Hiking in Virginia? Here’s How to Hike Dragon’s Tooth

Hiking in Virginia. Dragon's Tooth

Hiking in Virginia.

Hiking, anyone? How about some hiking in Virginia?

You might remember from my Friday Faves post that I mentioned that since moving to Virginia I like to go hiking.

Usually, I just go on short hikes.

And I’m gonna be honest about why…

I don’t want to have to pee in the woods. I have no problem with the woods, just the fact that these trails are highly traveled. But I was talking with my oldest son recently about how I mostly follow these outdoorsy people on Instagram since that’s what I’m photographing and how I like outdoorsy product and clothing lines…and he said, “well then you’re going to have to get out there and camp and do more outdoorsy things.”

I knew that was true, so I decided to get over my panic.

Sign for Dragons Tooth Trail

How to Hike Dragon’s Tooth.

We picked a nearby trail to hike. Now I want to share my experience and give you some tips from my first long (ish) hike.

Dragon’s Tooth. 

Location of Dragon’s Tooth.

Dragon’s Tooth Trail is located on Catawba Valley Drive in Catawba, Virginia.  We just used the GPS on our phone, but we got off at exit 141 on I-81 South. We turned left onto N. Electric Rd and then took a right onto Catawba Valley Drive. After almost 10 miles, the sign for the entrance to Dragon’s Tooth Trail is on the left. Prior to that entrance, you will pass another well-known hiking entrance- McAfee Knob. The car parking area at Dragon’s Tooth fills up quickly, so be sure to get an early start.

We chose Dragon’s Tooth Trail for our first long hike because it was shorter (mileage wise). It is 2.4 miles one way (I’ve read some accounts that say it is longer).  There is a gain of around 1500 ft in elevation. Always pay attention to the signs as there are intersecting trails!  This trail has a blue blaze.


Be Prepared.

Since he knew about my panic, he threw a roll of toilet paper in our backpack supplies.  I was like “really?!”, but it turned out to be a good thing since the toilets at the beginning of the trail were out of toilet paper (thanks hubby). There was hand sanitizer, but next time I’ll remember my own.  I’m pretty opposed to antibacterial stuff in daily use, but do own sanitizer for soccer events (porta-potties…no explanation necessary).

I mentioned in this post that my hiking boots did not work out. They haven’t yet been replaced.  I hiked in running shoes.  I’m not sure I’d recommend this.  I saw plenty of people on the trail with them.  My feet are in-between sizes and my shoes were a little big and the bottoms were a little too worn.  This will matter on the boulder section. I think it goes without saying, but I will…always bring enough water.

Enchanted Forest

The beginning of the hike meanders through an enchanted forest along a stream.

It was in the low 50’s (F) when we started and a little chilly in the shade of the trees.  But don’t worry, the steady climb will warm you right up.


I’m always amazed by the trees as I travel along the forests in Virginia. My husband laughed at how many I “hugged.”  Some were so huge that I wanted to see if my arms would even go half way round (and I have long arms).


I think about how long they must have been growing on that mountainside and how long they’ll be growing after I’m gone. I think about how nature is continually growing and thriving while we try to battle it in our yards.  Personally, I rarely battle it, preferring to give it its say.



In the forest, everything works together, creating this beautiful cycle. Once we were away from the parking area, we were surprised by how quiet it was.  The random calling of a bird and the answer of another. Otherwise, silence. It reminded me of growing up and made me miss the silence of the country and of a sky filled with stars in the darkness.

Appalachian Trail.

And just when I began to wonder when we would reach the Appalachian Trail….there we were.

I got engaged on the Appalachian Trail. We weren’t hiking it. We had traveled to Clingman’s Dome in Tennessee and then meandered down part of the trail to a quieter spot, where he asked me to be his wife.

It’s amazing to me that this trail goes along all the way from Georgia to Maine. About 2,200 miles.


Around some corners, you can begin to get a glimpse of the mountains.

Boulder Section.

