Cross the “Virginia Triple Crown” off your hiking bucket list


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Virginia is a state that attracts fans of camping, fishing, mountain biking, canoeing, golfing, and countless other activities that make use of the state’s bountiful natural resources. But it can be especially intriguing for hikers looking for their next big adventure.

The Blue Ridge Mountain Range stretches across the state, offering endless trails and breathtaking views that backpackers, photographers, and casual hikers can also enjoy. One of the most notable routes is Virginia’s Triple Crown, a unique hiking experience that consists of three climbs along the Appalachian Trail: Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs. This region, which begins in the foothills near Roanoke and Salem, is a must see for anyone seeking extraordinary natural beauty in the lush heart of the oldest settlement in the continental United States.

Dragon tooth – Joseph Mesite

You can hike each one individually or take the 32 mile (completed over multiple days) hiking loop that covers all three peaks. The route begins at the Dragon’s Tooth parking lot and connects to McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs via the Andy Lane and North Mountain trails, eventually returning to where you started your journey.

Here is a guide to the three mountains, so you can choose your own adventure.

Dragon tooth

Dragon Tooth – Sam Dean

The first of three stages of the sacred Triple Crown hike, Dragon’s Tooth offers a great introduction to the terrain of the region. This is a 4.6 mile round trip to the summit and back to the Dragon’s Tooth parking lot on Route 311, with the first 1.5 miles of well-marked trail wandering along bubbling streams and a thick forest. The remaining 0.8 thousand to the top takes things up a notch. This ascent includes bouldering and a section with iron bars to climb, but at the end you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

After the hike, consider stopping at the Catawba Valley Farmer’s Market near Catawba, a few miles from the trailhead. It’s open Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., from mid-May to mid-October, and has fresh local offerings like fruits, vegetables and meat, which you can buy for the next leg of the Triple Crown. . If your stomach is still rumbling after those fresh market meals, head to Fortunato, the region’s only Italian cuisine and pizzeria. Or, you can always drop by Elmwood Park, a popular outdoor event venue in the heart of downtown Roanoke, to listen to live music.

McAfee button

McAfee Button – Sam Dean

The McAfee Knob Trailhead is just four miles from Dragon’s Tooth on Route 311 and takes hikers to one of the Appalachian Trail’s most iconic and best-photographed spots. The 4.4 mile trail climbs up Mount Catawba at an elevation of 3,197 feet, making it a rewarding but challenging 8.8 mile out and back. The Knob itself, with its recognizable rocky lip jutting out into the air, offers stunning views of the Catawba Valley and the mountains that surround it. This wide rock slab is a popular place to have a picnic, so don’t hesitate to spend some time at the top and take in the views.

You’ll be sweating during the Rise of McAfee, so why not cool off with a craft beer at Salem’s Parkway Brewing Company? The brasserie is known for hosting live music and on-site food trucks, which complements it as a perfect post-hike destination. If you’re still not chilled, a visit to Splash Valley Water Park in historic Roanoke might just do the trick.

Tinker Cliffs

Tinker Cliffs
Joseph Mesite – Visit the Virginia Blue Ridge

Of the three Triple Crown hikes, Tinker Cliffs is often considered an overlooked gem. The hike is accessed via the Andy Layne Trail, which begins off Catawba Road / Route 779. It is a 7.7 mile round trip with an elevation of 2000 feet, so make sure you get a good sleep before doing this hike. The cliffs themselves rise to 3,000 feet and give you breathtaking views of the sprawling Blue Ridge Mountains, including Catawba Mountain and McAfee Knob. Be sure to take a close look at these natural beauties as you go, they are made up of limestone that dates back over 250 million years.

After descending from Tinker Cliffs, pass by O’Brien Meats, a downtown Salem staple that has been operating for over 40 years. The butcher offers choice cuts of meat if you are looking to cook for yourself, but you can also dine there. Specialty sandwiches, homemade bacon burgers, and top-notch Counter Culture coffee top the list of must-haves.

The Triple Crown showcases the elements that make Virginia a popular destination: awe-inspiring mountains, breathtaking views, tree-lined valleys, and eclectic and welcoming local offerings. There is a lot to love in Virginia.

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