McAfee’s Knob is a renowned spot along the Appalachian Trail. The closest trailhead to the knob is only a short drive from Roanoke, Virginia. The view from McAfee's Knob is one of the most beautiful of the entire AT, and is easily the most famous in Virginia. It is also one of the most photographed locations on the entire Appalachian Trail. Roanoke embraces its close proximity to this iconic spot.
McAfee’s Knob is an outlook on a rock outcropping at 1,397 feet that offers a 270-degree view of the surrounding area. If you look to the East you see the Roanoke Valley, to the North there are the Tinker Cliffs, and if you look to the west you will see Catawba Valley and North Mountain. The view is everything that people claim it is. It is truly one of the most beautiful views along the trail. The entire valley seems to sprawl endlessly away in beautiful rolling hills, trees, and fields until it meets the horizon. During different parts of the year, you will be treated to different sights. In the fall it is a beautiful mosaic of autumnal colors. In the spring and summer it is a lush landscape in varying greens. In the winter its cold and clear, and you can see for miles into the distance.
The hike to the outlook is quite beautiful as well. Catawba Mountain (of which McAfee’s is a part) is a great place for hikers of all skill levels. While people primarily hike this trail to go to McAfee’s, there are many other trails that are interconnected with varying degrees of difficulty. In general the hikes in this area range from easy to moderate in difficulty. Catawba Mountain hikes are highly variable, in that you hike over rocky terrain, through perennial trees and evergreens, and even through open grassy fields in some areas.
The hike to McAfee’s from the parking lot on Route 3.11 is about 4.4 miles. To get back you will just retrace your steps to the parking lot, making this an 8.8 mile hike in total. If you want to cut some time and distance off, and make it an easier return trip, you can take the fire road back, which will cut your distance by about half a mile. Fire roads are wide, well kept trails that fireman use to drive to the location of, or close to the location of forest fires.
The actual hike isn’t difficult. The grade isn’t very steep, and there is a lot to look at along the way. There are various types of wildlife roaming around in the forest including deer, birds, and even goats. There is also Mountain Laurel and a variety of wildflowers to be seen along the way. The trails are well marked and maintained, so it is not difficult to get where you are going. You will often meet or pass several friendly people on the trail. It is a dog friendly hike. The hike is connected to the A.T. and many other trails, so you can create longer distance hikes if you choose. There are campgrounds and other places to pitch a tent along the way, as well as various water sources.
In addition to the hikes in the area there are also a few locations where you can boulder. The climbing options vary widely in difficulty depending on what location you choose. Catawba Mountain has a lot to offer, and it is an easy drive from Roanoke. Even by itself, McAfee’s Knob is well worth the hike to see.