on the AT North for the remaining 1.5 miles to the McAfee Knob overlook for a beautiful sunrise. From this peak, you can see Tinker Cliffs to the North East, and the Andy Layne Trail to the North Mountain Trail, to give you an idea of where you're headed.

We started on the AT North to Tinker Cliffs (5.9 Miles). By lunchtime Friday, we arrived at Tinker Cliffs for a brief lunch and amazing views. We passed a shelter with a sign for water at about the 3.0 mile mark, but there was no water as Virginia was in a drought.

After Tinker Cliffs, we kept on the AT North until a left fork at the Andy Layne Trail (Yellow Blaze), following a steep descent and lots of switchbacks to the parking lot. The end of the Andy Layne trail ends at some cow pastures and a parking lot. Before these, we found a nice stream with clear water and topped off our water supplies here.

Crossing 779, there's another trailhead directly across the street, where you'll climb up the Catawba Valley Trail (Blue Blaze) for 2.5 steep miles and lots of switchbacks to reach the North Mountain Trail (Yellow Blaze). We turned left and decided to camp at the Turkey Trail for the evening (there are no campsites there, we had to find our own).

Day 2: We awoke and continued our journey on the North Mountain Trail, heading for Dragon's Tooth Trail. We estimated that it was about 8.0 miles from the Turkey Trail to the bottom (Rt 311). After a rocky and steep switchback-laden descent, we finally got to the bottom of the North Mountain Trail.

Happy Mistake: Descending North Mountain, you're supposed to take a right to the Dragon's Tooth Trail Parking lot. We accidentally took a left and found a gas station where we refilled all our water, which we definitely needed. We also treated ourselves to an ice cream sandwich, which was heaven!

After a long, desolate (we didn't see anyone on the North Mountain Trail) trip, it was nice to see smiling faces tackling the Dragon's Tooth Trail. We ascended 2.5 miles to the Dragon's Tooth overlook. Dragon's Tooth was definitely the most challenging of all the peaks, as there'a a lot of rock scrambling and steep climbs—definitely difficult with our packs, but we made it.

After Dragon's Tooth, we descended 0.7 miles to the AT North, and continued about 1.5 slow miles past Rt. 624 and ascended up some switchbacks and found camp for the evening. There was really no camping here either, we found some flat, soft ground atop our ascension after Rt. 624.

Day 3: We packed up camp and headed back on the AT North for the remainder of our 6-mile hike to the 311 Parking lot. There was a stream we crossed over near cow pastures, which looked like a good source for water. We traveled through roughly three cow pastures and up a tough ascent to Catawba Mountain, our last mountain ridge.

This last ascent up Catawba was a little tough as our legs were sore from the previous two days of hiking, but we made it to the ridge and continued on for 3-4 miles. After passing a few south-bound AT hikers, we knew we were getting close. A few sounds of cars in the distance, a small descent (cool rock formations here), and we were at the parking lot to change and head straight the breweries for the well-deserved post-hike food and beer!

History & Background

McAfee Knob is the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail.

Contacts

Shared By:

Tyler Delsack with improvements by Catherine Sowinski

Trail Ratings

  4.8 from 30 votes

#154

Overall
  4.8 from 30 votes
5 Star
83%
4 Star
13%
3 Star
3%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%
Recommended Route Rankings

#6

in Virginia

#154

Overall
1,034 Views Last Month
24,316 Since Oct 12, 2017
Difficult

0%
0%
4%
0%
85%
12%

Photos

Photo by Sam Dean Photography for Roanoke Outside Foundation
Apr 27, 2017 near Salem, VA
McAfee Knob is the perfect place to rest and enjoy the view.
Jul 2, 2017 near Salem, VA
Sunrise at McAfee Knob.
Oct 12, 2017 near Salem, VA
Patriotic Section Hikers stand on McAfee Knob.
Mar 13, 2017 near Salem, VA
A hiker enjoys her reward on McAfee Knob.
Jun 24, 2017 near Salem, VA
The stairway to heaven - it's a lot of steps!
Oct 3, 2017 near Daleville, VA

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Check-Ins

Mar 27, 2020
Francis Hernandez
Mar 10, 2020
Peter Bradley
13h 40m
Mar 9, 2020
Peter Bradley
Total sufferfest — 13h 40m
Jan 18, 2020
Devyn Harris
Start of trail
Oct 12, 2019
Kathryn Fondren
Trail was busy, but N Mnt was peaceful - Camped 1 night near deer trail. Plan your water well - Streams currently flowing. 37mi — 20h 00m
Oct 10, 2019
Jim Hewston
Hiked clockwise over three days. Very challenging trail, especially Catawba Valley and Andy Lane trails. Conditions are dry. Rewards are worth t… 36mi
Oct 8, 2019
Thomas Green
While the North Mt ridge makes you question your sanity, the views from the three peaks of this hike make it worth the trek. Be smart with your water! 37mi — 56h 00m
Sep 27, 2019
Chase Deeney