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
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:

4.0 hours plus a half hour for lunch
1,740 ft
Jefferson National Forest
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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. 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 9.5mls.

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: Friday, November 04, 2016
This is a wonderful hike! I went for two days and one night. Both days were absolutely beautiful!The first day I set up my tent just past the second shelter on the A.T. in the designated camping area, then I proceeded the rest of the way to the overlook.I spent a couple hours at the overlook taking pictures and video.Then I headed back down to my campsite for the night.There was a creek at the bottom of the hill from my campsite but it was dryed up,but I brought two 33oz water bottles and had plenty of water.The temperature dripped down to 39f.There was a privy near each of the shelters and a metal bear food lock box near the second shelter.My first day was on a Friday and there were a decent amount of people there but when I left on Saturday the place was packed with people and the parking lot was over full.Some people were parking on the side of the road.This hike has a lot of good scenery on the way to the top and the overlook is just amazing!Happy Hiking!

By: Guy Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, October 14, 2016
Nice hike first mile a little hard and last mile uphill and a little hard . McAfee Knob is 8.63 miles from parking lot to top and back 20.254 steps is what I got on my pedometer Parking lot is very nice big . The walk to the top is very nice dog friendly and you get to talk with some awesome people . Very much worth you time to walk this trail the views are great I'm over 50 and my wife is also I have diabetes and feet problems although when I'm on a trail I love the woods and the great outdoors . Hope you get a chance to walk this trail and enjoy the woods .

By: Mark from GB Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, October 09, 2016
After two days of rain, some fueled by hurricane Matthew, I didn't know what to expect as far as the condition of the trail. When I pulled into the parking area on 311 a little after 9AM, it was already full. Luckily, a parking attendant (which was a surprise) directed me to park around the corner on 864. While I came across many hikers on the trail on this sunny, but cooler Sunday (including a trio that had hiked all the way from Maine), I totally enjoyed the beauty of the woods and the peace that came once I had gotten a little distance from the roadway. There were a couple of spots that the trail got a little damp, but not an issue as to keeping my feet dry. Once I made the summit, it was windy as heck but that did not take away from the view on this crystal clear day. We don't have mountains like this in Wisconsin, but I have explored a good portion of the National Ice Age Trail, which traverses the state. While my hamstrings were burning a little by the time I made it back to my vehicle, I thoroughly enjoyed that I took the opportunity during a rare business trip to the area to explore some of the Appalachian trail.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, October 09, 2016
It was the perfect day for a hike. We took the fire road. It was challenging for me it took about 3 hours to get there, only 2 hours coming down. The crisp cool wind, the sun warming up the perfectly blue sky. It was very rewarding making it to the top.

By: Tammy Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, September 09, 2016
Had been wanting to do this hike for a while. There are 2 ways up can take the AT or the Fire Trail. We had planned on camping at the Campbell Shelter and to hike back up to watch the Sunrise. With a group of  basic hikers we started up. The weather was in the mid  80s to low 90s. We took the AT up and with each of us loaded down with 80lb -45lb packs ..we stopped at the first shelter to readjust some packs and take a break. Surprisingly there were lots of down trails which meant you were going to get more steep up hills soon. We left there and headed to the next shelter which we knew there was a natural spring there to replenish some of our water supply. When we got to the Catawba shelter the spring was not working. There was a note on the shelter saying it was no longer we hiked down to where there was supposed to be a small creek and it too was dry. There was a small puddle that we filter a little out of but not enough to refill what we needed. We made the decision to camp there at the campsites and that left us with 1.5 mile hike to the knob left. After setting up camp and not having all our gear on us a few us hiked up to the knob. It is pretty much a straight up hike from this point and it is a little tough. What felt like the longest 1.5 miles Iv ever hiked was all erased from my mind and exhausted legs when you finally make it to the Knob. The view is amazing and pictures just dont do it justice. There were only a few people at the top for the sunset which made it even more amazing because it wasnt crowded. We talked to a few thru hikers who warned us that the creek at the Pig Farm and Campbell shelter was also very low and they too were on the hunt for more water.So with that information we decided to cut the trip short bc we had a big group and a baby also and with the heat and not enough water supply we were not going to take the chances. We hiked the fire trail back down. So if you do this as a day hike or a weekend hike...the easier route is going to be the fire trail. There are a lot of ups and downs also on the fire trail but not any where like the AT. The only thing I wish is there was a note on the info board in the parking lot to warn you that the water supply is low and the spring is not active. This information would have made us a lot more aware of what was ahead. Its still a hike that you have to do at least once in your life if you can.

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Late May - (photos provided by Heidi W.)
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Late December - (photos provided by Dennis Cooley)
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