virginia hikes: Angel’s Rest – October 24, 2020

During peak foliage season, popular hikes like McAfee Knob can become very crowded. It seemed like standing room only up there just this past weekend (reddit). For such reasons, I only hike to McAfee during the weekday and for either sunrise or sunset. For the weekend, there are plenty other options along the Appalachian Mountains with outlooks. Angel’s Rest is such a place located about 30 minutes west of the Virginia Tech campus, yet we had plenty of time at the two major viewpoints all to ourselves during this peak hiking season.


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virginia hikes: Petites Gap, Highcock Knob, & Sulphur Spring loop, March 21 2020

With COVID-19 pandemic shutting down everything, there are a lot of questions regarding if hitting the trails is something ok to do. My impression on the aspect of social distancing is to avoid other. So it’s not just a simple questions of is heading outdoors ok. Rather the question is can I go hike somewhere not many other hikers are. Remember it’s not just contact with other, but also surfaces others have contacted. You know that rock everyone likes to sit on (McAfee), probably should avoid that. This is the reason popular parks such as Yosemite are closing as they should. Not to mention how the popular parks get tramped on the most without rangers upholding infrastructure (see the damage from government shutdown of 2019, Business Insider).

So the takeaway is go hiking, but probably should be limited to day hikes in your local area on the lesser trafficked trails. With all of that in mind, we headed to an out to explore an out of the way trail we hadn’t done before. We saw only 2 groups of hikers along the 8 mile stretch, so I’d consider that minimizing the risk.

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virginia hikes: Cascades Trail & Barneys Wall, October 26 2019

My first hike when I first moved to Southwest Virginia was to the Cascades and it is part of the typical initiation for Virginia Tech students to the area. Through my years here, I’ve hike this multiple times and it is different in each season. With peak foliage upon us once again, I headed back for another hike.

In comparison to my report last week in the Northern Park of the Shenandoah and earlier this week in the George Washington National Forest, the Cascades are further west and predicted to reach peak foliage earlier. And indeed, I hit the peak right on for the first time on this hike.


For weekly reports, you can also check out,  Virginia Department of Forestry reports, or Shenandoah National Park.

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virginia hikes: Cove Mountain loop, September 7 2019

Hiking Upwards recently uploaded a new loop near Buchanan, VA, 40 minutes from my place. It seemed like a hike with vista views to the west for a nice sunset. This was important since I was starting my hike late on a Saturday as I was looking to stretch my legs and to walk off the stress from watching a closer than expected football game for my alma mater.


You can also check out the companion video of the hike here.

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virginia hikes: Little Rocky Row via the AT, June 3 2018

This was a hike we did about a year ago and I’m finally getting around to writing it up. It also breaks up my work on the larger trip reports that I’m still grinding through. We hiked a section on the Appalachian Trail for a view of the James River. It had been raining quite heavily that week and we eager to head outside during a break in the rain on a Sunday afternoon.

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virginia hikes: Roaring Run, April 7 2019

After finishing the Hoop Hole loop, I still had some day light. And unlike Hoop Hole, Roaring Run was a hike I had wanted to do, but could never justify driving out there for such a short hike. So this was a good opportunity for me to take a look at the well liked falls of Roaring Run.

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virginia hikes: Hoop Hole, April 7 2019

Spring had arrived when I headed up to hike Hoop Hole. Flowers were in full bloom at lower elevations around Roanoke, so I decided to go for a hike one Sunday afternoon to see the bloomage on the mountains. Since I was by myself that day, I also was looking to explore something new. Hoop Hole is a well known local hike, but it was one that never really sounded that interesting to me before. Having put it off all these years, it did serve my explore mentality.

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virginia hikes: Devil’s Marbleyard via Belfast Trail, November 4 2018

The fall foliage hiking season seems to be getting shorter and shorter each of the last couple of years. This year it was nearly all green one week, peaked for one week, and gone the next. During the beautiful and fleeting peak weekend this year, Whitney and Matthew joined me for a hike and scramble up Devil’s Marbleyard. For future updated foliage report for in SW VA, check out Virginia Department of Forestry Report.


This report is supplemented by pictures of my past hikes.