The .7 miles is much harder than the part you have already climbed.  You will now be following white blazes.  There is a reminder to pay attention to them.

Do this.

This is a boulder climbing section.  You need to know which direction to go.


You also need to be prepared for obstacles.

This tree was across the most obvious path.  There was a newly worn path going around the upper portion of the tree.  We opted for that instead of going over because we were letting a group of people pass us while we took a water break.


My shoes did not have the kind of traction that I would have liked in order to have gone over the tree.  They had a tendency to slide a little on some inclines during the uphill hike.



We packed the cameras away for part of the boulder climb so that things would not get bashed or fall.  You really should google some images.  The real climbing begins at an area that runs along the edge of the mountain. I knew I could get up, but was really worried about my descent.  There are also a few spots where bars are embedded into rock because of the steepness of the trail.



When you get to the top of the boulder section, there are a few overlooks. I took a break to enjoy my moment at the top of the world.  The hand out of view is gripping the rock since it’s a long way down!

It is about another 1/10 of a mile, following blue blazes again, to get to Dragon’s Tooth.



Dragon’s Tooth is named because of the giant Tuscarora quartzite spires.  The tallest “tooth” rises about 35 feet.  The only shots that I was semi-happy with did not include the entire spires. The next time I do this hike, I’m hoping for some more greenery (aka, not winter!).


I did not climb to the top of the tooth.  I don’t know if I would even if my shoes were a proper fit.


The Descent.

The hike down requires as much work and concentration as on the way up. I was really nervous about the spot that I call the “steep cliffside descent” (I found somebody’s 30 second YouTube video of the spot here.  This still doesn’t show that beside that face is just straight down and you are thousands of feet in the air).

I was seriously wondering whether I would descend it barefoot. My husband jokes about my “monkey toes”.  I can pick things up with them if I’m too lazy to bend over.  My feet are also strong from lots of balance work in yoga. I figured they would be better than sliding down the rock or having my shoes trip me up. When I got to the spot though, it was nowhere near as frightening as what I had built up in my mind.  I made my way down.  From there on its smooth sailing.  Ok.  That’s an exaggeration, but nothing scary remains.


I kept my husband amused by yabbering away.  Finding sticks, and rocks, and acorn tops to play with along the way.  When I could see the end in sight, I showed him my legs weren’t completely dead, doing some squats and a tree pose.

I was excited that I had conquered the Dragon’s Tooth Trail, earned a little outdoorsy credit (and didn’t have to pee in the woods)!

If you find yourself with some time spent hiking in Virgnia, don’t miss the challenge of Dragon’s Tooth.


Let your light shine!


40 thoughts on “Hiking in Virginia? Here’s How to Hike Dragon’s Tooth

  1. Ooh, those purple mountains this time of year. Dreamy! The pictures are all beautiful.
    I agree with you on bare feet being better than many shoes. Those of us who embrace the talents of our bare feet are nothing to scoff at πŸ˜‰

  2. The views were well worth the climb and effort despite not having broken new boots and going in tennis shoes.

    Hugging trees. Have you hugged a young Pine/Juniper that smells like Vanilla? Out here in California we have them. When they get old they lose that smell, but when they’re young this particular tree smells like vanilla. I’ve hugged many a tree trying to smell it, and I’ve hugged many Redwoods, and other trees…just because.
    I spent 3 years climbing a huge Redwood just to find solitude, and a place to daydream and think. I miss that tree. We had a bond that tree and me. It was in our backyard. I was crushed, and so, so sad to have to move from that house.

    Let me tell you..peeing in the woods…no problem. Doing #2 and having to pack for that with a little shovel, and baggies to pack it out is whole nother set of worries. I can pee behind a bush with a whole bunch of guys on the trail…number 2…not as brazenly as the guys can!
    I hope you can get to that place sooner than me. You’re younger so there’s hope.

