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
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.
Look 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.
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.