virginia tripple crown

A comprehensive guide to hiking the Virginia Triple Crown

The Virginia Triple Crown is a challenging and rewarding hiking loop located in southwestern Virginia, known for its stunning vistas, unique rock formations, and diverse wilderness. The trail loop consists of three iconic destinations: Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you plan and navigate this popular hiking route:


Virginia Triple Crown Trail Overview:

  • Length: Approximately 35 miles (including side trails)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
  • Time Needed: Typically 2-3 days
  • Trailhead Location: The Virginia Triple Crown loop can be accessed from various trailheads, including Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Andy Layne Trailhead.
  • Trail Route: The most common direction is to start at Dragon’s Tooth, hike to McAfee Knob, then Tinker Cliffs, and return to the starting point.

Permits and Regulations:

  • Permits: Currently, there are no permits required to hike the Virginia Triple Crown. However, it’s always best to check with local authorities for any updates or changes in regulations.
  • Leave No Trace: As with any wilderness area, it’s important to practice Leave No Trace principles. Pack out all trash, minimize campfire impact, and stay on designated trails to protect the natural environment.

Virginia Triple Crown Trail Highlights:

  • Dragon’s Tooth: This unique rock formation is known for its challenging rock scramble and panoramic views. It’s a popular spot for rock climbing and offers stunning vistas of the surrounding valleys and mountains.
  • McAfee Knob: Often referred to as the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail, McAfee Knob offers breathtaking views of the Catawba Valley and is a perfect spot for a scenic lunch break.
  • Tinker Cliffs: Known for its dramatic rock outcrops and sweeping views of the New River Valley, Tinker Cliffs provides a memorable hiking experience with stunning photo opportunities.

Camping and Water Sources in The Virginia Triple Crown:

  • Camping: There are several designated camping areas along the Virginia Triple Crown loop, including campsites near Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs. These campsites usually have established tent pads, fire rings, and privies, but camping regulations and availability may vary, so it’s best to check with local authorities.
  • Water Sources: Reliable water sources may be limited along the trail, especially during dry seasons. It’s important to carry enough water or have a water filtration system to ensure safe drinking water.

Trail Navigation:

  • Trail Markers: The Virginia Triple Crown loop is well-marked with white blazes for the Appalachian Trail and blue blazes for side trails. However, it’s always a good idea to carry a detailed trail map and have basic navigation skills.
  • Trail Conditions: The trail conditions may vary, ranging from well-maintained footpaths to rocky and steep sections. Proper footwear with good traction is recommended, and hiking poles can be helpful for stability, especially on challenging descents.

Safety Considerations:

  • Weather: The weather in southwestern Virginia can be unpredictable, with hot summers and cold winters. Be prepared for changing weather conditions and pack appropriate clothing, including rain gear and layers.
  • Wildlife: The Virginia Triple Crown loop is home to various wildlife, including bears, snakes, and ticks. Take proper precautions such as storing food properly, avoiding close encounters with wildlife, and using insect repellent to prevent tick bites.
  • Emergency Preparedness: As with any wilderness hike, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies. Carry a first aid kit, know the location of the nearest trailhead and shelter, and have a plan for communication in case of an emergency.

Plan and Prepare:

  • Research: Before embarking on the Virginia Triple Crown hike, do thorough research on the trail, including trail conditions, weather forecasts, camping regulations, and any recent updates or closures. This will help you plan and prepare accordingly.
  • Packing List: Make sure to pack essential gear, including a tent, sleeping bag, camping stove, food, water, clothing, headlamp, navigation tools, first aid kit, and personal items. Be mindful of the weight of your backpack and pack only what you need.
  • Trailhead Parking: If you plan to park at any of the trailheads, be sure to check for parking regulations and fees, and follow any posted rules to avoid any issues.
  • Leave an Itinerary: Before setting out on the trail, leave a detailed itinerary with a friend or family member, including your planned route, estimated time of return, and emergency contact information.

Trail Etiquette:

  • Respect Wildlife: Remember that you are a guest in the wilderness, and it’s important to respect the wildlife. Do not approach or feed wild animals, store food properly to avoid attracting animals to your campsite, and observe any wildlife viewing regulations in the area.
  • Yield to Others: The Virginia Triple Crown is a popular trail, and you may encounter other hikers, backpackers, or trail runners along the way. Always yield to other hikers on the trail, especially on narrow sections or when passing, and maintain a friendly and respectful attitude towards fellow hikers.
  • Stay on Designated Trails: It’s crucial to stay on designated trails and avoid creating new trails or taking shortcuts, as this can cause erosion and damage to the natural environment.
  • Pack Out Your Trash: Practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash, including food scraps, wrappers, and litter. Keep the wilderness clean and leave it as you found it for future hikers to enjoy.

Enjoy Your Hike:

  • Take Your Time: The Virginia Triple Crown is a challenging hike, so take your time, enjoy the scenery, and stay safe. Pace yourself, rest when needed, and make sure to drink plenty of water and eat enough food to keep your energy levels up.
  • Capture Memories: The Virginia Triple Crown offers breathtaking views and unique rock formations, so don’t forget to bring your camera or smartphone to capture the memories of your hike.
  • Appreciate Nature: Take the time to appreciate the natural beauty of the area, listen to the sounds of the wilderness, and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the trail.

That concludes the comprehensive guide for hiking the Virginia Triple Crown in the United States. Remember to plan and prepare, practice Leave No Trace principles, and always prioritize safety during your hike. Enjoy the stunning scenery, challenging trails, and unique rock formations along this iconic hiking loop in southwestern Virginia!

1 thought on “A comprehensive guide to hiking the Virginia Triple Crown”

  1. It is stunning! I highly recommend watching the sunset from Tinker Cliffs even if it means setting up your campsite in the dark (camping on the cliffs is not allowed). Dragon’s Tooth is a challenge but worth it for one of the best views on the AT.

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