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virginia hikes: Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprouts Run Trail Loop, March 4 2018

One aspect of my hike and trip reports is that I keep my personal ratings of the hikes, mostly for myself as part of the reflection process. Well, my whole purpose of this blog serves as an outlet for reflection, but the need to quantify the experience serves as a nice short cut for me to sum up the experiences and compare them for future planning. So my rating system developed meticulously with the rating representing an exact meaning. Of Course, just reading a definition of a rating can be hard to nail down the exact meaning and examples are always nice. So I present to you the perfect example of a 2 rating in views category, the little known Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprout Run Trail Loop.

Note to self, I really should change “views” to “experience”.


  • name: Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprout Run Trail Loop
  • type: loop
  • distances: 8.3 miles
  • elevation change:  2007 ft ascent and descent
  • time: 3.5 hours moving
  • location: Jefferson National Forest, near Arcadia, VA (direction to trailhead)
    • While I hiked this in the winter, there are many reports of ticks and even possible bear sighting in this area. This is a very lightly used trail from what I can tell, so those are to be expected. Check yourselves and pets after hiking here.


The means I found this hike was through as I was looking for local hikes I hadn’t completely in the area. I was looking for something novel as this week is a week we’d usually be traveling since Virginia Tech goes on spring break and facebook has not failed to remind me. But trying to finish my dissertation has put all travel plans on hold. As an aside, I understand working on my blog isn’t helping, but I have to have some escape.

Anyways, it’s rare that I find a route that’s not listed on Hiking Upwards or trailhead finder. Both the Wilson Mountain Trail and the Sprout Run Trail seem to be pretty new as neither are on OCM gps maps or the day hike trails for the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest page. I did find it partially on their topo map, but it was incomplete. On alltrails, it was also listed as 4 stars on alltrails with decent reviews and it was in the same mountain chain as Apple Orchard Falls and Cornelius Creek Trail Loop — a my favorite hikes in the area, so I decided to explore it on a sunny sunday.

The trail starts right past the outlet of Sprout Run is it enters the James River and the first portion is through private property. So please be respectful through their lands. There also isn’t any direct parking area around the trailhead, so I just squeezed by the side of the road. There was a little bit more open space before you cross the bridge over Sprout Run, but I didn’t see it until I left.

I was the only one at the trailhead as far as I could tell as I hopped over the stile. The path trail immediately crosses Sprout Run and is marked by yellow blazed pylons. You’ll cross it once more before a private trail branches off to the left as marked by “no trespassing” signs. After crossing Sprout Run again (you seeing the theme here yet?)

You’ll come to the junction for the Wilson Mountain Trail and the Sprout Run Trail. Most of the other reviews on alltrails and the one other trip report I ran into while writing this started with the Sprout Run Trail and returned on the Wilson Mountain Trail.

I decided to turn left and head up the Wilson Mountain Trail first, after crossing Sprout Run again, because I started late and decided to get my elevation gain out of the way first and not risk coming down in the dark. I’ll leave my discussion of the direction to do this hike later.

The Wilson Mountain Trail began to gain elevation right away with a few switchbacks that were composed of rocks, I think.


The reason I add the qualifier I think was because I was hiking through pretty thick leaf covering all the way up to the ridge. Even on the first couple of ridges, the leaves really piled up. At certain points, the drift piles of leaves on the trail was up to my shins and I felt like I was hiking up soft snow as I tried to not to slip on the leaves and not to “post hole” or twist my ankle as I couldn’t see the rocks on the trail. I also had worn my hiking sandals for the stream crossing and were beginning to regret it with all the leaves and branches getting stuck in them. I also could have used a hiking stick.

Clearly, this was a not oft used trail. I continued trudging onward as the trail reached the ridge with trees all around.

Since I was here during the winter season, I was actually able to see past the trees a bit at the mountains ridges surrounding the fields and the James River winding through them.


The ridge continued onward and undulated up and down past 3 peaks toward Wilson Mountain. Deer and squirrels can be seen running away from me with all the sound of leaves crunching I was making. The trail cuts to the right just before the peak of Wilson Mountain. I wasn’t having any of that and bushwhacked up to the top. It was similar to most Virginia peaks it was covered in trees.


I bushwhacked back to the trail and started on the much gentaler descent with much less piles of leaves drifts on the trail. In the distance to the southeast, I could see Devil’s Marble Yard in the distance, which was pretty cool having scrambled it many times.


