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. […]

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.

triple crown map

Click for detailed view.

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. NOTE: the McAfee Knob trailhead parking lot on Rt. 311 is closed during 2024 while a pedestrian bridge is built across the highway. Learn more and plan accordingly.

  • 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
  • WARNING: Only park in the trail head parking lot off Rt. 311. DO NOT park on the side of Rt. 311  – you will be towed.
  • View Overview Map
  • 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!) 

Nearby Breweries

  • Big Lick Brewing Company Expand Collapse

    Big Lick Brewing Company was Roanoke’s first nano brewery and taproom; while it has grown the idea that it is “specializing in craft beer with an emphasis on quality and variety” has not. You might find anything from a cream ale to IPA to porter at any given time.

    The taproom is open Wednesday through Saturday. Bring your growler for a fill-up to go.

  • Golden Cactus Brewery Expand Collapse

    We brew every week, usually a beer we’ve never made before to keep things fun and fresh. We’re colorful, kid friendly, and love to share behind the scenes of how we brew. Visiting us is like visiting your grandma’s greenhouse on a warm Spring day.

    Hours of Operation

    Mon. – Thurs. 3 pm – 9pm
    Fri. – Sat.  12 pm – 10 pm
    Sun. 1 pm – 8 pm

  • Golden Cactus Brewing Expand Collapse

    Specialty craft beer brewed in Downtown Roanoke, Virginia.

  • Olde Salem Brewing Company – Roanoke Expand Collapse

    The newest Olde Salem Brewing Company location is on the corner of Church and Market Streets in Downtown Roanoke. Come have a beer with us.

    Monday-Thursday: 11am-9pm
    Friday-Saturday: 11am-11pm
    Sunday: 11am-8pm

    Be sure to check out our Salem location too.

  • Olde Salem Brewing Company – Salem Expand Collapse

    Located at the very heart of Salem Virginia’s Historic Main Street District, Olde Salem Brewing Co. exudes history. The building was constructed just 114 years after the town was founded in 1806 by James Simpson; and was home to a well known appliance store for decades. Olde Salem believes its craft beers hold a piece of that history in every glass.

    Open Tuesday through Sunday.

    Be sure to check out our downtown Roanoke location on the corner of Church and Market Streets.

  • Parkway Brewing Company Expand Collapse

    Parkway Brewing Company is a 4 vessel, 30 bbl micro-brewery with a 17,000 barrel capacity, in Salem, Virginia, specializing in distinctive ales for the discriminating beer enthusiast. Founded in 2012, Parkway Brewing offers several beers exclusively on-site, as well as flagship beers sold in bottles and kegs throughout Virginia.

    Random live music, from old-time bluegrass to blues and rock, and a variety of food trucks make this a destination for weary travelers who need a break from driving on Interstate 81. A casual, low-key vibe, along with some stellar brews keep the locals coming back for more. Family friendly and boasting an outdoor beer garden, Parkway Brewing has become one of Salem’s most unique and welcome community assets.

    The tasting room is open seven days a week:

    • Mon. and Tues:  2-8pm
    • Wed. and Thurs:  2-9pm
    • Fri. and Sat: 12-9pm
    • Sunday:  12-8pm
  • Starr Hill Pilot Brewery & Side Stage Expand Collapse

    Starr Hill Pilot Brewery & Side Stage has 23 rotating taps of Starr Hill craft beer, including special pilot batches that you can only find in Roanoke. The location has live music and open mic nights and there’s often a food truck on-site. Brewery is open daily.

  • Three Notch’d Craft Kitchen & Brewery Expand Collapse

    The Three Notch’d Craft Kitchen & Brewery – Roanoke is located in the heart of Downtown directly across from Center in the Square. The kitchen specializes in creating locally-sourced, beer-infused dishes designed to complement the season as well as what’s on tap. From Southern classics to modern favorites and our kid’s menu, you’ll find something for everyone. Location serves flagship and seasonal beers, plus unique, locally focused styles brewed on the pilot system and from other taprooms.

  • Twin Creeks Brewing Co. Expand Collapse

    Twin Creeks Brewing Company is Vinton and Roanoke County’s first micro-brewery. The brewery has plenty of options on tap from blonde ales to IPAs to porters. The brewery also has food trucks and live music on site. Extra parking at Vinton Farmer’s Market, Between the farmer’s market and post office, and Vinton Library (after hours).

    Open Thursday through Saturday.

