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
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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. 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.

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Hiker Reviews For The McAfee Knob Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the McAfee Knob hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: Rating: 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.

By: Jordan Rating: 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.

By: RJ and TD Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, June 20, 2014
We began our hike at 8:15AM. It was already starting to get hot and muggy. Our goal was to get a workout so we decided to get there and back as quickly as possible. We made it up in 90 minutes. We took a some time to enjoy the views - eating a handful of wild blueberries, taking photos of a deer just a few feet away, talking to other hikers, and enjoying the amazing scenery. Once at the top we rested, hiked over to see the view of the Roanoke valley. You can see for miles! We jogged/walked back down, stopping several times to talk to hikers on the way up. Avoided the fire road to get the full experience. Did the return trip in 90 minutes exactly. 8.8 miles, 1700 elevation climb and descent in 3 hours. Not bad for a couple of old guys. Let's do it again!

By: Fisch Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 14, 2014
I hiked with two friends and we decided to start our trek at around 5. We made it up in about an hour and 45 minutes and the view could not have been more breath taking. It was a perfect clear day. Good thing we brought sweaters because when we got to the top it was a bit chilly with the breeze. The beginning of the hike was easy but after the fireroad it started to get a little more difficult. Since it was around 8:15 when we started down we decided to take the fireroad so it would be easy in the dark. I highly recommend this hike!

By: Rider Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 31, 2014
THERE IS NO WATER AT JOHNS SPRING OR CATAWBA right now. If you're overnighting, you'll need to go to Pig Farm to find any.

    View all 48 reviews for the McAfee Knob hike
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Late December - (photos provided by Dennis Cooley)
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