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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Park on VA311 at the Appalachian Trail parking area. 37.38010, -80.08956
Cross VA 311 where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road.
Note: In 2017 Roanoke County imposed stricter parking regulations. It is illegal to park on VA31 outside of the McAfee Park Service lot. Cars parked on VA31 can be ticketed or towed. If the lot is full alternate parking options include:
* Park and Ride lot in front of Orange Market on VA311
* I 81 Exit 140 Park and Ride

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 9.5mls.

Please Note: During the last several years the McAfee Knob area has seen a significant increase in hiker traffic. Please follow the Leave-No-Trace hiking etiquette. There are unique rules regarding group size, and camping for this area. Please visit the Roanoke Appalachian Trail club page for full rules and regulations.

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 where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road 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.

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.

Please review the rules and regulations regarding camping at the Roanoke Appalachian Trail club page.

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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, October 14, 2017
We left our house at 5:15 am and arrived at the parking lot at 7:15 and it was already about full. Come early if you want to park in the parking lot. Headed on the trail about 7:30am. It was a great hike. We had 3 dogs with us (lots of dogs on this trail). The hike was somewhat difficult which we loved. There are many stairs and rocks to climb. It took us about 2.5-3 hours to get to the top but SOOOO worth it. The view was amazing. When we started it was clear, then we hike through fog for about 30 minutes and then back to clear. When we got to the top we realized we had hiked through the clouds because we were higher than the clouds and looking down at them. Got some really awesome pictures of this. There weren't that many people up there while we were there so we were able to get great pictures without other people in them. While up there, a young man got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend. She was shocked, but said yes. Congratulations to this newly engaged couple!! One the way back down we must have passed 200 people so we know the top was going to be very crowded. I recommend heading out early on this trail. Over all, it took us about 5.5 hours round trip. We stayed on the top for about 30 minutes enjoying the view and having lunch.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 07, 2017
The best hike we have done so far! My wife and I each brought 2.5 liters of water in a day-pack with some snacks and a sandwich. We both ran out of water (we also used this to hydrate our Beagle), right at the end of the hike. We took our 6-year-old Beagle with a hands-free leash and I used trekking poles for stability because she would sometimes have to make a quick jump over some rocks climbing up. Good hiking shoes are also a big plus. This was the longest hike our Beagle had ever been on, but did great. It took us almost 6 hours roundtrip and we took the AT up, but came back down the fire road portion so our Beagle would have it a little easier on her legs. Plenty of people at the top to help with taking pictures. To save a few bucks since we came from about 6 hours away, we stayed at the Days Inn in Bedford, VA (pet friendly, $68/night plus $12 pet fee), the night before which is 52 minutes away from the Rt. 311 parking lot. We got to the parking lot just before 8:00AM and got the last spot without blocking anyone else in. If you have a very small vehicle, the better chance you can squeeze into a tight parking spot. Congratulations to the couple who got married at McAfee Knob at 1:00 PM that day!!

By: Arionis Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, September 25, 2017
Wonderful hike! Views at the top are amazing. WARNING FOR OVERNIGHT HIKERS: I've done this hike before as a day hike and had plenty of water with me for an up and back down hike. This time my son and I were doing extended overnight hikes along the AT and had planned to camp out at either the John Springs or Catawba Shelter. The spring with the pipe they describe in the write up is NO LONGER there. Also, all the creeks near those two shelters were dried up. So anyone looking to do this as an overnight beware of the unreliable water sources. We had to abort our plan of camping there as we didn't have enough water left for cooking/drinking for the night.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, June 14, 2017
This 8 mile roundtrip hike is well worth the climb. Mid-Week and warm day had few people on the trail and we almost had the top to ourselves. Awesome views and photo opportunities. We encountered a beautiful yellow phased timber rattlesnake 30 yards from the top who crossed into the laurel in front of us so be aware of the natural inhabitants of this beautiful spot. With time to enjoy the top this was a 4 1/2 hour roundtrip for us. Take lots of water on a hot day:)

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 06, 2017
This is one of those iconic AT hikes you just have to do. Nothing hard about the hike or particularly long, but the views over the Catawba Valley are spectacular and you just have to get your photo at the overhanging rock, if you're a hiker.

I'm guessing there is no solitude ever on this hike as it may be the most hiked section of the AT. On the return leg from the summit to the parking lot, I counted over 150 hikers headed up and this was on a cloudy, cold, windy, rainy morning. It was our unfortunate timing to be in the area on a spring Saturday. If you can arrange to be there on a weekday, no doubt it will be much less crowded.

Parking: get there early or forget about it. If you are in multiple vehicles, carpool from the park-and-ride lot near I-81. We arrived at 7:32am and the 50-car lot was already 3/4 full. The sheriff's office is towing those who are not in the lot don't get towed.

Trip report and photos: https://mangiabeve.blogspot.com/2017/05/mcafee-knob-catawba-va.html


    View all 87 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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