While the many trees damped any vista views, I can imagine this being pretty section in peak foliage season with the tunnel of yellow leaves of if you want to see the tunnel of green that Virginia is known for in the spring. It, along with the isolation, allowed me to be reflective and have some me time, which was much needed and one of the things I love about hiking.

The trail slow down through more forest and after a open meadow, came to the next junction of the loop, a dirt road (FR-907). The trails are connected by a dirty road (FR-907). At the junction, there was another gated trail to the right that leads to a small peak over the Sprouts Run drainage based on my gps in 0.2 miles. I assumed it was just in the trees since there was no indication of an actual overlook.

To continue on the loop, I headed down the dirt road (FR-907) to the right just past the other gated trail from where the Wilson Mountain Trail ended.

The road will come to a 3 way junction that you take the right to come to one more junction after about 0.7 miles. The road junction is with another dirt road FR-812. Directly to your right heading down the drainage is the Sprouts Run drainage.


After getting down to Sprouts Run, the crossing start again. The creek is pretty small when I was there at the head of the drainage, but the first few crossing was a bit annoying as the leaves hid the muddy areas a little bit, at least I had sandals. In addition, there were several downfalls you’ll have to climb over or go around. I wasn’t too impressed at that point, but at least you are actually next to the stream running unlike the Bear Church hike. The running water sounds are always so soothing for me.

So at this point, I was ready to give it a 2 — a lower ranking 2 since hiking next to the stream was nice though all vistas from the ridge were blocked by trees with really no outlook. The trail was enjoyable enough that I didn’t regret coming out but that I wouldn’t really care to come back for. It was going to be on the lower end because there really wasn’t anything interesting.

After a few crossings, the rock formations that created really unique pour overs and cascades started to catch my eye. At the largest of the cascades, the rangers put in a bench there. Perfect for some contemplation time. Too bad I have no yoga skills or Meg with me to make a viral instagram picture.

I guess this highlight will have to do. I really like how the layers of the rocks formed pool steps that the water cascaded over. The golden hour soft sunlight and green moss really created a picturesque scene.


These cascading elements really completed the solid 2 rating for me. It was an enjoyable hike with some good views, but I probably wouldn’t come back here without others that would want to do it.

As I continued out the drainage, the stream crossings and cascades also continued.

Just before the junction, there were some cool layered rock formations outside of the water.


From the junction, it was an easy backtrack to the car across a few more water crossing and a nice view of the field with the sun going down to conclude the hike.


If I was to do this hike again, I would recommend to hike going up Sprouts Run Trail first. Hiking upstream allows you to take in the interesting elements of the creek without turn around every few second. The ascent is also spread over a longer distance making it easier. However, extra care is needed to account for drifts of leaves on the trail coming down.


ratings (1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)

  • views:  2. This hike was the definition of a 2 rating for me. To reiterate, this hike was enjoyable with the rock formations and cascades in Sprouts Run that provided for some good aesthetics. However, there wasn’t enough for me to say I’d do this again unless motivated by others. Part of my enjoyment was that I had the trail all to myself with nobody on the trail. It was easy to get lost in my thoughts among the views, trees, and creek.
  • difficulty: 2. In the 2000 feet elevation change and 8.3 miles, the really only tiring part is the initial uphill to Wilson Mountain. Much of the difficulty there after the initial switchbacks was because the massive drifts of leaves that blanketed the trail.
  • technical: 1. This wasn’t overly technical as it required no scrambling or route finding. However due to the lack of use, you have to pay attention to the trail of downfalls and the blazes may be a little further spread out that you are use to.


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virginia hikes: Dragon’s Tooth, February 21 2018

Dragon’s Tooth is one of the 3 peaks of the Roanoke triple crown (Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club) along with McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. It is characterized by the outcrop “tooth” like rock just off the peak of Cove Mountain that can be scrambled upon for a 360 view. It is also known as the most technical of the 3 with a short section of scrambling on the Appalachian Trail near the peak.


