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
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. 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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Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the McAfee Knob hike:

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: 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:

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Great Hike. I was doing the whole Triple Crown/North Mtn loop, so I didn't return the same way, but headed across the ridge to Tinker Cliffs. The view from McAfee Knob is legendary and did not disappoint! It was crystal clear with a cold wind blowing, and the view was simply amazing. Blue Ridge as far as I could see! I'm not sure if I would even give this a three for difficulty, and I'm a middle-aged out-of-shape guy. I saw no one else on the whole trail, but this was due to the fact that it was late March on a Wednesday. When I got back to the McAfee Knob trailhead on Friday, it was packed, so if you're doing this in warmer weather or on the weekends, you'll need to get to the parking lot very early to get a space. Definitely a hike to have on your bucket list, though mid-week is probably the time to go.

By: Shari Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, December 22, 2016
This was an excellent hike! Hiked it on a Thursday in December right before Christmas. There were several other people hiking that day but it was definitely not crowded. It was not as hard as I was expecting and parts of the trail were fairly wide and easy to walk on, but it did get steeper the closer we got to the top. It was just a great day hike with spectacular views at the top. It was a little chillier at the top than on the way up (to be expected) so just bring a hat and gloves and you'll be all set. An amazing 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!

    View all 84 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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