McAfee Knob - JNF Roanoke
One of the most photographed locations
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McAfee Knob - Catawba, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
8.3 mls N/A
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:

4.0 hours plus a half hour for lunch
1,740 ft
Jefferson National Forest
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e.g. 12000 Government Center Parkway 22035 or Fairfax VA
Park on VA311 at the Appalachian Trail parking area. 37.38010, -80.08956

McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) as it winds its way through Virginia. states: “In Virginia, McAfee Knob is the Appalachian Trail's poster and postcard image. Pick up an Appalachian Trail calendar and there's a good chance it's there.” The Knob has an almost 270 degree panorama of the Catawba Valley and North Mountain to the West, Tinker Cliffs to the North and the Roanoke Valley to the East. If you are going to do this as a backpack and plan on camping at the Pig Farm campsite or Campbell Shelter the total distance will be 9.5 miles.

It is a steady climb of around 1700’ in about 4.4 miles to the Knob from the VA311 parking area so you will get a good workout. On a clear day you will have some of the best views in the Southern Shenandoah Valley. Due to its popularity you will not be alone on this hike, but the overhang of McAfee Knob and its views make up for the lack of solitude.

From the right side of the A.T. parking area, cross over VA311 and pick up the white blazed A.T. north. In about 0.3 miles there will be an information kiosk on the left. Continue on the A.T. crossing four wooden walkways prior to reaching the Johns Spring Shelter on the right in 0.8 miles.

There will be another five wooden walkways before reaching the Catawba Mountain Shelter in 1.4 miles. In less than 0.1 miles before the shelter on the left, you will notice a spring with a white pipe  protruding from some rocks with a constant stream of water (note: always treat water from unknown sources).  Staying on the A.T. for another 0.1 miles arrive at two good camp sites, the A.T. bears to the left just before the camp sites.

Remain on the A.T., crossing an old fire road and going through a high voltage power line clearing. In 0.3 miles past the power line clearing there will be the first good overlook on the left looking down to the Catawba Valley.  Go 0.5 miles further up the trail to the McAfee Knob Spur Trail. Turn left, and in about 30 yards you will reach the top of the Knob with some outstanding views and of course, McAfee Knob protruding out well beyond the rest of the cliffs. There are significant drop offs so be careful.

For your return trip; retrace your steps and head south on the A.T. back to the parking lot for a round trip total of 8.8 miles.

For a more leisurely return route, consider taking the un-blazed old fire road which you crossed on the way up (the trail map uses this route). About 1.4 miles from the Knob, turn right onto the old fire road, staying on it until you reach VA311 in 2.6 miles. Pass a gate/barrier just before reaching VA311. The A.T. Parking will be to your left as you cross VA 311.  Using this route is 0.5 miles shorter than using the A.T. both ways.

Camping/Backpacking Note: If you are doing McAfee Knob as an overnight backpack, from the McAfee Knob spur trail turn left onto the A.T heading north for about another 6/10 of a mile until you reach the Pig Farm Campsite with room for about 4 good sized tents. In less than 1/10 of a mile after that you will reach the Campbell Shelter with ample campsites and a Privy. The water source is a creek about 1/10 of a mile behind the shelter following a path under the power line and ending up on a fire road. There are also some good campsites in a grassy meadow on the way to the water source. A path from the Pig Farm Campsite also leads to this water source. Staying near the Campbell Shelter overnight made it possible to hike back up and see a beautiful sunset from McAfee Knob. No camping is allowed on the immediate area surrounding McAfee Knob.

The return trip back to the Route 311 parking area can be done by following the fire road past the water source and crossing the A.T. intersection in 1.6 miles. It is 2.8 miles from the A.T. intersection to the Route 311 parking area remaining on the fire road.

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Hiker Reviews For The McAfee Knob Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Matt Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, September 18, 2015
This is a great hike. The views are spectacular and I'm glad I came back. I came in June and it was extremely foggy. Although it was a great hike you couldn't see 20 feet in front of you, so I had to come back and I'm glad I did. It is very popular, so be sure to get there early if you want a parking spot on the weekend. *****Something to make note of is that you will need to pack in any water that you will need.***** All water sources were completely dried up when we hiked the trail both times. Not a big deal for a day hike, but if you plan to spend any amount of time out there you should be aware so you can carry what you will need for the duration.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, August 31, 2015
Challenging hike with a wonderful payout at the end. The views are amazing. However, don't take the bear warnings lightly! We encountered a Black Bear on our hike back where the AT crosses the fire road.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, August 09, 2015
Was staying in the area for the weekend and had the opportunity to take this hike up to McAfee Knob. It took me about 1:10 to get to the top and about the same to get back down. Started up at 9am and was able to enjoy the overlook with minimal number of people. Gotta do it again.

By: Ashley Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, August 01, 2015
This was my first hike out in this section, and boy did I underestimate my friends when they said it was a tough one. My friend who was here visiting is a much more seasoned hiker than I am, and even he was surprised by the difficulty. Regardless, if you have the stamina to make it, you won't be disappointed. The views were gorgeous, and we honestly didn't deal with too many people, starting out hike just after 8am. The lot was completely packed though when we finished at about 12:30ish. I highly recommend bringing sandwiches or something to eat at the top that's more than a quick snack. It really takes a lot out of you, and we were regretting not having something substantial before starting the hike back down. I am sure I'll do this one again, and hopefully will be better prepared, mentally, and with food!

By: Jeff S. Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, August 01, 2015
This was a great hike that had my heart beating fast and feet dragging at times.  It's a great workout both ways.  I arrived at 7:30 AM to about 15-20 cars in the parking lot.  Temp was 70 and sky was clear!  Took two hours to reach the Knob, meeting only a few hikers on their way back down.  Took an hour break up top.  The views were spectacular!  The rocky outcrops extend for a good bit, so be sure to explore them.  There were a dozen or so people up there, but it was still peaceful. Passed a whole lot more people coming up on my way back!  My advice: GET THERE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.  Upon my return, the parking lot had overflowed, with cars parked along the roadside.  Temperature was now 85.  Glad I got there early. 

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Late December - (photos provided by Dennis Cooley)
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