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Triple Crown – Backpacker Way

TripleCrown

The Backpacker Way

This is our last installment in our series of trip options to hike Virginia's Triple Crown and it focuses all on the backpacker! We stripped down the descriptions of the trail along the way so we could get more detailed about camping locations and mileage as well as 2 day, 3 day, and 4 day options. We even tacked on a section of North Mountain if you want to make this trip a full loop hike! If you'd like to see more detail about the trail visit our previous post The Trail Runner Way.

Dragon's Tooth Parking Lot

Start at Dragon's Tooth Parking Lot (map below). Why Dragon's Tooth? My thought process...

  • The Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot is the smallest of the lots. About a dozen cars can fit there.
  • McAfee Knob Parking Lot is a mob scene on the weekends. Unless you're going midweek to start your trip you're likely to have a hard time finding a spot.
  • Dragon's Tooth is a decent size lot, has a toilet, and if you do a loop it finishes a few hundred yards from a convenience store to help satisfy that thirst or hunger when you get back to the car!

Where are you leaving your car?

Options include:

  • Park your car at Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot and hire a shuttle driver to bring you to Dragon's Tooth Parking Lot. Your car will be waiting for you when you finish your backpack trip.
  • If you're backpacking with a partner, park one car at Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot and drive together in another car to Dragon's Tooth Parking Lot.
  • Make arrangements with a friend or family member to drop you off and pick you up.
  • Do a full loop hike and finish where you start.

Before we list the overnight options, it is important to point out the only places you can legally camp between VA-624 and the Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot are trail shelters. Camping is allowed on the Dragon's Tooth side of VA-624 so if that's where you choose to camp for a night please adhere to Leave No Trace Principles.

For all of the trip options I've listed I've chosen to not include an overnight stop on the Dragon's Tooth side which will make for a long day. Plan accordingly.

2 Day - 1 Night Option (22.24 total miles)

Day 1 (Total mileage day 1 will be about 11 to 12 miles.)

  • Park at Dragon's Tooth Trail
  • Hike to Dragon's Tooth
  • Turn around and begin hiking on the AT northbound to one of the shelters mentioned below
  • Water source near 5.06 mile mark
  • Water source near 5.95 mile mark (This is your last water source for the next 5 miles.)
  • Arrive at John's Spring Shelter or Catawba Shelter, camp for the night
    • These two shelters are a mile apart so if you think you can go the extra mile to Catawba I recommend it. It has a bear box whereas John's Spring Shelter does not.
    • Each has a water source but check the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club's Facebook page for a water update during the warmer months.
    • Each has a privy.

Day 2 (Total mileage day 2 will be about 11 to 12 miles depending on which shelter you camped at the previous night.)

  • Hike to McAfee Knob
  • Hike to Campbell Shelter
    • This will be your last water source for over the next 7 miles. Make sure you have enough water before proceeding!
  • Hike to Tinker Cliffs
  • Hike to trail junction for Appalachian Trail and Andy Layne Trail
  • Hike down the Andy Layne Trail to the Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot
  • Trip is complete

3 Day - 2 Night Option (22.24 total miles)

Day 1 (Total mileage day 1 will be about 11 to 12 miles.)

  • Park at Dragon's Tooth Trail
  • Hike to Dragon's Tooth
  • Turn around and begin hiking on the AT northbound to one of the shelter's mentioned below
  • Water source near 5.06 mile mark
  • Water source near 5.95 mile mark (This is your last water source for the next 5 miles.)
  • Arrive at John's Spring Shelter or Catawba Shelter, camp for the night
    • These two shelters are a mile apart so if you think you can go the extra mile to Catawba I recommend it. It has a bear box whereas John's Spring Shelter does not.
    • Each has a water source but check the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club's Facebook page for a water update during the warmer months.
    • Each has a privy.

Day 2 (Total mileage day 2 will be about 2.5 to 3.5 miles depending on which shelter you camped at.)

  • This is your short day! Take your time and enjoy the morning before beginning your hike.
  • Hike to McAfee Knob
  • Arrive at Campbell Shelter, camp for the night
  • Since this was a short day, if you're feeling adventurous you can hike back up to McAfee Knob after dinner and catch the sunset! You should also be able to see the city lights of Roanoke from the other open rock ledge area just past the iconic McAfee Knob ledge. Just be sure to bring a headlamp with you and be careful on your way back down.
  • There is a bear box near the shelter.
  • There is a water source a couple hundred of yards from the shelter but check the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club's Facebook page for a water update during the warmer months.
  • There is a privy near the shelter.

Day 3 (Total mileage day 3 will be about 8 miles)

  • Campbell Shelter area will be your last water source for just over the next 7 miles. Make sure you have enough water before proceeding!
  • Hike to Tinker Cliffs
  • Hike to trail junction for Appalachian Trail and Andy Layne Trail
  • Hike down the Andy Layne Trail to the Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot
  • Water source near 21.54 mile mark
  • Trip is complete

4 Day - 3 Night Loop Option (33.16 total miles)

This trip will be exactly the same as the 3 day, 2 night option above except instead of ending at the Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot you will cross VA-779 and eventually complete a full loop via North Mountain and end back at Dragon's Tooth Trail.

Day 3 (Total mileage day 3 will be 8 to 12 miles)

  • Campbell Shelter area will be your last water source for over the next 7 miles. Make sure you have enough water before proceeding!
  • Hike to Tinker Cliffs
  • Hike to trail junction for Appalachian Trail and Andy Layne Trail
  • Hike down the Andy Layne Trail
  • Water source near 21.54 mile mark
    • There is no reliable water source on the Day 4 hike along North Mountain Trail. Be sure to fill up your water on the Andy Layne Trail to last long enough to arrive back at Dragon's Tooth Trail which is about 12 miles away at this point.
  • Arrive at Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot. Continue across VA-779 to the Catawba Valley Trail.
  • You're no longer restricted to camping at a shelter once you cross VA-779. Feel free to set up camp following the Leave No Trace Principles after this point.
  • If you camp shortly after VA-779 you'll be around 8 miles for the day and about 11 left for Day 4.
  • If you want to shave more miles off of Day 4 continue hiking to the trail junction for Catawba Valley Trail and North Mountain Trail. Turn left on to the North Mountain Trail which will head in a southwesterly direction. Set up camp when you've had enough.

Day 4 (Total mileage will 7 to 11 miles, assuming you set up camp within the first 4 miles after crossing VA-779)

  • If you set up camp the previous night before reaching the North Mountain Trail, continue hiking to the trail junction for Catawba Valley Trail and North Mountain Trail. Turn left on to the North Mountain Trail which will head in a southwesterly direction.
  • If you made it all the way to North Mountain Trail on Day 3, continue hiking southwesterly on the North Mountain Trail.
  • For reference, distance from the (Catawba Valley Trail/North Mountain Trail) Junction to VA-311 is about 11 miles. Again, you may have passed this point on your previous day depending on where you set up camp for the night.
  • Arrive at VA-311. The Dragon's Tooth Parking Lot will be slightly down VA-311 to your right.
  • Arrive at Dragon's Tooth Parking Lot.
  • Trip is complete

Key Mileage Points

0.00 - Dragon's Tooth Parking Lot
1.41 - Lost Spectacle Gap/AT Junction
2.16 - Dragon's Tooth
4.28 - VA-624
5.06 - Water Source (stream)
5.95 - Water Source (stream)
6.75 - Catawba Mountain Peak
9.75 - McAfee Knob Parking Lot
10.73 - Water Source (John's Spring Shelter)
11.89 - Water Source (Catawba Shelter)
12.25 - Cross over fire road
13.55 - McAfee Knob
14.32 - Water Source (Campbell Shelter)
18.58 - Tinker Cliffs
19.51 - Trail Junction with Andy Layne Trail
21.54 - Water Source (stream)
22.24 - Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot (Cross VA-779 to continue on Catawba Valley Trail)
23.88 - Catawba Valley Trail and North Mountain Trail Junction
33.11 - Short hike along VA-311 back to Dragon's Tooth Trail

Loop
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