When a group of friends were looking for some camping time near D.C., I remembered some prime spots along Little Stoney Creek during our hike of the Big Schloss, Mill Mountain, and Little Stoney Creek loop. While the discussion begin as car camping, they didn’t mind the mile walk along Stoney Creek to reach the best campsite
Our group included Audrey, Dave, Bradley, & Brenna.
along the creek.
Don’t worry, our food choices were still inline with car camping.
We ended up base camping for two night giving us a free day to do a hike in the area, which ended up being Little Schloss. What was a surprise with the amount of wildflowers along the trail from a recent burn.
Lake O’Hara can seem so out of reach with limitations on the number of campsites and seats on the access buses. But that is just an illusion if you are willing to make the extra 7 mile road walk. That’s all it takes to bring you to the sharp peaks and emerald lakes of Lake O’Hara wonderland.
This is the eleventh entry of our Canadian Rockies trip series covering our eleventh hike. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
Getting started can be the most difficult part about anything. Whether it is me getting these entries out there or getting back on the trail after a long layoff due to injury or other circumstances. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the hardest or most perfect, you just have to get going. On a beautiful Saturday, Katherine joined me to get back on the trail as North Mountain & Pete’s Cave between Lexington and Covington, VA next to I-64 was the perfect combination of reward and ease.
Do you remember your first backpacking trip? For me, it was with Jared, Matt, Will, and Arnold in Yosemite National Park during my last Memorial Day weekend in California before graduate school. Of course, we didn’t have permits beforehand or even thought of how busy it would be that weekend nor really knew much about what was really necessary for backpacking. Through that weekend of floods, rain, infinite hot dogs, and plenty of Gentleman Jack, we emerged as Poopanauts, which is a story that will have to wait for another time. The main point is that it is hard to recall the feeling and mindset of getting into the wilderness for the first time. It was something I had to try my best to relate to as I lead my California friends Arnold, Joey, and Miguel and new friends Becky and Doris back to Yosemite National Park. For Becky and Doris, it was their first time into the backcountry. Since these guys were willing to take the time off work to drive me up to Yosemite – where I would start my John Muir Trail (JMT) hike – and spend several days in the backcountry with me, I hoped that I was able to share my enthusiasm of the outdoors with my friends again and for the first time.
This is part 2 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted. Read More
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.
The origin of our trip to Wales was open ended, so much so that we didn’t know Wales was our destination until a couple weeks out. This trip serves as an example of an unplanned road trip that’s a culmination of cheap flights across the pond, an expiring travel voucher, and no time to plan. The end result was cliffs, rocks, castles, and fish and chips.
Dragon’s Tooth is one of the 3 peaks of the Roanoke triple crown 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.
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
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.
After a last set of switchbacks and 1.5 miles from the trailhead,
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.
Iris & Marije joins us on the cold Janurary day in 2015
Cool icicles in Janurary of 2015
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.
sunrise on October 27, 2017
sunset on February 21, 2018
peak foilage on October 29, 2011
The other gap is where you’ll scramble up.
first time at Dragons Tooth during a 17 miles AT hike on September 25, 2011
Dongil & Lusha joined me for the peak foilage day on October 29, 2011
There is a nice ledge here to take in the views, though it can get very crowded on a nice weekend.
Nina’s last hike before her post doc.
traffice jam on the tooth
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.
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.
Dragon’s Tooth via Boy Scout Trail & Appalachian Trail (AT) with return on Dragon’s Tooth Trail
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 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
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.
Living in Southwest Virginia and around Virginia Tech, majority of the day hikes we can feasibly do are around a 3 hour radius. We don’t get to the trails out in Northern Virginia much, but recent events will have us exploring there more often now.
Pet are not allowed on the entirety of Old Rag Mountain loop.
On our way back from D.C., we were up for a Sunday hike to break up the drive. Old Rag is one of the most popular loops in the area said to include some fun scrambling. Expect the trail to be heavily trafficked and a busy time at the parking lot on a nice weekend day, especially after a period of hard rain.
*EDIT 2020/6 – The new parking lot is now complete. See this sub-Reddit for descriptions and detail.
There is a National Park fee of $10 each person or $25 a vehicle to be paid at the lower Old Rag parking lot, unlike the National Forests along the I-81 corridor that don’t. I’d recommend picking up the $80 NPS Annual Pass to save money and support the National Parks.
There is an alternative trail head you can take up to Old Rag at Berry Hollow parking lot and Whiteoak Canyon parking lot should you suspect the lower Old Rag parking lot to be full. The fee station is located at Whiteoak lot.
The first 0.8 miles of the hike is hiking up to the original Old Rag trail head along Nethers Rd. for about a half mile before turning left. At upper Old Rag parking lot, the typically recommended route is in the clockwise direction, so turn left onto the Ridge Trail. *EDIT 2020/6: The initial portions of the trail was rerouted to directly head up from the parking lot and no longer follow Nethers Rd.
For a little more than 2 miles, the trail is a typical uphills climb among the green tunnels of Virginia with a few switchbacks gaining majority of the elevation for the day. The next section is the a scramble section where no dogs and camping are allowed and
followed by the first vista of the day.
The initial scramble takes on upward slanting rock slabs with views toward the summit, north, and south from the valley that we drove in on.
The scramble continues and was surprisingly different as the drops you into a slot.
The unique scramble continues up not by taking you over rocks but into caves and more slots.
After passing a pretty cool overhanging rock,
there are a couple more difficult sections between more slots.
The next area opens up as you get a look down toward the scramble you’ve come up on.
The large flat surfaced rocks here are a popular stop and lunch place for many folks on the trail.
However, the summit is a little scramble and walk along the ridge further as indicated by a sign about a mile and an hour after the scrambling section began.
The summit consists of a field of large boulders to climb up on.
With 360 degree views of the area.
We definitely had to sit on the high point.
We saw several hikers double back from here because it was shorter distance, but the quicker route is to continue on the loop. Of course if you want more scrambling, but in the downwards direction, doubling back is the way to go.
The Ridge Trail become the Saddle Trail as we continue down the other side of the mountain with a couple more vistas.
Shortly after the summit, we arrive at the Byrd’s Nest Shelter.
We didn’t explore this are much since we thought it was just a shelter, but Hiking Upwards points to his area as an additional scrambling area as you can see the rock formations up the mountain in the picture below.
The rest of the Saddle trail switches back among the trees until
the Old Rag Shelter. Both the Old Rag Shelter and Byrd’s nest Shelter are for day use only.
At the Post Office Junction, an intersection of the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, Berry Hollow Fire Road, and Old Rag Fire Road. As mentioned earlier in the post, the Berry Hollow trail head is down the Berry Hollow Fire Road. This junction use to the be town of Old Rag as the poster mark explains. The way back is on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.
The fire road can be a little boring as green tunnel continues. After the intersection of Robertson Mountain Trail and Corbin Hollow Trail, the Brokenback Run crosses and accompanies the fire road until the Saddle Trail intersection. Around the intersection of trails, there seems to be a few camping spots, which can provide a multi-day trek that includes Old Rag Mountain, Robertson Mountain, and even out to the Skyline Dr.
One the road portion back to the parking lot, there was a smoothie stand set up by the locals should you want a refresher for $4.
views: 3. The vistas for this hike are your typical Shenandoah views of farm land and small tree covered mountains. The latter half of the hike is composed of green tunnels of trees and streams typical of Virginia as well. The cool thing on this hike is both the added views the large boulders provide in contrasting the green mountains and the fun they provide in the mile long scramble. The scramble itself isn’t just the same thing throughout, but varies as you go along to keep it engaging. This is one of the my favorite hikes in Virginia and I can see the reason for its popularity.
difficulty: 3. There is only one major uphill to get up onto the ridge on the Ridge Trail. However, the scrambling is a workout under the sun and will be way more difficult if it is raining.
technical: 2. The technicality would be the scrambling involved on this trail, and it’s not a small section either, around a mile from the start of the Ridge Trail to the summit of Old Rag. If you aren’t familiar scrambling take, do take your time.