  • Twisted Track Brewpub Expand Collapse

    The Twisted Track Brewpub thrives to be a destination for the whole valley and beyond; the premier brewery in the Roanoke Valley, brewing everything from traditional European ales to American IPAs , stouts and sours, while specializing in lagers. The aim is to add a new twist to the existing craft beer scene and to serve and nurture our wonderful community – our home.

    In addition to hand crafted beer, we offer pub fare with yet another twist and a selection of wines, ciders and soft drinks – something for everyone.

    Open hours: 4:00pm to 9:00pm Tues. thru Thurs., 12:00pm to 10:00pm Fri./Sat., and 12:00pm to 7:00pm Sun

Nearby Food

Nearby Shopping & Gear

  • Boat & Kayak Rentals at Carvins Cove Expand Collapse

    Carvins Cove Natural Reserve is the second largest municipal park in the nation. It holds a major water source within its 12,700 acres and overflowing recreational opportunities including hiking, biking, fishing, and boat rentals. The cove includes 11,363 acres that are protected by the largest conservation easement in Virginia’s history.

    With more than 60 miles of trails and an 600-acre reservoir Carvins Cove is a mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and boating paradise.

    The Marina rents 14′ row boats along with single and tandem kayaks.

  • Boy Scouts of America Blue Ridge Mountains Council Expand Collapse

    Scouting is about building character, developing personal fitness, and learning leadership and citizenship. These goals are achieved in the outdoors. The adventure of hiking, camping, swimming, boating, high-adventure challenges, and touring is woven into the scouting program.

    • Cub Scouts: First through fifth grades (seven to 10 years old)
    • Boy Scouting: Ages 11-17, program of fun outdoor activities, peer group leadership opportunities and a personal exploration of career, hobby and special interests
    • Venturing: Youth development program for young men and women who are ages 14-20
  • Gander Outdoors Expand Collapse

    If you’re going fishing at Smith Mountain Lake or hiking on the Appalachian Trail, make sure you’re prepared with a stop at the Roanoke Gander Outdoors. The store has a tremendous assortment of the top brand-name gear as well as technical clothing designed to make your day more enjoyable.

  • Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Expand Collapse

    For almost 100 years Girl Scouts have been helping girls discover their self potential. Did you know that 70 percent of women in the U.S. Congress were Girl Scouts? They’re not alone. About 69 percent of female executives and leaders have participated in Girl Scouts.

    Girl Scouts has age-appropriate programs that meet the needs of today’s girls from kindergarten to 12th grade. The model is based on three principles:

    • Girls discover their world and their own potential and strengthen their values
    • Girls connect with others through caring relationships and team building
    • Girls become empowered to take action and be advocates for themselves and others
  • Hunter’s Den Expand Collapse

    The Hunter’s Den in New Castle is a one-stop shop for hunting needs (rifle and archery).

  • Just The Right Gear Expand Collapse

    Just The Right Gear is a full service mountain and road bike shop located on Route 311 as you head to Carvins Cove. As a factory authorized dealer for over a dozen of the most respected brands in the cycling industry, the shop offers a comprehensive selection of bikes. Whether you’re a hardcore mountain biker, a leg shaving roadie or a casual greenway cruiser, there’s a bike for you.

  • Sherwood Archers Expand Collapse

    Sherwood Archers is a private archery club serving the Roanoke Valley of Virginia. Sherwood is affiliated with the Virginia Bowhunters Association. The purpose of the club is to foster, expand, and perpetuate the practice of all phases of archery and to encourage the use of the bow in the hunting of legal game. The range consists of one 28- and one 14-target field course, a five lane indoor range and seven outdoor practice targets.

    As a member of Sherwood you have the opportunity to participate in archery events such as indoor winter leagues, 3D field tournaments, and you can shoot at your leisure. Sherwood has picnic and primitive camping areas available for member use.

    Contact us via

  • Sportsman’s Warehouse Expand Collapse

    Whether your passion is hunting, fishing, camping, backpacking or shooting, it’s important to have the right equipment when you head into the great outdoors. That’s why Sportsman’s Warehouse carries only top-quality, brand-name products for the serious outdoor enthusiast.

  • Walkabout Outfitter – Valley View Mall Expand Collapse

    Co-Owned by Kirk Miller, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and Eagle Scout; Walkabout Outfitter carries clothing, footwear, and equipment for camping, hiking, backpacking, travel and everyday wear.

    Walkabout Outfitter sells outdoor, travel, and lifestyle clothing from The North Face, Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear and offer plenty of footwear options to include: Keen, Chaco, Merrell and Ahnu.  Walkabout sells top of the line gear from Osprey, Eagles Nest Outfitters, MSR, Leki, Petzl, Black Diamond and more.

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