McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) as it winds its way through Virginia. Roanoke.com 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.
Interactive Hike Map BelowPrintable
Topo Hike Map (PDF)
Hike route in Drag the map with your mouse using the icon Zoom with the controls on the left Mouse-over the icons in the map below for location shots
Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the McAfee Knob hike:
Reviews For The McAfee Knob Hike (5 Most Recent)
Excellent hike. Got a late start and didn't reach the knob until just after sunset. No one else was there and it was amazingly quiet. Got some really good pictures of what was left of the sunlight and also the city lights from Roanoke. The only problem was the melting snow from the week before left many parts of the trail reduced to thick muddy sludge, especially as we approached the knob. Did the return hike in the dark and took the fire road. Great hike. Hope to camp next time.
Date of Hike: Saturday, February 01, 2014
We had a wonderful trip up to McAfee Knob. It was the first Saturday in February & the temps were up in the 40's for the first time in weeks. We couldn't have asked for better weather.
We followed the AT going up to the overlook & used the fire road on our return trip to the parking lot.
As stated in the description, this isn't a trail to take if you are looking for solitude. We got to the parking lot at 11am, there were only a handful of vehicles. When we got back to the parking lot at 3:30pm, my wife had to "help" get us backed out of our parking spot, as to not bump in to another vehicle. The parking lot was full & even cars parked along the road!
The views from the overlook are fantastic.
This was our very first hike on the AT, there will be many more to follow.
One word of caution. This website was unavailable Saturday morning. I was going to go & print out some information from the site. I'm guessing it was getting pounded by web-traffic, which is a good thing, but you may want to print out the route a couple of days before you go!
Date of Hike: Friday, January 17, 2014
Absolutely amazing views!!! The hike is fairly easy and can get crowded at times, but it's worth the views. 5 stars!
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 02, 2013
This hike was amazing, mid fall had most of the leaves already turned and a lot had fallen, but the views from the top were stunning. The sky was clear and weather was perfect, the distance was manageable, and there was very few strenuous sections, none if I was in better shape. I would recommend this hike to anybody.
Date of Hike: Monday, October 07, 2013
I really like the Mcafee hike and I'm interested in combining it with Tinker Cliffs. Can anyone comment on starting from rt 311 going up Mcafee, over to Tinker Cliffs and down the Andy Layne trail to rt 779? Is this a pretty doable one day hike? Looks like it's approx. 12 - 13 mi, correct? Thanks.