There are actually 4 ways from 3 different trailhead that you can used to access Dragon’s Tooth. The most popular and easiest is an in and out from the Dragon’s Tooth Parking Lot on the Dragon’s Tooth Trail that turns southbound on the Appalachian Trail (AT) at Lost Spectacles Gap. This is also my recommend return route for all other starts. Out of the same Dragon’s Tooth parking lot, the spur Boy Scout Trail splits shortly after the trailhead and connects with the AT quickly before continuing southbound. The other ways are starting on the AT at main trailhead parking lots (Trout Creek trailhead on Miller Cove Road VA-620 to head northbound or McAfee Knob Parking lot on Catawba Valley Drive VA-311 to head southbound).

While I hiked this on an overly warm, 78 degree Fahrenheit, February weekday recently for sunset, this is one of those local hikes that I’ve done multiple times in the past since it’s so close. My preferred route and what I hiked last time is to head up the Boy Scout Trail and returning on the Dragon’s Tooth Trail after summiting. However, I hiked down in the dark on my last trip since I was catching sunset. Rather than describing the exact hike of my most recent hike exclusively, I’ll cover the most popular and easiest way up first and then I’ll follow up with the alternatives using pictures taken across the years.


Dragon’s Tooth via Dragon’s Tooth Trail & Appalachian Trail (AT)





The Dragon Tooth Parking lot is located off of VA-311, Catawba Valley Drive (google maps).


Even though the parking lot is large, it will overflow onto the road on a nice weekend day. There is a trash can and restroom at the trailhead as well.


Near the trailhead there are several campsites around the first stream crossing.

Right after the first creek crossing, you’ll reach the junction for the Boy Scout Trail, which I’ll cover below. The Dragon’s Tooth Trail turns right.


The trail will cross the stream a couple more times

One of Shannon’s last hike with us in the fall 2016 before moving to Colorado.

before the Dragon’s Tooth Trail starts to slope upwards through the forest and up the drainage. I like the view of this section coming down as you’ll get a few nice sweeping views of the forest in the valley.

Nina leading the way on November 11, 2017.

After a last set of switchbacks and 1.5 miles from the trailhead,

Frozen branches on the trail on January 25, 2015.

the Dragon’s Tooth Trail connects with the AT at Lost Spectacles Gap. There are some that make their camp here at night. Turn right onto the AT to continue the last 0.7 miles to the top of Cove Mountain and as the warning sign says, there is some scrambling upcoming.

The immediate section of the trail consists of a mix of trail, rock steps, and with a few boulders to skip on top of or around.

When you reach a section of the trail where you’ll have to scrambling on a few vertical slabs, you’ve reached the final section to reach the top and the most difficult scrambling section.


Before continuing on, you’ll also get a nice view point here.


The scrambles continues upwards with the help of a couple steel rebar steps (a few steps up from the picture below)


before switching back on the final push to the up the rock face. Without the leaves, you can actually see the rocks that make up Dragon’s Tooth at the switchback point.


At the top of the climb, you reach the summit of Cove Mountain. The AT will continue southbound along the spine of Cove mountain to the right, but you’ll want to turn left on the short spur


to reach a couple large outcrop of rocks


known as Dragon’s Tooth.


However, the climax of the hike still lies ahead at the top of the tooth. Work your way around the far side (south) of the rocks and turn left toward the backside of the rock where it opens up. Here you’ll see a couple of gaps between the rocks. One sets up an awesome framing for the Catawba Valley.

The other gap is where you’ll scramble up.

There is a nice ledge here to take in the views, though it can get very crowded on a nice weekend.

If you are good with some exposure, there is the top of the tooth you can climb for a 360 degrees view.

For me on this February evening, it was to catch the sunset,


though the pink sky over North Mountain, Tinker Mountain, McAfee Knob, Catawba Mountain, Bushy Mountain, and Fort Lewis Mountain (from left to right) is the preferred view from the top.


Over the years, I’ve been up here many times. The following are some of my favorites reflecting my favorite times to hike up there such as sunrise and peak foliage season.


convinced Mark to join me for the Sunrise hike on October 27, 2017, hot chocolate coffee was pretty clutch on the cold and windy morning

Other than the tooth, there is a second spire you can scramble up as Drew does here. It’s a little more difficult scramble up to that spires,


but it does provide for a better point of view to take a picture of the tooth itself.


Do be vigilant while returning as scrambling downwards is usually more difficult than upwards. For the return to the Dragon’s Tooth parking lot, you just have to back track on the well signed trail including that of Lost Spectacles Gap, where you turn left off the AT and onto the Dragon’s Tooth Trail.



