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Catawba Loop


A wild ~35-mile circuit touring three of the Appalachian Trail's most coveted overlooks.

Trail Running Difficult

54 km
2.7 km
2.7 km
1 day +
Low Point
407 m
High Point
969 m
Catawba Loop Map

The Catawba Loop, sometimes labeled as the "Catawba Runaround" or "Virginia Triple Crown," is the most epic trail in the area. Just over 50k in length, this circuit tours three highlights on the Appalachian Trail: Dragon's Tooth, Tinker Cliffs, and the most photographed spot on the AT: McAfee Knob. Numerous road crossings alternate with long ridgeline traverses towering over lush farmlands, making this one of the most epic trail running circuits anywhere in the Appalachian Mountains. As a whole, this loop is loaded with amazing views during the winter, only to be snuffed by the lush greenery of summer. The fall colors are nothing shy of spectacular, and the spring wildflowers yield an almost-dizzying selection of color.


Seen here, this version of the Catawba Loop begins at the McAfee Knob Trailhead, considered the main start point for anyone using Roanoke as a hub. Clockwise versus counter-clockwise doesn't yield a preference amongst locals, though you will see more counter-clockwise should you opt to cut the route short for any reason. Clockwise, you will reach Dragon's Tooth first; counter-clockwise, you will pass McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs first.

If you have a water filter or comparable filtration method, your best options are generally nearest to road crossings. That said, agricultural and livestock runoff pollutes most of the lower sources, which are nearly untreatable. If you can't arrange supply drops or aid at the major road crossings, filter your water from the streams below Dragon's Tooth and along the Andy Lane Trail. Those are the best chances of safe water.



Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.


3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

all year round

Guidebooks in this area