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: 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.

By: Heidi W Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, May 29, 2016
Been wanting to do this one for a couple of years, so far, one of my favorite hikes...challenging, but not extreme. We got to the parking lot just before 9a and there were several parking spaces left The threat of rain probably kept many hikers glad we went ahead with our plans...only a couple raindrops here and there. View was amazing...we ended up spending about 45 minutes at the top. We did fire road, a little easier on the joints! Great hike with the dog! Description and time is spot on!

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, May 18, 2016
This was a fun hike. Seemed longer than the 7.8 miles. I would have rated it 5 stars but it was foggy the day I hiked it and couldn't see much. I plan on going back when I know the view will be better. It took me 5 hours to complete the hike but stopped at the top for about a half hour. Legs were sore afterward but not bad for a 64 year old.

By: Dayhiker Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, April 13, 2016
My favorite hike in Southwest VA thus far. Incredible views! Your directions and descriptions are entirely accurate. I used my gps and had the exact mileage as you did, however the signs on the trail were off about .25 of a mile. We accidentally got off of the AT close to the beginning of the hike and that was disappointing at first. But, when we left the Knob, we were able to go back the entire way on the AT so it worked out and I was glad that we were able to do both trails because the scenery was different from the fire trail. I actually recommend going up the fire trail and going back down the AT route. The AT trail is much more strenuous, so if you have joint issues you may want to do only the fire trail. We went midweek and still encountered about 20 others hiking the trail. The weather was perfect (about 55 with a cool wind) and the mountain laurel were in full bloom. I highly recommend this trail!

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, December 11, 2015
It was amazing! If anyone found my hiking poles in the parking lot please email me! I just bought them so I only used them once on this hike so I'm a little bummed out!

    View all 75 reviews for the McAfee Knob hike
Late May - (photos provided by Heidi W.)
Mid September
Mid April
Late December - (photos provided by Dennis Cooley)
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