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)
We drove in from Richmond, VA @ 7am - stopped for gas and breakfast - left the parking lot at 11am to hit the trail up. The four of us 2 adults 2 kids, took our time (we hike once per year) and this is the longest trip so far... stopped at both shelters on the way up, stayed 30 min at each (thankful for the outhouses) we traveled slowly, taking pictures, climbing the rocks, and enjoying the beautiful foliage. After the second shelter (2/3rds of the way up) the final 1.3 miles to the top is the hardest by far and the most steep. The kids stayed ahead of us the whole way, my wife and I struggled to the summit. BUT THAT VIEW IS AMAZING!! Climbing all over the rocks, sitting on the edges and letting your feet dangle... made it all worth while!! We rested at the top for an additional 30 min. leaving the ledge at 3:30pm. Many kids from the nearby colleges were going in groups and passing us older folk :) but that was just part of the adventure. Everyone was pleasant, the trail was neat and clean, & so were the shelters. A well maintained path, and trails... make this easy to navigate. We took the fire road back and shaved off a little time that way, without all the stops as we did on the way up. 4 hours up - 3 hours back... arrived at the car at 6:30pm and after getting more gas and food, arrived in Richmond at 10pm! Everything we have, hurts but the memories will outlast the aches and pains!!
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 04, 2014
If you want a good hike that isn't too hard but has an excellent payoff in terms of views, I highly recommend McAfee Knob!
I am not in the best shape (11-12 minute mile run) and I finished this hike in about 3 hours and 15 minutes (including a 15-20 minute break at the top and using the AT to come down, not the fire road). Had it not been so chilly I think I could have stayed up there all day--it was gorgeous! I personally enjoyed the views from here more than Old Rag. It was packed because it was a Saturday (lots of Virginia Tech students), so I hope to come back on a weekday to try it again with less crowds.
So far, this has been my favorite hike that I've done!
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 16, 2014
Did the hike up in 85 minutes via the appalacian and the hike down in 75 mintues via the fire road.
Nothing much to see along the way. You should do the Hay Rock hike for more views. The view from the ledges at the top is brilliant though. 5 stars for the view at the top, 3 for the hike itself.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 16, 2014
My cousin and I hiked the trail to McAfee's knob this weekend. I had been to the Knob. I've been there a few times and the hike gets easier and easier. Views are good at the top. We then decided to hike through the night towards Tinkers Cliff. The hike wasn't too bad through the night however, there was a huge section without blazes. Luckily a good deal of that was through grasses where the trail was apparent. The hike up to Tinker was not the best. What you get with down hill hike to the base of Tinker Mountain is made up for by the intense uphill hike. When we reached the cliffs, we seemed to miss the easier path behind the cliffs and ended up on what seems like a goat trail in front of the cliff. Was a little scary. After that it was ALL downhill. A killer on the legs after hiking all night. Overall this trip, I give it four stars for the wonderful views and the experience. Don't know if I'd hike that much in 24 hours again though.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 05, 2014
I did this hike with two others back in July and it was spectacular. We didnt arrive to the trailhead until around 5pm because we wanted to miss the crowds and since the sun was setting so late we figured we'd have enough time to get back down before it got too dark. It took us about 2 hours to get to the top and we were all in pretty good physical condition. Even on a hot July afternoon, I was thankful I brought a sweater because the top had a steady breeze and was chilly. We hiked the AT all the way up but then opted to take the fire road back down just incase it got too dark, and it did. The last little stretch of our hike was in complete blackness and it was the first time I had ever been caught hiking in the dark. The view from the top is amazing. While a lot of people stop and enjoy the main outlook, if you keep walking to the right you can walk around the top of the mountain and enjoy the view from a more secluded spot. To read more about my experience and see pictures from McAfee Knob visit here: http://appalachianhikinglove.blogspot.com/2014/07/mcafee-knob.html