The Hybrid Way
The Hybrid Way combines a day hike up Dragon's Tooth with an overnight hike from the McAfee Knob Parking Lot to the Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot. You can choose to break the two portions into separate trips or combine them into a 2 day trip.
Overall, the mileage for this approach is 2.39 miles shorter than the Easiest Way we previously posted. Having said that, you will be carrying an overnight pack for a dozen miles with this hybrid approach.
Dragon's Tooth (Day Hike)
Park at Dragon's Tooth Parking Lot (map below)
Begin hiking from the parking lot on Dragon's Tooth Trail. Stick to this trail for the next 1.7 miles until it joins the Appalachian Trail. At the junction with the AT continue southbound toward Dragon's Tooth for 0.7 miles. This section has some rock scrambling where you'll likely need to use your hands for short portions. After a steep ascent you'll reach another trail junction where you'll find a 0.1 mile spur trail that will take you to Dragon's Tooth.
Descend the same way you came up.
Mileage: 4.32 miles round trip
Elevation Gain Going Up: +1,412 feet
Elevation Loss Going Up: -194 feet
McAfee Knob to Tinker Cliffs (Overnight Hike)
Park at McAfee Knob Parking Lot (map below). You also need to think about the end of this hike. If you're hiking with someone and you're able to bring two cars, leave one at Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot (map below) then drive together to your starting point at McAfee Knob Parking Lot. If you can't make that happen you can contact a local shuttle driver. Click here for a list of shuttle drivers maintained by The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. I recommend you have the shuttle driver meet you at Andy Layne Parking Lot and drop you off for the start of your hike at McAfee Knob Parking Lot so your car will be waiting for you when you finish this hike.
Begin hiking by crossing the road near the trail kiosk at the end of the parking lot. You'll be hiking on the Appalachian Trail northbound. About a half mile into the hike you'll reach a fire road with a nearby trail kiosk. Don't stay on the fire road. Instead, look down to your right of the kiosk and you should see the Appalachian Trail continue through the woods. Look for the white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail throughout the hike. For this next section of the hike you'll pass Johns Spring Shelter and Catawba Shelter. Each has a spring nearby in case you need water. Use a filter and be aware that the springs can run dry if it hasn't rained in awhile. After 2.5 miles from the parking lot you'll once again reach a fire road. This time continue uphill by crossing the fire road on to the trail directly across. You're still on the Appalachian Trail northbound. You'll follow this next section all the way to McAfee Knob. After 3.8 miles the elevation begins to level out. Keep an eye out on your left for a large open area of ground level rock. You'll see a sign on one of the trees stating "Overlook". Walk just through the woods to the left side of the trail to reach McAfee Knob.
Looking out from McAfee Knob you'll see a ridge-line off to your lower right (you can view it in the picture above). Follow the length of that ridge-line as it curves to the left on its way up to a higher peak off to the northeast. That higher peak at the end of the ridge-line is Tinker Cliffs (also in the picture above toward the upper left). Yep, you'll be hiking all the way there the next day.
After you've enjoyed a snack and had your picture taken on McAfee Knob, continue your hike on the Appalachian Trail northbound. Shortly down the trail you'll pass through some very large rock groupings then begin a reasonably steep descent toward your destination for the night, the Pig Farm Campsite and Campbell Shelter area. Set up camp for the night. There is a short walk to a water source but it can be unreliable in drier weather. Plan accordingly. There is a bear box near the shelter for storing your food at night.
If you're feeling adventurous you can hike back to the top of McAfee to catch the setting sun. Bring a headlamp because you'll be hiking back down in the dark. If you plan your trip around a full moon it may provide better visibility if the weather cooperates. You'll also be able to catch brief glimpses of the city lights of Roanoke off in the distance on your return trip to camp.
Wake up the next morning, pack up camp, and continue north on the Appalachian Trail. Fill up your water bottles as there is no reliable water source until you're almost back to the Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot. You'll follow the AT along the ridge-line mentioned above all the way to Tinker Cliffs. The trail becomes strenuous as you near the cliffs. After you've worked your way to the top, stop for a snack and enjoy the view of the valley to your southeast. This is arguably the best view of the hike!
When you decide to continue your hike be careful as sections of the trail near here are directly next to the cliff edge. Continue your scenic hike and then begin a half mile descent toward a trail junction with the Andy Layne Trail. The Andy Layne Trail will feel like a continuous, unrelenting descent at times. Be careful and take your time. Most of this trail passes through private property so please be responsible to ensure future access for other hikers. Toward the end of the hike you'll cross a couple of foot bridges and pass through a cattle pasture. Finish up your trip at the Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot.
Total Mileage: 12.47 miles one way
Day 1 Mileage: 4.57 miles
Day 2 Mileage: 7.90 miles
Total Elevation Gain: +3,311 feet
Total Elevation Loss: -3,788 feet
Key Mileage Points
0.00 - McAfee Knob Parking Lot
0.98 - Johns Spring Shelter (no bear box, privy, water source)
2.19 - Catawba Shelter (bear box, privy, water source)
3.80 - McAfee Knob
4.57 - Campbell Shelter and Pig Farm Campsites (bear box, privy, water source)
8.86 - Tinker Cliffs
9.76 - Junction of Appalachian Trail and Andy Layne Trail
12.47 - Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot