There’s something to be said about waking before dawn, gathering snacks, making peanut butter sandwiches, stepping outside to feel the bite of a crisp, fall morning and driving three hours through valleys of reds, greens and yellows enchanted by the early morning mist.
That something is called hiker’s happiness.
Halloween was my forever hiking partner and I’s last free weekend to venture out on the open trails before trading in the Virginia hill country for Florida’s sandy beaches. We wanted to go all out, so under the influence of a friend’s advice as well as Google’s tried-and-true “16 Best Hikes In Virginia” list, we decided to tackle two in one day: McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth.
Both provided stunning views of southern Virginia, complete with cliffs, steep drops and rocks enticingly jutting out over nothingness, perfect for dangling one’s tired legs.
McAfee Knob was the longer hike of the two, winding up and around the mountain for a 7-mile round trip. For a less-strenuous trek, the hike offers a fire road route with smoother climbs and a wider path both up and down the mountain. With my horse-blinder vision however, I didn’t even look to consult the map but rather steered right for the sign that said “McAfee Knob” and a small little path leading from it. For us, it was definitely the more adventurous and enjoyable decision, as it allowed for a better workout and a quieter walk. Even though we began the hike early, as was recommended by every trail reviewer, the summit was pretty busy with other hikers. The beauty of the Knob though is the width of the outlook. While there is one “knob” that majestically juts out over the valley, demanding everyone’s how-close-can-I-get photo, there is plenty of cliff-space along the mountain’s edge to find a quiet spot and enjoy the view.
Since we still had another hike to cross off our list, the boy had to lovingly talk me and my trigger-happy, photo-taking finger away from the edge and head back down the mountain. We opted for the fire road on the trek back to our car, which was much easier on the knees. (Yes, I said it. I’m an old 24, OK?)
To God’s credit, He conveniently established Dragon’s Tooth just an easy five minute drive from McAfee Knob. While shorter–just 5 miles round trip–the hike was certainly a stronger battle on the legs and lungs. But it’s the bright hues of the cloud-touching, skinny trees that take your breath away as you venture to the top. Fallen tree logs and stepping stones guided us across mountain streams and leaves fell gently at our feet. This trail was incredibly tranquil and less popular, which could’ve been caused by people heading home for the Halloween festivities.
The majority of the hike was a steep climb as it snaked through the trees, but the last 0.7 miles proved to be the adventure. Much like Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah Valley, this last leg of the journey became a hiker’s jungle gym. Showing off all kinds of moves, we crawled up boulders on all fours, crab-legged down steep rock faces and shimmied across balance-beam-wide rocky ledges. (Mom, it sounds a lot more dangerous that it actually was.)
Then our reward awaited us. A monolith towered over the valley, projecting its “dragon’s teeth” toward the overcast sky. A group of college kids dotted the tips of the rock so we obviously made a beeline for it, jealously seeking their views.
Much like American Ninja Warriors, we shimmied up the monolith and balanced on the jagged edge of Dragon’s Tooth, blessed with a nearly 360-degree view of what looks like all of Virginia. We ate peaches and marshmallows, re-hydrated and watched with slight anxiety (okay, the mom in me did) as the Liberty U students climbed up the higher, and much narrower, section of the rock to get a group picture before descending down and letting us have the rock to ourselves.
That night, I feel asleep quicker than any other night… and still high on my hiker’s happiness.