McAfee Knob is an 8.3 mile hike along the Appalachian Trail near Roanoke. The summit offers truly magnificent views of the Catawba valley below. On a clear day, you can also get great views of the Peaks of Otter (Sharp Top and Flat Top) along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We picked a perfect day in April to hike McAfee Knob. The trees were still mostly bare of leaves, but the skies were crystal clear and completely free of the milky haze that dominates the Virginia summer. We got to the trailhead right at 9:00 a.m. and the parking lot on 311 was already about halfway full. From what I’ve been told, this trail rivals Old Rag in popularity for folks in the southern part of the Shenandoah Valley.
The trail is meticulously maintained. I believe the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club and local Boy Scouts do most of the trail work. There are many wooden bridges and walkways in the first two miles of the trail that were built as Eagle Scout projects. I think the hike, despite its eight+ mile length, qualifies as a solidly moderate hike. It’s not steep and the trail is smooth and pleasant. It feels a lot shorter than eight miles.
The first few miles of the hike make their way through beautiful, classic Virginia mountains. The trees are a mix of hardwoods and pines that smell delicious as they warm in the sun. There are also expansive stands of mountain laurel along the way. I’m certain they’re a site to behold when they bloom in June.
The view finally opens up when you complete the toughest part of the climb and walk along the ridge of the mountain. The gnats were something else on the day we hiked. If we so much as paused for a few seconds, the bugs swarmed us like mad. The walk along the ridge is brief and leads you past a very cool series of rock formations nicknamed the Devil’s Kitchen. After walking past the giant boulders, you come to a short spur trail to McAfee knob.
The hike is an out-and-back, so the return trip simply retraces your steps.
I think this is a hike I’ll return to time and again. I thought it was one of the most spectacular views I’ve seen in the state.
This was a truly wonderful hike. The views are spectacular and are likely the best views I can remember in Virginia. I grew up in Lynchburg, VA and we used to always hike up Sharp Top at the Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I think the views here are better than Sharp Top and well worth the mileage. You can continue the trek on to Tinker Cliffs, but that adds several miles onto the trek and would work better as an overnight backpack trip. The views of the ridgeline and Tinker Cliffs are breathtaking. There is a lot of space at the top to chill out on some rocks and eat a snack. You will often see pictures like the one below when you see pictures for the Appalachian Trail.
I do a lot of geocaching and there is a geocache here if you approach it from the fire road and not the hike on the AT. However, I left my notes in the car, so I just tried to go from my memory and GPS. I tried hiking off the trail and up the mountainside and it took away all my energy.
- Distance – 8.3 miles round-trip
- Elevation Change – 1,740 feet
- Difficulty – 4. The trail is fairly easy walking, but because the length, we scored it a 4.
- Trail Conditions – 5. The trail is well maintained.
- Views – 5. One of the finest views in Virginia.
- Waterfalls/streams – 0.
- Wildlife – 2. We saw a lot of Eastern Fence Lizards, but nothing else.
- Ease to Navigate – 5. It would be nearly impossible to get lost.
- Solitude – 1. The trail is exceedingly popular. Parking can be a challenge if you arrive mid-day.
Special regulations for this area:
- Maximum group size, day hikes: 25
- Maximum group size, backpacking/camping: 10
- No alcohol
- Dogs must be kept on leash at all times
- No camping or campfires outside of seven designated areas (north of Va 624/Newport Rd, the only legal campsites are Johns Spring Shelter, Catawba Shelter and campsites, Pig Farm campsite, Campbell Shelter and Lambert’s Meadow Shelter and campsites)
- No camping or campfires on McAfee Knob or Tinker Cliffs
Directions to trailhead:
Take I-81 to exit 141. Follow signs to VA-311. The parking lot is located about 5.5 miles down 311. Park ONLY in the designated lot. Roadside parking is prohibited and will result in towing.