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Dragon’s Tooth via Boy Scout Trail & Appalachian Trail (AT) with return on Dragon’s Tooth Trail


  • type: loop
  • distances: 4.9 miles
  • elevation change:  1558 ft ascent and descent
  • time: 2:15 hours moving (2:45 hours with breaks)



This is my favorite variation to hike up to Dragon’s Tooth as it is less crowded and this section of AT is pretty interesting with more rock formations and rock to hop over. Other reports suggest to take the Dragon’s Tooth Trail up and the Boy Scout Trail down, but I personally like to do the opposite. The reason being I like seeing the rock formations on the AT that the Boy Scout Trail connects to and you get more of an open forest view on the Dragon’s Tooth Trail coming down. Plus, the more gradual decline on the Dragon’s Tooth Trail is easier on the knees.


The Boy Scout Trail shares the same trailhead and parking lot as the Dragon’s Tooth Trail, but branches to the left after the first stream crossing.


After passing a few more camping spots, the Boy Scout Trail then starts an aggressive, climb over a few switchbacks to meet up with the AT.


There are several camping spots along this section of the AT as well, but with no water access.


After gaining the ridge, the trail continues with a few ups and downs consisting of interesting rock formations to scramble over and

overlooks including Rawie’s Rest. The Dragon’s Tooth trail is coming up this drainage below.


The AT hits a peak before dropping down a switchback to the junction at Lost Spectacles Gap.


From there it’s the same route as above and I’d recommend going down back to the parking lot via the Dragon’s Tooth trail to make it a loop.


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Dragon’s Tooth from Trout Creek Trailhead via Appalachian Trail (AT) Northbound to Dragon’s Tooth Trail


The first time I hiked up to Dragon’s Tooth was actually using this route known as the “Back way to Dragon’s Tooth.” It was with the Roanoke outdoor meetup group, but rather than ending at Dragon’s Tooth Parking lot, we did a 17 hike all the way to McAfee Parking lot on the AT. I wouldn’t recommend the AT section from the Boy Scout junction to McAfee to anyone since it is just through a tunnel of trees.

The last time I hiked this was 6 years ago, so I don’t have a tracking of the hike. But the trail is indicated with the blue line below and you can find the trail information from the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Conservancy.



The hike starts at the location where the AT crosses Miller Cove Rd. (VA-620) with Trout Creek running along the road.


Take the AT north bound and the trail will start to slowly climb. After passing an area of burned trees and the Pickle Branch Shelter, the trail starts to ascend more rapidly and will switchback to gain the ridge of the Cove Mountain Chain. Once the ridge is gained, there is a nice outcrop looking at the backside of North Mountain.


The AT continues along the ridge rocky ridge of Cove Mountain.


Some of the rocks were in particularly interesting formation standing up.


It definitely wasn’t an easy portion of the AT, but reached another vista


before arriving at the spur for Dragon’s Tooth.


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ratings (1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)

  • views:  3. Dragon’s Tooth provides a nice 360 degree view from the top of the tooth of Catawba valley and the mountain ridges that is a signature of Virginia. Even if you aren’t comfortable with the exposure that comes with climbing onto the tooth, there is plenty that can be seen around the tooth. While the sunrise isn’t as spectacular as McAfee and the sunset doesn’t compare to Tinker Cliff, the rock formation all along Cove Mountain provides enjoyable aesthetics on the hike. Of course, the scramble is added fun. A big negative, although not as bad as McAfee, is the possibility of large crowds on a nice weekend day. However, I’ve had the place to myself aplenty for sunrise, sunset, or weekdays. The shortness of the hike makes it easy for a before or after work micro adventure.
  • difficulty: 2. Neither the Dragon’s Tooth Trail or Boy Scout Trail to AT are very long, but there is some scrambling that can be demanding with around 1500 ft total elevation gain. So this isn’t the easiest of trails. Even though the AT northbound from Trout Creek is a little more challenging with rocks, it gains the elevation over a more gradual ascend so it is similar in difficulty.
  • technical: 2. The trails here are very well signed with blazes and markers. The technical aspect is the scrambling that is required after Lost Spectacles Gap going southbound on the AT to the summit of Cove Mountain.

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