McAfee’s Knob, Catawba, VA 24175
Distance: 4.4 (or 3.9) miles to the summit (8-9 miles round trip)
Elevation: 3197 feet (approximately 1700 elevation change hike)
View: 270-degree Panoramic
Worth it: Yes (5 stars)
This is (understandably) one of the highlights along the entire Appalachian Trail, one of the most sought-after views in all of Virginia, and one of the most spectacular hikes in all of the United States (or so it’s been generously awarded). If you haven’t gone there yet, go. If you’ve made no plans to go, start planning now. I intend to revisit this place in every season just to see how the view changes.
Few words are sophisticated enough to describe this view, but stunning nearly does it justice. You can see so much of the world from the perches along McAfee’s Knob (if you understand geography, you’ll be able to pinpoint things like Roanoke and a Wells Fargo Bank; if you don’t understand geography, you should bring a friend who does so you don’t get lost).
The parking lot for the McAfee’s Knob hike is hard to miss, and you can easily find the genesis of the trail by following other confident hikers (but if you look across the road from the parking lot, the trailhead and markers are obvious, don’t freak out). You begin on some steps, quickly scale some hills, and the views instantaneously become incredible. Those who had been on the hike before (aka, Noah, the guy I kind of like) kept pulling me along, encouraging me that the views we were seeing were “nothing compared to the top!” And while he was right, the ascent is still beautiful. We took time to appreciate it and scale whatever rocks we came across (this I encourage, as the views from rocks along the trail are–while inferior to the summit–still beautiful). Don’t be afraid to take time to smell the…forest…?
Now, the only difficult thing about this hike is the length. There’s the Appalachian Trail route, which is about 4.4 miles to the summit and a little more rural, but there’s also the Old Fire Road (pictured as the flat, straight trail above) that is much easier and a little shorter. The following map gives you a little bit of an idea of where the AT and Old Fire Road coincide and separate (the AT is orange and the OFR is blue; the AT just has some extra twists and turns, and the OFR is [generally] at a higher elevation). Each one presents a slightly different perspective but they both get you to the summit.
The hike lasted about five hours from start to finish, but we also took a lot of breaks to climb around and explore (and we waited for some of our group-members who got lost from time to time or who wandered off unknowingly). We went on a weekend during some 15 ℉ weather and the hike was still surprisingly populated, so I imagine summer weekends bring about some untold amounts of visitors. During nicer weather, I’d suggest hiking at off times–such as weekdays–since the parking space is fairly limited (it was remarkably full even in the freezing weather) and you’ll be jealous for more of that view.
Overall (and if I have not stressed it enough), McAfee’s Knob is one of the prettiest places in all of Virginia and well worth the 8-9 miles it takes to get there and back. Bring water (and food if you like), a warm coat for the cold or shorts for the heat, but definitely go. Bring your friends.Or go alone. It’s just worth it.
These canyons are a bonus to the hike. If you don’t stop at The Knob, but rather continue walking along the cliffs and pathways, you’ll come across clefts and burrows in the rocks that are perfect for exploration. As featured in the lowermost photo, many of the gaps are small enough that they can be jumped (at your own risk, obviously), and as featured in the pictures directly below, you are able to climb down between rocks and investigate.
I’ll definitely be returning to this place when it’s warm. And when it’s cold. And when it’s in-between.
Why don’t you?