Groomed, well-signed, and heavily-ridden trail systems are fun and all, but in my book the sport of mountain biking is about adventure.

In the Roanoke area, Carvin’s Cove is the well-signed, hard-to-lose-yourself trail destination while Dragon’s Back is where you go if you’re looking for some real adventure!

Complete with gravel road connectors, hike-a-bike singletrack, rocky ridgeline riding, gorgeous views, and blazing-fast technical descents, this ride harkens back to the days when men were men and boys stayed at home and hid behind their mothers’ aprons.

The Ride

While we do have a great map of the Dragon’s Back area right here on Singletracks, a little local guidance can’t be beat. Before I hit the road to Roanoke last fall, I got ahold of CraigCreekRider from the Singletracks forums. Dragon’s Back and the surrounding area is basically in CCR’s backyard, so who better to show me the trails?

Trail map for the area.

We started off at the bottom of the Turkey Trail and pedaled gravel roads over to the bottom of the Deer Trail. The Deer Trail is a very steep, very narrow, singletrack grunt to the top of the ridgeline. This is where we gained the most elevation the most rapidly.

CCR climbing the Deer Trail.

After some riding and a lot of pushing, we finally reached the ridge.

You probably noticed that CCR is wearing blaze orange. This day, coincidentally, was the first day of gun season for deer in Virginia. We made sure to wear plenty of blaze orange and, while we did see a few hunters, thankfully we didn’t get mistaken for deer!

The author rocking some blaze orange. Photo: CraigCreekRider.

While the ridge–the actual “Dragon’s Back”–doesn’t have as much climbing all at once as the grunt up the side of the mountain did, there is plenty of up-down-up to keep your heart rate through the roof.

Riding the Dragon's Back. Rider: mtbgreg1. Photo: CraigCreekRider.

Rocky ridgeline riding is definitely the best way to explain what the Dragon’s Back is like. In the photo above, all the fall leaves are coating the trail, hiding a nasty array of jagged rocks beneath. As CCR said in his forum post, “if you could see what you were riding over it might scare you!”

Some of the rocks poking through the leaves. Photo: CraigCreekRider.

While the lower trails up to the ridge were in pretty good shape, some sections of the ridgeline singletrack, far away from the closest gravel roads, were pretty unkempt. The fall leaves didn’t help anything, but in addition there were numerous large trees down across the trail all over the ridgeline. In a couple spots, the combination of thick fall leaves and dead trees made me stray off the trail, eventually having to bushwack my way back to the main line.

As I was rolling along the ridge, I scared up a black bear in front of me! It seemed as startled to see me as I was to see it, and ran off the ridge and back down the mountainside. I was a little surprised to see a bear up that high, as the nearest water source was probably a couple miles away.

After many miles of the technical Dragon’s Back trail, we finally reached the final descent: Turkey Trail. All the work we did climbing the Deer Trail was about to pay off in spades!

Descending Turkey Trail. Rider: mtbgreg1. Photo: CraigCreekRider.

Beautiful views while descending Turkey.

It’s times like these when plenty of suspension and a dropper post are oh-so-rewarding! The descent was very steep and plenty technical, the perfect way to end the ride. The couple of miles of descending was a blur, but it was a blur of blissful all-mountain nirvana.

CraigCreekRider descending Turkey.

Turkey dropped us right back out at our trucks, and a long, hard, backcountry ride was officially in the books.

Post-ride stats: 13.7 miles, 2,653 feet of climbing, 2 hours 44 minutes moving time. While our loop was only 13.7 miles, there are plenty of options for extending the ride if you’re so inclined.

Dragon’s Back is definitely not for the faint of heart. The steep elevation gain, technical challenges, and a middle-of-nowhere backcountry feel (complete with all the implied risks) aren’t to be laughed at. But if you’re done hiding behind your mama’s skirt and are looking for a little challenge in your life, the Dragon’s Back might be just what you need!

# Comments

  • jtorlando25

    I really need to stop hiding behind my momma’s skirt and spend a weekend in Roanoke!

  • Bubblehead10MM

    I want my Momma! OMG it’s gonna be hard getting back in the saddle. but that’s gotta be on my list.

  • Stl_Greaser

    Looks like an awesome place to ride! Got to be crazy running up on a bear though!

  • skibum

    Yet another I should have made the time to hit when I lived in DC.

    • mtbgreg1

      You’re going to have to take an East Coast road trip one of these years 🙂

  • CraigCreekRider

    Great blog post Greg. Glad you were able to make that ride. The annual race is coming up there soon and the best time to ride the ridge is right after the race. I will see if I can dig up the link for that.

    • mtbgreg1

      Thanks, and thanks for showing me around! It was a great time!

  • stumpyfsr

    Great writing! It brought my memory about riding Southern Traverse trail, which is very similar: super-steep climb, ridge line riding and fast descent; all covered in leaves, rocky, and I also scared a black bear right after I’ve reached the top of the climb 🙂
    There’re many great trails in that area

    • mtbgreg1

      Yes indeed! I can’t wait to get back and check out some more of them!

    • stumpyfsr

      I havnt ridden this particular trail but rode similar one (at least it sounds similar) on my 29HT with no problems. Except a fact that I was a bit more beat up then if I’d ride a full-suspension. Can’t wait to ride this tra as well.

    • mtbgreg1

      Oh, I’m sure it can be!

    • RoadWarrior

      Group I rode with last year had everything from full sup. 26er to single-speed 29er, and we all pretty much stayed in a group, bet none of us were ever more than 3-4 min apart

  • fleetwood

    Nice write up. I am a little irritated with myself that you live in GA and rode it before I did. Maybe 2013 will knock this one off of the list.

    CCR – where can I find the BD279 video you referenced? I searched Vimeo and came up empty.

    • mtbgreg1

      What can I say… 🙂

      While I had wanted to ride Roanoke for a long time, it was really Dan Lucas’s invite that got us up there to ride the trails. It turned out to be an AWESOME trip, thanks to him, Wilderness Adventure, CCR, and Ryan from Liberty. Awesome time in Virginia!

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