One of the premier hikes in Virginia and along the Appalachian Trail. McAfee Knob is one of those postcard perfect places you see on brochures. And it often does don the sites and advertisements for Virginia Travel. So you want to check out the amazing McAfee Knob Trail? Read along to learn more.
About the McAfee Knob Trail
Distance: 7.8 miles | Type: Out and Back | Elev. gain: 1,800 ft. | Difficulty: Moderate | Avg. Time: 4 hrs.
The hike is along the Appalachian trail in Virginia. One of the most photographed and well-known hikes, it is popular with day hikers as well. This will cover the day-hike portion of the hike. The hike has a decent elevation gain, however it is pretty steady throughout the hike. Hiking McAfee Knob is certainly a highlight of any hiking in Virginia or the AT.
The knob sits at 3,197 feet above sea level in the Catawba Mountain Range in Virginia. It was named for a Scotch-Irish 18th-century settler.
Best Times to Hike
The hike is accessible year round, and even in winter there are times when the weather will be good enough to complete the hike. During the late spring to fall, the hike is especially popular. If you are here in late spring (May/June) you’ll also see quite a few through hikers traveling the trail as well. Northbound hikers from Georgia usually start in spring to complete the trail before the weather turns in Maine.
McAfee Knob Trailhead Parking
Address: Route 311, Salem VA
Like most of the best hikes, parking is always a painful situation at trailheads. You should try to arrive before 7am if you want to find a spot.
Avoid parking in the no-parking areas and on route 311. You’ll likely get a ticket or worse get towed.
You can also park on the Old Catawba Road (VA-864) adjacent to the parking area. Just be sure to park as far off the road as possible and avoid parking on curves.
The Trailhead is located across the street from the McAfee Knob Parking area.
McAfee Knob Shuttle
There’s also a new McAfee Shuttle service available. The Shuttle takes folks to and from the Park & Ride on Exit 140. The shuttle costs $6 dollars each way and requires you to book a specific timeslot. If you miss your return shuttle you’ll have to wait standby for the next shuttle. This only runs during the high season and sometimes on weekends outside that as well. It’s definitely an option if others are not available.
Hiking The Trail
The trail starts near the parking lot for McAfee Knob. The trail actually crosses the road here, and the trailhead will be on the other side of the road from the parking lot and from the other part of the Appalachian Trail.
Note, be careful crossing the road and the road, etc. One of the folks we met at the parking lot who was a thru-hiker also ended up catching his twisting his foot due to the drop off the side of the road to the trail and pretty messed himself up for his hike. Really an awful situation having hiked from Georgia.
The Trail is well trafficked and follows through the woods here. You’ll see two shelters on your hike here through the woods. The first is the Johns Spring Shelter at about 1 mile. The second Catawba Mountain Shelter, is about 2.2 miles from the start. Beyond that we did see several small campsites in the forest as well. Most of these are for those thru-hiking the AT or hiking various portions of the trail. Hikers can reserve shelters, although thru-hikers do not need reservations for shelters (and can camp close if no space is available).
The hike also takes you through the woods and up various stairs. The area is beautiful. At about the 3 mile mark you’ll see some high tension power lines. This way you’ll know you are still on the hike and pretty close to the end of the trail as well.
Here we saw a lot of local beautiful flowers. There were a lot of what I assume were mountain laurel as we were hiking here. It was beautiful how it lined the path. There were also a few outcropping areas as well as some more stairs.
After about another 0.9 miles you’ll climb a bit more and come to the highlight of the hike. McAfee Knob. The views here are just beautiful. It’s a perfect spot to relax and take in the beautiful views.
The park is located close to Roanoke Virginia along VA-311.
Distances from Nearby Areas:
- Roanoke, VA: 15 miles (20 minutes)
- Charlottesville, VA: 123miles (2 hours)
- Washington DC: 242 miles (4 hours)
- Richmond, VA: 191 miles (3 hours)
- Greensboro NC: 117 miles (2 hours)
- Shenandoah NP (Rockfish Gap Entrance): 112 miles (2 hours)
What Else to See in the Area
Located about 45 minutes from McAfee Knob, the Natural Bridge is one of the coolest arches in the area that you can see. It was a popular tourist site since colonial times, and the road is even built upon it, so it’s really quite sturdy.
The Roanoke Star and the view from the park here is one of the best views of the area. It is also a historic landmark and a great place to take a quick view. Best at sunset.
It was fun to run over, but of the ones, it’s probably the least interesting. But the Buchannan Swinging Bridge was cool to see and worth a stop if its along your way.
Also about 45 minutes from McAfee Knob, you can also see and visit Booker T. Washington National Monument. It’s the plantation where he lived and was enslaved as well as one of the National Monuments if that’s something you are trying to visit.
Tips & FAQs
- Make sure to give way to those who are faster, especially thru-hikers. Many have a specific mileage they need to hit each day as they have an incredible long journey.
- Arrive early for hiking. The parking can fill up fast. It is a super popular hike.
- Trail markers for the Appalachian Trail are white. If you see something else you may have diverted somewhere. Not just helpful for here but other trails as well.
- Bring water, snacks, and good shoes. There is water along the trail, but you should definitely be prepared.
- McAfee Knob is part of the “Virginia Triple Crown”. Dragon’s Tooth and Tinker’s Cliff are the other two. Pretty cool if you can do the other hikes as well. They are all fairly close to one another. It’s possible to do them all in one day, but multiple days is likely better.
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