The Dragon's Tooth is a 30-foot-high narrow little spike of rock at the end the long, curving ridge of Cove Mountain in Western Virginia, not far from the city of Roanoke. It is situated in the Valley and Ridge topographic province of the Appalachian Mountains, and is an interesting and short hike from nearby highway 311. Elevation gain is very moderate -- not much more than 1,000 feet.
I did this hike during our Awesome Autumn Appalachian Auto Adventure
in October of 2008. We've found that the excellent and fun roads, combined with the beautiful fall colors, makes for a great weekend adventure. If you're interested in a full accounting of the trip, click here
Since we had two cars, we decided to spice it up a little, and start from one trailhead and descend to a different one. The Appalachian Trail forms part of the route to the Tooth, and we parked one car at the point at which the AT crosses the nearest highway (in this case, a small county road). The other car we left at the Dragon's Tooth trailhead on VA-311. This alternate itinerary actually resulted in a marginally shorter hike.
Climbing up on the AT from county road 624, we headed up through open woodlands towards the crest of a subsidiary ridge (appropriately named 'The Dragon's Back'). The AT at this point is quiet and un-eroded, indicating that not too much traffic comes up this way. Soon, we reached a junction with a connector trail that heads down to the more major Dragon's Tooth Trailhead. From here, the trail climbs the crest of the 'Dragon's Back' for a while.
The ascent was fairly gradual, and the footing and trail conditions very good. Eventually, the ridge narrows and becomes a little more 'spine-y' (appropriate for something called the Dragon's Back). Vertically-tilted outcrops of rock push out from the crest of the ridge in places, providing some very nice lookouts. The autumn view of the surrounding ridges and valleys was most sublime. There is some minor rock scrambling in a few places along this ridge -- nothing at all difficult.
The AT reaches a height-of-land on the Dragon's Back, then starts a short forested descent down to a saddle between it and the main ridge of Cove Mountain. Here, an alternate route back to the Dragon's Tooth trailhead joins the AT (and this is the trail we planned to take on the way down, back to the Dragon's Tooth trailhead).
The trail from the junction in the saddle leads up, in a broad zig-zag fashion, to the crest of Cove Mountain's main ridge. The trail is quite a bit rockier here, with slightly more difficult (but still very straightfoward, even easy) bits of steep scrambling. If you look carefully through the trees, you may catch a glimpse of the rocky spike of the Dragon's Tooth above you.
Following the steep and rocky ascent, we topped out on the ridgecrest, then headed left, ambling along it for a bit to the crooked spire of the Dragon's Tooth. From the angle at which you first approach it, the tooth looks (and is) narrow and steeply overhanging on one side, and doesn't look particularly easy to climb.
But relatively easy it is, if you are ok with a bit of exposure. We continued around to the far (southern) side of the tooth via a worn path, where a manageable (class 3) scramble gets you out onto open rock just shy of the actual tip of the tooth. If you are ok with heights, another 15 feet of exposed but very easy scrambling gets you onto the narrow tip of the tooth. There is perhaps a flat spot about 3 or 4 feet square at the top.