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McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed views on the Appalachian Trail. From McAfee Knob, you’ll see a nearly 270-degree panorama of Catawba Valley, North Mountain, Tinker Cliffs and the Roanoke Valley. I hiked McAfee’s as a day hike, but there are numerous shelters and campsites along the trail. If you plan it right, you can catch sunrise or sunset on the knob, which would make for some incredible images.
In my opinion, McAfee Knob is the perfect day hike. You get a big payoff for only a slightly strenuous hike 8.8 round trip hike and there’s an option to make it a loop. You’ll climb about 1,700 feet in elevation over 4.4 miles. I wore these sneakers and my feet were more than happy. On a clear day, the views are said to be the best in the Southern Shenandoah Valley. Pack a hammock and a lunch
or a single beer like we did, and hang out at the top for a long while.
This hike is about twenty minutes outside of Roanoke. Park in the McAfee’s Knob parking area. Though the trail is well worn and populated, snap a photo of the map on the information board before crossing the road and beginning the hike. Follow the white A.T. (Appalachian Trail) blazes as the trail winds its way upwards. You’ll pass a couple shelters and campsites along the way. Eventually, you’ll cross an old fire road and a power line clearing. The blazes pick up again on the other side of the clearing and after only a quarter mile more you’ll see the first good view of Catawba Valley. Another half mile up the trail and you’ll see the McAfee Knob Spur Trail. Turn left and almost immediately you’ll see amazing views.
McAfee Knob extends noticeably beyond the rest of the cliffs and there’s no way you can miss the line of people taking photos there. We walked past the crowds and explored the cliffs a little further until we found a comfortable rock bench from which to sit, chill and enjoy the view. If you have the time (and the snacks) stay until sunset. On the way back take the fire road for a much easier path down to the parking lot. You’ll also skim about a half mile off the adventure that way.
What to pack :
- Water – I only saw one spring on the trail. Pre-hydrate by drinking about a liter of water before the hike as well.
- Hammock + straps
Rules on rules :
- No camping or campfires on McAfee Knob or Tinker Cliffs
- Leave No Trace
- Leashed Dogs Allowed (although we saw a few off-leash, which is always nice)
- No alcohol
- No drones
- Max group hike size : 25
- Max backpacking group size : 10
- If camping : There are only 7 designated camping areas. Know before you go!
McAfee Knob is a very popular hike. I’m sure we bumped into nearly 50-75 other hikers along the trail and at the vista. That being said, the viewpoint and rock outcroppings are immense and there was room for everyone at the top. I noticed folks being really courteous about moving out of the way for photographs as well. I was also pleased to see that the trail and knob were mostly free of litter. Please remember to follow Leave No Trace hiking etiquette here and everywhere else.