OverviewMcAfee knob is rumored to be the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail. It is easy to see why: On a rocky outcrop that marks the border between Tinker Mountain to the north and Catawba Mountain to the south, the sweeping view encompasses the majesty that is southwest Virginia. This inspiring vista is obtainable to any who can manage a seven mile walk.
Besides the short route to McAfee Knob, there are several longer hikes available that will avoid the crowds (except at the top). Also, very high quality bouldering can be found on much of the mountain. Look at the external links section for the bouldering topo of this area.
Trails to the topThere are three routes that will get you to the top of McAfee Knob.
The shortest and most popular trail to the top is the AT from the south. This trail parallels a fire road for much of the way and you can mix up your hike a little bit by taking the AT up and the fire road back. However, until you become familiar with this area, I recommend only attempting to take the fireroad on the way back.
This trail is about 7 miles round trip, and on a weekend could potentially be choked with hung-over college kids.
From interstate 81, exit on rt. 311 near Roanoke and take the road about 8 or so miles to the top of the Catawba Mountain ridge where the road intersects the AT. Park at the large gravel parking lot and take the AT north.
The highest quality trail to the top is an all day adventure of approximately 18 miles roundtrip. It’s a hike that will take you past Tinker Cliffs (another one of Virginia’s finest vistas) on your way to McAfee Knob.
From Interstate 81, take 311 to the town of Catawba, (just past Catawba Mountain), turn north on rt. 779 and drive for about 8 miles. The gravel parking lot for the Andy Layne trail is on the right side. If you see the cement factory, you've driven too far.
Take the Andy Layne Trail East up to Scorched Earth Gap (3 miles one way) where it meets the AT. Take the AT (6 miles one way) to McAfee knob. McAfee Knob may be crowded, but you will see precious few other people if you hike by this trail.
The Andy Layne trail connects the AT on Tinker Mountain with the North Mountain Trail (on North Mountain immediately to the West). The North Mountain Trail eventually hits the AT to the south near Dragons Tooth, and one can do a fantastic 36 mile loop utilizing those trails (AT - Andy Layne - North Mountain Trail - back to AT).
Another good option for hiking to McAfees knob is a one-way hike along the AT that will require organizing a shuttle. It is 20 miles (one way) from rt. 220 at the northeast end of Tinker Mountain to the 311/AT intersection. Fantastic views abound of Carvins Cove reservoir, the city of Roanoke and forested wilderness. I have not done this hike yet, only read about it as an option.
Red TapeFree to park at all mentioned parking areas
Free to hike
No trail registers or permits are necessary
CampingCamping is permitted along the AT everywhere EXCEPT at the very top of McAfee knob.
Portions of the Andy Layne Trail are on Private Property and camping is not recommended on any portion of that trail.
External LinksA description of the 7 mile hike
A description of the 20 mile shuttle hike