    1. The views were definitely worth it!
      I have not hugged a tree that smells of vanilla. It sounds lovely. I may have to test some out. The young pines in Florida smelled strongly of their sap, which is distinctive, but I’m not sure what I would liken it to.
      The Redwoods are my list of must-sees and I even mentioned them to my husband during the hike. We had an Australian Pine (which are actually invasive) that grew on our property along with me. I used to climb that tree almost every day and had special places I liked to sit and watch the world go by.
      When I was 7, I went to a summer camp at the Conservancy in Naples. We did lots of fun things, but I remember the last day, we had notebooks and we were supposed to pick a tree and write its characteristics and such. I can’t remember if there were questions to answer, but I remember writing that I picked the tree “because it talked to me”. I guess I’ve always had a thing for trees πŸ™‚
      I think I was most worried about finding an actual bush to get behind. A fat tree may work for a guy to pee behind, but it’s not going to work for me. lol. Yeah, I didn’t even want to think about #2 issues πŸ™‚ I’ll get there eventually.
      Since I saw a show a few years ago with the Camino de Santiago trail, it moved onto my wish list. I’d really have to get over those issues for a 500 mile walk! πŸ™‚

  3. Looks like somewhere I’d enjoy climbing and what a view at the top. Contrary to what people tend to expect, coming down is harder on your legs than going up. Congratulations!


  4. Well done on conquering the climb. You did well and it looks beautiful. I had to laugh at the ‘monkey toes’ reference. That’s my toes too!

  5. What a lovely trail, and I love your tree pictures, and I love trees too. I have a theory that the reason why historically women wore skirts is so that they could pee with decorum in the outdoors. When we travel out into the bush I wear a fairly full skirt for this reason! Wrap-arounds are good. Before walking though, pass the back hem of the skirt forwards between your knees and lift it up and tuck it into the front of the waist band – and then one has sort-of walking attire! I learnt this trick from reading Christina Dodwell’s book, “Explorer’s Handbook” πŸ™‚

  6. So much about this fun hike brought back vivid memories. I recently completed a thru hike on the AT and Dragon’s Tooth (along with McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs) were the Trail highlights of Central VA. Good choice.

    I hear you on the backside. The rock wall scramble was no joke.

    I also have “monkey feet.” And I often hike in 5-finger shoes which my wife jokingly refers to as my monkey feet. Climbing to the top of the Teeth with these on was easier, but I still wouldn’t recommend for those without mountaineering experience.

    Hope to see more of these section hikes, and how knows, there may come a day that peeing in the woods becomes as natural as filtering water by a stream. (Hopefully, those to activities will be separated by at least 200ft πŸ˜‰ )

    1. A thru hike of the Appalachian Trail sounds amazing. McAfee is on my list. They say it takes about the same amount of time as Dragon’s Tooth, just is a longer hike. I would like to hike the Triple Crown (which I see that you did, with the addition of Tinker Cliffs).
      I was thinking 5-finger shoes would have made some of that bouldering section easier, but I also noticed that I felt each stone in the path through the sole of my tennis shoes a little more than I would in a hiking boot. That made me question whether 5-finger would be comfortable. Or perhaps, since you are more experienced, you knew to avoid the rocks in the path. πŸ™‚
      My son climbed to the top of the tooth a few years ago. But he was 15…and fearless.
      I’m sure that the more I get out there, the more comfortable I will be “when nature calls”. πŸ˜‰

      1. If I remember correctly, there is a Trail head a few short and easy miles from McAffee Knob so this could be a short afternoon hike. and another 2 or 3 miles will get you to Tinker Cliffs. This would be an excellent day hike.

        I didn’t realize that these three points were called a Triple Crown though. Long Distance hikers in the States generally refer to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail as the Triple Crown. Those that hike all 8,000 miles are truly loooooong distance hikers πŸ˜‰

        And you’re absolutely right about needing to train your feet quite a bit before hiking barefoot or in 5 fingers. The pebbles and roots get to be really annoying if you don’t have an extra layer of not-so-sexy callus to protect your soles and toes.

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