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: 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.

By: Stu Pickles, inventor. Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, February 23, 2014
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.

By: Stu Rating: 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!


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Late December - (photos provided by Dennis Cooley)
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