Mountain Biking the Dragon’s Back near Roanoke, Virginia

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!

More information