North Mountain Trail – Dragons Back Mountain Bike Loop – Virginia

Dragon’s Back is the nickname for the rocky ridge of North Mountain, which is located west of Roanoke, Virginia. From Blacksburg, directions to the mountain bike ride described on this page: take Mt Tabor Rd (State Route 624) north, left on VA-311, and right on Wildlife Road (FS Road 224). Wildlife Road is rugged and may not be passable by all passenger cars. I had to park my Honda Fit on the side of the road almost a mile from the Deer Trail parking lot because a section of road had been partially washed out. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and dog walking all are allowed. Notably, Wildlife Road is popular with hunters so hikers and mountain bikers should research active hunting seasons before hitting the trail. Parking is free with a large lot at each of the three trailheads: Deer Trail, Grouse Trail, and Turkey Trail. Restrooms and water are not provided. Cell phone service was intermittent.

Deer Trail is 1.6 miles long with an intense elevation gain of a 1,000 feet.

From the outset, it slopes upward and, thus, it does not provide much time to warm up. Its slope is unrelenting and I found it difficult to maintain forward momentum. In addition, this trail made me feel out of shape because I was unable to bike most of it. Specifically, I walked my single speed about 90% of the trail. The only redeeming factors were that I don’t mind hiking with my clipless shoes and my bike is lightweight.

It is narrow but not rocky or rooty. What’s more, it does not provide much room for error because a mistake can result in a nasty fall.

It is a fun hiking trail because the latter half includes scenic views of the nearby ridges. Even though it is primarily comprised of long straightaways, it was too vertical for me to mountain bike and I didn’t enjoy hiking my bike 1.6 miles and up 1,000 feet.

The next picture shows a tight and technical switchback near the end.

Deer Trail ends at an intersection with North Mountain Trail. Biking from Deer Trail to Turkey Trail, the North Mountain Trail is 4.5 miles long with a range in elevation of almost 200 feet.

Compared to Deer Trail, it is fun. However, it is challenging because it is hilly, narrow, and rugged.

There are stretches where it is smooth and fast, but those don’t last long. Notably, I saw several raptors hovering above but I was unable to identify them.

The next picture illustrates how rocky and gnarly the trail can be. I had to walk my bike through many of these outcrops.

The North Mountain Trail intersects with Grouse Trail, which can be used to form a shorter loop back to your car. However, after a grueling hike up Deer Trail I did not want to quit the North Mountain Trail after only 1.5 miles and, so, I continued another three miles to the Turkey Trail intersection.

The subsequent video was taken from one of the higher points on the trail. It captures a 360 degree view that is visible because the trees had not started growing their leaves. This is the most scenic mountain bike trail I have been on in Virginia.

I continued on the Dragon’s Back loop by turning off of North Mountain Trail and onto the Turkey Trail. From the top of the ridge, the Turkey Trail is 1.8 miles long with a descent of 1,300 feet.
The first half of the descent is steep, tight, and picturesque.

The subsequent picture shows one of its many tricky switchbacks. Similarly to Deer Trail, it seems like this trail would also make for a difficult route to the ridge of North Mountain. On the forest service maps, it looks like North Mountain Trail can be accessed from a parking lot on VA-311. I did not see this parking lot as I drove on VA-311. I am curious as to how difficult of a climb it is from there because North Mountain Trail is fun but the Turkey and Deer trails are too vertical for me.

The latter half of the trail is easy and includes two stream crossings.

I mountain biked on Wildlife Road to complete the loop and return to my car. It is 6.0 miles on Wildlife Road from the Turkey Trail parking lot to the Deer Trail lot. It includes one really long climb and  several shorter climbs, all of which I was able to do on my single speed. This road is an easy ride but after three grueling trails it felt difficult. I was thoroughly worn out by the time I got back to my car.

In sum, the Dragon’s Back loop is an extremely challenging mountain bike ride totaling 14 miles. For me, it was a one-time adventure. I recommend checking out Carvin’s Cove for an extensive network of trails with a large variance in difficulty. Also, nearby hiking trails include Dragon’s Tooth and McAfee Knob.

Do you know of an easier way to ride on the North Mountain Trail (e.g., via  Grouse Trail or VA-311)?

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2 thoughts on “North Mountain Trail – Dragons Back Mountain Bike Loop – Virginia”

  1. No easy way to get onto the North Mountain trail (Dragons Back). Be warned, the North Mountain trail gets far more difficult after you pass the Turkey trail turnoff. Not SS friendly in this area for most.

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