The Appalachian Trail is a Great Hike and Has Many Great Day Hikes Connected to It
For those who love hiking one of the most famous and popular trails in the US is the Appalachian trail that runs from Georgia to Maine, passing through the states of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. It borders a couple of states like West Virginia and New Jersey. It can take months to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in a single hike. Many people do hike the entire length of the Appalachian trail, but they do so after they are retired or taking a long vacation. Most people who live near the Appalachian trail enjoy it weekly in “day hikes”
I live in Salem, Virginia, and can drive to many parts of the Appalachian Trail in 30 or 40 minutes depending on which day trail we want to hike or which section of the Appalachian Trail we want to hike. In the past we used to drive to a day hike called Smart View and sometimes we would hike a trail called McAfee’s Knob. Smart View is situated on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A number of great day hikes in the Appalachian mountains can be found along the Blue Ridge Parkway. When we lived at one time in Lynchburg Va, we regularly hiked at a place called the “Peaks of Otter” which had 3 primary trails there, a hard one that went nearly straight up at the mountain called Sharp Top, and a slightly easier trail called “Flat Top.” We will still hike those on occasion but due to distance they are an entire day trip or overnight trip for us.
Two Great Day Hikes Near One Another are McAfee’s Knob and The Dragon’s Tooth
When we moved to Salem, Va, my husband and I were introduced by a friend to a trail called “The Dragon’s Tooth.” It is a trail that is a few miles down route 311 from McAfee’s Knob the other really popular trail for day hiking or overnight camping in the route 311/ Catawba area. There is a sign on the left side of Rte. 311 after you have driven past Catawba, it will be on the left and has a large parking lot that can hold up to 100 cars or so. On great days the parking will extend up and down both sides of 311 when the parking lot is full. There is an outhouse facility. Two sides, one for women and one for men. At the head of the trail where the parking lot ends is a large covered and plexiglass enclosed map of the trail with time and difficulty estimates.
At the Dragons Tooth Trail There are Several Options on Which Way to Hike It
The entire trail complex makes a circle if you turn left at a large fire pit and follow a trail called “The Boy Scout” trail. This trail winds up to the Appalachian trail and you need to go left and this takes you eventually to the part of the Appalachian trail that goes on up to the “Dragons Tooth” or you can turn right at this flat section that is like a lush green meadow area and go down the main trail back to the 311 parking lot. This is the loop my husband does as his main form of exercise and he prides himself on how fast he can do it and keeps trying to beat his own times. He is in to “extreme” hiking. Because I have asthma, and some diabetic neuropathy, I am usually breathless and tired by the time I reach the Boy Scout Camp and fire-pit area.
It is a moderate level difficulty trail for most people. I have seen people older than me moving out on that trail. I have seen people in their 70’s and older hiking the “tooth.” It is a magical trail. There are several streams that run across it with clear bubbling water, except when there is a severe drought in the area, then only the largest stream runs at a trickle. It is also not safe at certain times of the year due to ice and snow. And there are places where it can get slick enough from fur tree needles you need boots with good gripping soles and you still need to walk slowly sideways going down this one area. For some people hiking poles might be a good idea that is an individual decision. I have used them a lot and then not used them. I also carry camera equipment. I am an avid photographer, most people do not carry as much on a trail as I do.
This Trail is Popular with People and their Dogs
The trail is very popular. Many people take their dogs along with them and my daughter and I who are both great lovers of dogs will try to pet them all. We sometimes have brought our dog Spotty along but we usually do not as he is not a dog that gets along well with other dogs. I plan to buy some more safety gear for him and take him along more in the future as I enjoy the company of a dog as do the other people who take their dogs on the trail. Speaking of dogs and trail difficulty, the part of the trail that one goes over if you go left at the boy scout camp and then right on the Appalachian part has a small rock out cropping that is about 10 to 12 feet high and can be a bit of an obstacle for the elderly, very young children and dogs. But I have seen many people do that part of the trail with their dogs. I have no idea how they handled that mini cliff face however.
The Surrounding Forest has an Unparalleled Feeling of Peaceful Serenity
When you are on parts of the trail with just one or two other people you can almost imagine how the earth was before there were people. The tall trees make the area feel like a fairy forest. The tweeting and the fluttering of many species of birds make the Dragon’s tooth trail feel like a natural open aviary. When the birds are singing and the streams are all full and the sound of running water and dozens of small waterfalls make their higher pitcher water sounds, it is a very relaxing and peaceful place to be. I can be in the worst mood and go hike the dragon’s tooth trail and feel my mood instantly elevate. And on times when I manage to make it from the parking lot to the top where the Appalachian Trail is my self-esteem soars that I made it despite being in poor health and condition. And, I know that if I keep hiking that trail and taking other health measures I will in time be able to keep up with my husband. In any case to be doing that hike at an age when people I knew growing up were being put in nursing homes is definitely a mental boost.
If You Like Even More Excitement Try an After Dark Hike
We have hiked that trail after dark as well. At first we would do so by moonlight which is magical in and of itself but also very scary. That trail with no lights is more than a little spooky, but that too is a kind of thrill. On different occasions up there I have heard owls “hooting” and once on one of the moonlight hikes we disturbed a grouping of at least 5 to 7 owls that started “hooting ” as a group. That was a very memorable experience. Earlier at the top of the trail I had heard the call of a “whippoorwill” for the first time since I was a kid and heard them growing up in Texas. It was also strange to hear both a whippoorwill and so many owls in the dark on the same hike. It sounds more like the setting for a fiction story than reality.
