McAfee Knob

McAfee Knob
Catwaba, VA
Distance: 8 miles
Views: Views (x 1 million) Epic 270 degree views of the Catawba and Roanoke Valley
Trailhead: Across from McAfee Knob parking area on VA Rte 311
Type: Out and back
Dogs: Yes. Please leash.
Notes: One of the most photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Translation: Stunning views


Getting there:
From Charlottesville, VA take 64 West to I-81 South. After traveling on 81 S for almost 80 miles, take exit 141 for VA-419/VA-311 (towards Salem & New Castle). Turn left onto VA-419N and then turn right onto VA-311 North. You’ll see the McAfee’s Knob Parking lot on your left. I promise you won’t miss it. If it’s after 7am, it will be mostly full. The trail head is across the street from the parking area; cross 311 and look for the post with the AT symbol, the white blaze.

Difficulty and length:
This hike took us about 5 hours to complete including some time lounging around at McAfee Knob (the viewpoint). It’s about 4 miles of a steady climb to the Knob. Most websites and books I read about this hike stated it was moderate in difficulty. I’d rate this as difficult. I felt as though my lungs and legs were working most of the hike, with little to no relief areas (flat or downhill slope). That being said, the hike is very fun and worth the effort and the sore thighs the following day.

Start the hike to McAfee Knob SUPER early to avoid crowds. At 7:45am the parking area only had about 3-5 spaces left and it’s a large parking area. Cross VA 311 and find the Appalachian Trail (AT) white blazed post. This is where your ascent begins. After about 20 minutes of hiking pay attention as the AT takes a turn. You should see a tree with two white blazes; two blazes means a turn in the trail.
IMG_4502Look for an information kiosk down the hill to stay on the path to McAfee Knob (you can see it camouflaged through the trees in the image above). In another 5 minutes you will cross the first of 4 wooden walkways and shortly after you should see the first of two AT Shelters that you will pass on your hike. There are outdoor privies at each of these shelters. Great news for a long hike on a popular trail. I love it when you can get some privacy for your business.

Continue on the AT and look for the next shelter about 20 minutes after you cross over the last wooden walkway (timing depends on your hiking speed and may vary among individuals). After the shelter, you will see some backcountry campsites and a sign (similar to the one below) showing you where to go to stay on the trail and your distance from the top. You will cross a fire road and a open meadow area with power lines cutting through (see below). Next, you will come to what appears to be a T in the path. You’ll want to take a left here. Remember, to make sure you are on the right path, look for those white blazes.

Within about 2 hours and fifteen minutes of starting your hike, you will likely reach the Knob. The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding valleys is absolutely breathtaking. Enjoy your time up here. Wait in line for a picture on the rock outcropping known as McAfee Knob and then spend some time in the sun snacking and soaking in the views. If you are a frequent hiker, you may see a familar lake and mountain in the distance. You can see Abbott Lake and Sharp Top Mountain from up here. We’ve camped at the Peaks of Otter campgrounds several times.


When you are done with the views retrace your steps to return to your car. The trail is very rocky, so be careful not to move to quickly down the mountain as you might roll your ankle like I did. It’s not fun to limp down a mountain.

McAfee’s Knob is a must see. Add it to your hiking to-do list!

Note: This trail is fairly rocky and bumpy. I had a couple of ankle-rolls on the walk down. Be sure to wear shoes with good ankle support and good soles.

Tip: Start the hike very early; prior to 7am if possible.

My Experiences:
This hike has been on my bucket list for 10 years, ever since I took a backpacking trip with my friend, Sparrow (trail name) in 2005. We began in Tennessee and started making our way through Virginia on the Appalachian Trail. I left the trail after a few weeks and met up with her again further down the trail, so I missed McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth (another well-known hike in Catawba). I convinced my husband that we had to see this one, so we packed up for the weekend and headed to Roanoke, VA. We made the lovely Hotel Roanoke our home base, so we could wake up early to hit the trail. We arrived at 7:45am and the parking lot was almost full. It was no small feat for us to get up and out the door this early on a weekend. I was getting worried the Knob would already be packed with people and make photo opportunities challenging.

