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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Reviews For The McAfee Knob Hike (5 Most Recent)
Great Hike! On a scale of 1 to 10 (difficulty) I'd say it's a 6.5. The view is Epic! You know you want to do it! Go!
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 24, 2015
Not too crowded. Moderate but was easy for me without a pack. It was a little longer than I expected. My RunKeeper clocked me in at 3 hours 48 minutes and 8.12 miles
Date of Hike: Thursday, October 15, 2015
First of all I need to start by saying that I hike an average of two day hikes a yr and am not active much the rest of the time. However, I decided to backpack up and stay the night which added 35 lbs to my back. But, I still made it!! It's a very doable hike. I'd say probably on the higher side of moderate. It was strenuous with my pack. I went on a Thursday because of it being fall and all the other reviews say to arrive early do to parking. I figured going midweek would be my best bet. I'm glad I did. There were still quite a few people up there, but not bad. The views at the top were just unbelievable. I can't describe them. Worth the climb. I hiked about a mile farther north to Campbell shelter to camp. It's a nice site. There is a good water source although it could use some maintenance. In the am I hiked back up to the knob to see the sun rise. Again, just amazing. Coming back down on Friday is when I really learned that my midweek choice was the best decision. I was back down to the parking lot by 9:30 and there was a wait to park. I'd do this hike again in a heart beat. Pack and all. I'd strengthen my knees some first though. If you have weak knees, the descent is a bear.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 10, 2015
First of a two hike weekend (McAfee/Dragon Tooth) with a wonderful group of ladies. Unfortunately, the rain set in late the night before and throughout our morning hike. The rain stopped about 10 minutes before reaching the top which was nice but due to the fog you couldnt see anything but fog and peoples shadows. The experience with the fog throughout the hike was spooky. Hiking with sunshine would have been great but the rain made it an experience very much enjoyed. The hike was not too strenuous and well worth it. All the hikers at the top, mostly VT students were extremely polite and enjoyable. Parking lot was packed so be prepared if you may have to wait for a spot unless you dont mind being towed.
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.