McAfee Knob: A Quick Guide to Hiking the Trail

McAfee Knob: A Quick Guide to Hiking the Trail

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Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a newbie, the McAfee Knob is a wonderful part of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Hiking can be a time-consuming and sometimes strenuous activity. But the investment is usually rewarded with unprecedented views of the natural forest.

In this article, we discuss how long it takes to hike to McAfee Knob, a geological feature located on the Appalachian Trail. Then, we discuss some common questions that hikers have. Finally, we offer our thoughts on the future of McAfee Knob.


The trail leading to McAfee Knob starts where the Appalachian Trail crosses the VA-311 highway. There is a gravel parking lot located on top of Catawba Mountain on Route 311.

The distance from this trailhead to the summit of McAfee Knob is about 4.4 miles. Since this trail is a loop, hikers will travel a total of 8.8 miles.

Alternatively, some backpackers decide to continue on the Appalachian Trail, as it continues north all the way to Maine.

The 8.8-mile loop trail takes most hikers around 4 to 5 hours to complete. If you plan on spending lots of time at the summit, perhaps to have a picnic and take pictures, this trail will probably take closer to 6 to 7 hours to complete.

It’s important to note that weather conditions influence how long it takes to hike the Trail. Winter conditions can make walking difficult even when you have snowshoes. Thus, you should probably add a couple of hours to our estimate if you plan on hiking during the winter.

The summer can also slow your travel time on this trail. The heat can be exhausting and tire you quickly. Many hikers stop for water and snack breaks during the warmer temperatures, which extends the hike.

For those on day hikes, there are two main shelters you can rest at. The first is about a mile in, called John’s Spring Shelter. The second, Catawba Mountain Shelter, is about two miles in.


  • McAfee Knob is a surfboard-like rock feature that juts out from Catawba Mountain in Virginia.
  • The overlook provides visitors with a 270-degree panoramic view of the Catawba Valley due to being 3,200 feet above sea level. In addition, visitors can witness the Roanoke Valley as well as North Mountain and Tinker Cliffs. This area is one of the most photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail.
  • The hike to McAfee Knob entails a 1,700-foot elevation gain. Due to this change, the summit is often much cooler than the lower parts of the trail. There are many resting spots and picnic tables throughout the trail. Dogs can go on the trail but only when leashed.
  • Camping is not allowed at McAfee Knob, though there are several campsites nearby that are suitable for campers.  For example, Caldwell Fields Group Campground is a popular site.
  • The spring and fall are the peak times of the year to visit McAfee Knob due to the mild temperatures. The most crowded days are the weekends during which there is very limited parking.
  • McAfee Knob Trail is part of a trio of trails that are collectively known as the “Triple Crown.” This is because they represent one of the most stunning stretches of the Appalachian Trails. The other two trails are Dragon’s Tooth Trail and Tinker Cliffs Trail.


    People who visit this area of the US are stunned by the natural beauty on display. Not only is the Appalachian Trail one of the most scenic routes in the US but the McAfee Knob section is arguably one of its most famous sections.

    In fact, the region is in the film “A Walk in the Woods,” which is based on the book by the writer-explorer Bill Bryson. It would be an ideal location for anyone who loved that movie or book.


    What’s really great about the trail is how the canopy provides shade for those on day hikes, which is an appreciated luxury during the brutal summer heat. This canopy also makes the trail amenable to many rest stops, as taking a break in the shade is highly enjoyable.

    The eponymous knob located at the summit of the trail offers such breathtaking views you won’t want to leave. The summit attracts many people throughout the year, which can create palpable energy that is practically contagious. Many hikers claim that the summit of McAfee Knob feels like an alien world totally disconnected from planet earth. This is just an indication of how awe-inspiring the view is.


    Many people come to the summit to meditate early in the morning, getting there just as the sunrise is beginning. This is an ideal time for photography.

    McAfee Knob is an inspiring place that can empower artists to create new works of art. It is so inspiring that many people even propose to their partner there.

    Sunset is also another popular time to experience the magical aura of McAfee Knob. This would be the ideal location for a picnic, as there are plenty of places to sit at the summit.

    Many people travel here to take part in the temporary community that forms there daily. Social hikers will love this element, as the region is teeming with love and appreciation.


    The main drawback is that McAfee Knob has become very touristy in recent years. As a result, sometimes the crowds can be loud, disturbing the quietude and peace of nature.

    If you’re a hiker who is sensitive to large groups of people or prefers to experience nature away from all forms of society, McAfee might not be the ideal location. Really, the only way to avoid the crowds is to go during the winter months. This time of year can present its own difficulties due to snowfall and inclement weather.

    Experiencing large crowds in the heart of nature can be disappointing for some. Large crowds can lead to litter, loud and disruptive dogs, and general pandemonium, all of which mimic city life – precisely what many explorers are trying to escape.

    In this sense, McAfee Knob can sometimes seem like just another tourist spot spoiled by human civilization.


    The hike to McAfee Knob might be easy, but you will need to refuel throughout your excursion. We recommend bringing more food and water than you anticipate needing, especially if you are visiting during warm weather.

    We recommend packing your own trail mix as well, as this will allow you to bring densely nutritious foods like nuts, dried fruit, and grains. These foods are also filling, so you won’t need to eat a lot on the trail.

    Lastly, we recommend bringing several bags to store your food waste. Since McAfee Knob has drastically increased in popularity in recent years, keeping the area clean is more important than ever.


    We think McAfee Knob is well-worth the hike.

    We anticipate it increasing in popularity as people seek to escape from the chaos and stress of modern existence.

    If you hike to McAfee Knob, we encourage you to minimize your usage of electronics. While taking a picture here and there is certainly okay, the benefits of this region become more apparent when not filtered through your smartphone.

    Before long, you will find yourself powering off your phone and venturing to the edge of the mountain. Looking into the distance, you will suddenly realize that nature is infinitely wise and beautiful. No photograph could possibly capture that truth.

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