I’ll be honest, I was surprised at the difficulty of this one. Maybe it was the egg and cheese biscuit and coffee I inhaled on the drive to the trail. Or possibly that extra glass of wine at Table 50 the night before? Either way, this one really took it out of me. On the way down, my legs were so worn out, I was barely lifting them.

The views from the Knob are worth the struggle. I was blown away by how far I could see. There were already about 20 people at the viewpoint when we arrived, so we patiently waited our turn for the classic photo of McAfee Knob. We also met a nice gentleman who took a picture of the two of us. We didn’t catch his name, but he was taking photos for Virginia Tourism. Now that sounds like a sweet job!

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t do very well with heights. Pictures from this hike with me close to the edge were difficult for me. I assure you, I sat on my bottom and scooted as close as I was willing to get to each ledge. Such a scaredy cat!

On our way back down, we stopped at one of the two AT Shelters you pass on this hike. There was a Tech student with a grill and a bag of bacon making fresh bacon for AT thru-hikers. Talk about Trail Magic! I brought Snickers bars to hand out to AT thru-hikers, but was put to shame by this guy.

Crabtree Falls

Crabtree Falls
George Washington National Forest (near Lovingston, VA)
Distance: 3.8 miles
Views: Waterfalls and the Tye River Valley
Trailhead: Parking area on VA Rte 56
Type: Out and back
Dogs: Yes – leash is a must on this hike!
Notes: Beautiful Waterfalls, $3 parking fee

Getting there:
There are several ways to get to Crabtree Falls from Charlottesville, VA; I always prefer the route with less winding roads. I take 29 South from Charlottesville about 40 miles. When you get to Lovingston, VA start to keep your eyes peeled. You will pass the Lockn’ site (on your left). Oak Ridge Farm shout out! After passing Oak Ridge Farm, hang a right on Route 56 W.  Stay on Rte 56 for a bit and look for signs for Crabtree Falls Parking Area (on your left). Note: Resist the urge to park at the Crabtree Falls Campground – pass this, it is not the hike parking area.

Difficulty and length: This hike is slow going on the way up. It’s steep, which means a lot of ‘breathing’ breaks. There are a lot of photo opportunities that may also slow you down. The way down is much quicker unless you get a late start and the trail is full of people. Most recently, this hike took me about 2 hours to complete. It may take longer if you have small children or slower hikers.

A very popular hike alongside several cascades that make up Crabtree Falls. This hike is very straightfoward. Park in the Crabtree Falls Parking Area and don’t forget to pay the parking fee ($3) and hang your parking pass. Yes, they enforce this! You will find the trail head after the information kiosk on your right. There are non-flushable bathrooms at the start, so be sure to use these before starting the climb. The hike begins on a nice paved trail. If you have little ones, you could easily bring a stroller on this part of the hike. You can get to the first waterfall viewpoint on the paved path and turn around if you are just in it to see a waterfall (or short on time). If you want to do some work and see the rest of the falls, continue up. The trail follows the waterfalls up for just under 2 miles with overlook areas at the base of several stunning cascades. Stay on these designated areas when taking pictures, don’t be tempted to climb over the railings onto the rocks near the falls.

This is a fairly steep hike with several stair climbs and a few switchbacks. When you reach the top, you will cross a wooden bridge to a viewpoint looking over the Tye River Gorge. Enjoy the views, have some lunch and make your way back down to your car the way you came. If driving back to Charlottesville on 29, don’t forget to stop at one of my favorites, Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie, for a pizza. I hear ‘The Fat and Sassy’ is delicous!

Note: There are warning signs about people falling to their deaths on these falls. This is no joke, please take this seriously. Please do not hop over the railings to take pictures. You are putting your life in danger. The signs fail to mention that dogs have also died on this hike. The rocks are very slippery and even your furry friends can lose their footing. Be sure to put your pups on a leash before starting this hike.

Tips: Get here early to avoid serious crowds. There are railings and stairs on this hike and these areas can cause a lot of bottlenecking when the trail is crowded. Hike this trail after heavy rainfall for most stunning waterfalls.