My daughter saw her first snake not in a zoo on that trail too. She called out to me when she was 8 or 9 and I looked to see her frozen in fear as a large black snake about 8 feet long was frozen with equal fear staring at her. I reassured her this snake could not harm her, and I touched it on the head which made it take off like the proverbial “greased lightning” and furthermore it scurried up a tree faster than a cat could have. I am still amazed by the sight of a big snake going up a tree like it was defying gravity.
The Variety of Animal and Vegetative Life Makes the Area a Living Laboratory for Students and Professors
I have run across a number of college classes with their professors hiking the trail to study the flora and fauna. There is plenty of flora and fauna to study on that trail too. If you slow down and look at some of the varieties of ferns and mosses, and wild herbs they are worth the trip in and of themselves. But then botany is one of my hobbies so maybe most people just like the view as a whole and do not want to focus on the small details. I have taken hundred of photos in that area over the years of interesting plants and trees and scenic views. I will include some with this article. One of my favorites is a photo of this tree that has a knothole of sorts that suggests it could be a doorway for faeries or elves into the interior of their tree home. I will definitely include that photo with this article.
The trail was named “Dragons Tooth” because of the rock formation at the peak of the trail that looks like a large tooth. At the tooth itself you are at an elevation of about 3,000 feet. The length of the tooth trail is about 3 to 4 miles depending on which version you take, boy scout trail or main trail straight on up and whether you turn around once you reach the Appalachian trail, or go on to the right another half mile of so to the tooth itself. I read it used to be called the buzzard rock. But, I find Dragons Tooth a way more romantic and magical name. The views from all along the trail are fabulous but the views at the top in many places are breathtaking vistas of the Roanoke, Valley and other parts of the Appalachian mountains in the distance. In spring and summer the dark green color looks blue at some times of the day which is not doubt why these are also called the Blue Ridge Mountains.
If you have the time and the occasion there are several campsites along the Dragons tooth trail. The boy scout camp has several fire sites. Overnight camping and open fires are allowed. Just be careful and do not burn down my favorite hiking area. Many youth and church and other organized groups have group overnight camp-outs on the Dragons’ Tooth trail during the summer months. Since I live only about a 25 minute drive from the trail, I have no desire to camp out. I like to hike and go home to a shower and my nice comfy bed. But in my youth the idea of camp-outs was very appealing to me.
Some People Miss Small Details of the Trail Like Old House Ruins
One thing many people miss on this trail is the ruins of an old house. It is on the on the other side of the stream just about 30 years past the boy scout camp going up the main trail. I like to tell people it is haunted. That is almost as fun as finding someone willing to go on a snipe hunt. I suspect the house was once a farmhouse that was lived in by the people who once owned the land that is now the hiking area. It looks very old and might be a good historical research project. It is not safe to walk around due to lots of broken glass around it and board with nails and other rubbish so it is not a good idea to poke around the ruin or let your kids near it. I have done so and let my kids and grandkids near it but we were very careful. The house is totally flattened as you can see from the photo I will include. But I have always wondered whose house it was? When did they live there? What were their lives like living in that magical location? If you are VERY observant along the first leg of the trail from the parking lot up to the collapsed house you can see old metal wheels and axles rusted to a rich brown color and nearly vanished behinds weeds and algae growth and you can tell that the first leg of the trail up to the house was once an old wagon road.
Hiking is Wonderful but Always Do it Safely And with Proper Supplies
All of the hikes in the Roanoke Valley area have their good points. Dragon’s Tooth is still my favorite. day hiking these trails is good for the body and the mind and the soul. I suggest to everyone to find a good trail in their own areas that they can regularly hike. If you are out of shape start out slowly, only hike part of the trail and then turn back and build up your endurance gradually. Take water along on longer trails and on hot days and a small fanny pack or light backpack to carry emergency supplies like biodegradable toilet paper, your water, and cell phone in case of an emergency. Also if you think you might not make it down before dark do carry a small flashlight. We moved from handheld flashlights to the lightweight LED headband lights that include a red filter. Not having to hold flashlights is better when you need your hands for balance in crossing some of the streams that do not have bridges over them, they are a bit rocky and a tumble could result in an injury. And another tip for trail hiking comfort. In the early to late spring millions of gnats hatch and other annoying flying insects and on trails, they all seem to want to fly in your face, relishing your mouth, nose and eyes. I bought my family some mesh nets that go over the head. They make you look ridiculous and do somewhat impede your view, but then so does slapping at insects constantly, so they are worth buying. Most do not cost more than a dollar or two. I have had many other hikers on the trail ask me where they could buy these head nets. I bought my headband flashlights at Walmart.
So get your day pack, your water, flashlight, cell phone, toilet paper, light snack, sturdy shoes or hiking boots, clothing that matches the weather, maps if you don’t have a good sense of direction, and head out to hike a trail in your area. If you live in the Roanoke Valley area head over onto route 311 drive for about 25 to 30 minutes until you arrive at the parking lot to the Dragons Tooth. Get out of your car, hike, enjoy the relaxing area, have fun, and come back again and again.