IMG_4339My Experiences:
I have to be honest…this isn’t my favorite hike. Yes, the waterfalls are beautiful and there are great views at the top, but for some reason, I just don’t enjoy this one very much. It may be the crowds or all the people hopping over the railings to take pictures (despite the warnings). I’ve been to these falls several times over the years and I do really love them in the winter! Frozen waterfall = amazing. My recommendation…do this one in late fall or early spring.

On my most recent trip, this spring, we got to the trailhead by 9am. There were only a few cars in the parking lot and we had a lot of the waterfall viewpoint areas to ourselves on the way up. The way down was a different story. By now the masses had reached the hike and we ended up standing still waiting for large groups of people to pass by on the stairs. I highly recommend getting to this hike at 8am or earlier. When we returned to the parking lot it was completely full and someone was checking cars for hang tags and handing out tickets. Keep these tips in mind before you venture to Crabtree Falls for your own adventure!


Humpback Rock

Humpback Rock
Near Afton, VA
Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 6
Distance: 1 mile
Views: Outstanding views of the Shenandoah Valley
Trailhead: Humpback Rock Parking area on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 6
Type: Out and back
Dogs: Yep. Just make sure to bring the leash
Notes: Short, yet crowded and steep

IMG_4236Getting there:
From Charlottesville, VA head out on 64 West. Take exit 99 for Afton mountain/250 exit. Hang a right at the light and then turn right near an area where there are abandoned buildings and a large parking area. Drive past all that, and take a right onto the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap. Look for the Humpback Rocks parking area at milepost 6.

This is a wildly popular hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Central, VA. Don’t hike this trail if you are looking for seclusion – that’s only going to happen if you get started before 8am. That being said, this is the perfect hike for a busy weekend if you only have a few hours to get outside. Get here early if you want a parking spot at the Humpback Rock Parking Area (milepost 6). The trail begins to the right of the information board. This trail starts with a steep ascent on a nice, wide path with plenty of benches and rocks for resting along the way. Don’t be ashamed about taking breaks every 5 seconds on this hike. I do it all the time!

Details for this hike are pretty simple. Follow the trail and the lines of people (kidding. mostly). There are some stairs to climb and a few switchbacks. At one point, when the trail starts to flatten out, keep an eye out for trail markers to be sure you make it to the rock outcropping. This should be a left turn on the trail. The trail to the right will take you along the Appalachian Trail and past the Humpback Rock Picnic Area (there’s a secret hike to a plane crash near here that I MIGHT share info about on a later post. I like keeping this one a secret though, so we’ll see).

Spend some time at the summit and enjoy those views you worked for. The hike down should be fairly quick, just take it easy on those knees. Don’t forget to stop at Blue Mountain Brewery on your way home!

Note: One of my pet peeves is all the graffiti on Humpback Rock. Please don’t add to it!

IMG_4237Tip: I prefer to park at the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center (around milepost 5.8) and start my hike there. By doing this you add about a half a mile onto your trip, but this parking area is typically less crowded and there are restrooms. If hiking in early Spring, watch the Blue Ridge Parkway’s website for opening dates as the restrooms don’t usually open until May. If you park here, simply walk on the Mountain Farm trail through the log cabins and outbuildings. Next cross the Parkway to reach the trail head.

Difficulty and length: This hike usually takes me about 1.5 hours to complete. This includes a lot of ‘heavy’ breathing breaks on the way up and spending some time on the rocks to soak in the view. The descent is fairly quick and doesn’t take near as long as the trek up. I’ve been on this hike with people that walk a little slower and it took 3 hours to complete. If you have little ones with teeny legs or slower folks with you, leave yourself some extra time. I want to call this hike strenuous, but that seems a little harsh since its so short. Let’s settle on ‘difficult’; that takes care of describing the steep climb at the beginning, but sounds completely “doable”.

My Experiences:
This is the first trail I remember hiking as a kid. I remember my grandmother taking me here when I was very young, so Humpback Rock holds a special place in my heart. Grandma Ruth loved to walk and hike; I can remember running ahead and then running back to her as she walked slowly and steadily up the trail with her walking stick.

Both my mom and my grandmother have always made sure I know how special our Blue Ridge Mountains are. They taught me about loving nature and having a free and wild spirit. Love those ladies.

Spring views:

Winter views: