McAfee Knob Hike: A Guide to the Iconic Appalachian Trail View

Last updated on June 17th, 2024 at 12:10 pm

Cindy Scott

If you haven’t experienced the McAfee Knob hike yet, get ready for an incredible adventure. Located in central Virginia, this trail is about 20 minutes northwest of Roanoke. It is very popular for both day hikers and backpackers.

I’m a big fan of hiking, backpacking, and camping, so I frequently check out different trails and spend a lot of time outdoors. I even did a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, and one of the most popular sections of the AT is Viriginia’s Triple Crown which includes: McAfee Knob, Dragon’s Tooth, and Tinker Cliffs.

Keep reading below as I dive into all you need to know about McAfee Knob and the surrounding area.

About McAfee Knob

The McAfee Knob trail spans 7.8 miles round trip, presenting a moderately challenging hike with an elevation gain of over 1,800 feet. 

Renowned as one of the Appalachian Trail’s most photographed and frequented spots, it features a distinctive rock formation that extends out, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape filled with mountains, trees, and lush greenery during the summer months.

Things to Know Prior to Visiting McAfee Knob

There are a few things you should know before visiting the trail:

  • 👥 It’s A Popular Spot – McAfee Knob is one of the most popular and photographed locations on the Appalachian Trail, attracting many visitors. Be prepared for crowds, especially during the summer.
  • Be Prepared For The Weather – The weather in Virginia can be unpredictable at times. Bring layers and a jacket with you, and check the weather forecast before you take off for your hike.
  • 📶 Cell Reception – Expect limited or no cell reception on parts of the trail. Be sure to tell someone about your plans and estimated return time so they know where you are and when to expect you to finish the hike.

When is the Best Time to Visit McAfee Knob

A lookout spot near the McAfee Knob hike on the triple crown trail

The best time to check out McAfee Knob is from May to November when the weather is nice, and the views are amazing. If you go in the summer, be ready for lots of hikers. 

I recommend visiting in September, October, or November when the weather is cooler, there are fewer people, and the fall colors make the hike even more stunning, especially at the top.

How to Get to McAfee Knob

The best way to get to McAfee Knob is by taking I-81 to VA-311 N and parking in the lot across the trailhead. 

Note: The McAfee Knob trailhead parking lot is closed for the 2024 season. Read below for parking alternatives.

McAfee Knob Parking

The parking area at the McAfee Knob trailhead is small and fills up quickly. Arriving early in the morning is recommended to secure a spot. If the lot is full, there are gravel pull-offs about half a mile down the road for parking, but be mindful that it adds an extra mile to your hike.

From November 30th, 2023, until the end of 2024, there’s a temporary closure of the parking area due to the construction of a pedestrian bridge.

The Catawba Sustainability Center, a 2-minute drive from the trailhead, is the recommended parking spot due to the temporary closure of the McAfee parking lot. Note that hiking from this parking spot will make the trip 10.1 miles roundtrip instead of 7.8 because you’d be starting from a new trailhead at the Catawba Sustainability Center that accesses the Appalachian Trail via the Catawba Greenway and a fire road. This hike is also considered a bit harder than taking the original route via the AT.

The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club has also compiled a list of other parking options that you can check out here.

McAfee Knob Shuttle

During the busy season, consider using the McAfee Knob Shuttle to keep your hike shorter. It’s available for $5 one way or $10 roundtrip from March through November. 

The shuttle operates on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during this period, starting at 7:00 AM. Departures occur every 30 minutes until the last pickup, which varies from 4:45 PM to 6:45 PM, depending on the month. For additional details, visit the shuttle service website.

About Hiking McAfee Knob

A lookout spot near the McAfee Knob hike on the triple crown trail

Here are some basic details that are good to know about when hiking McAfee Knob:


The trail is moderately challenging, featuring a gentle ascent on the way up and a gradual descent on the return journey.

Trail Length

The trail is about 8 miles round trip, typically requiring an average of 4-6 hours to complete.

Options for Hiking McAfee Knob

Many hikers opt for the McAfee Knob via the Appalachian Trail path as the most popular way to reach the summit.

Hiking McAfee Knob via the Appalachian Trail

Start your hike from the trailhead, right across from the parking lot. Go uphill gradually on the Appalachian Trail, passing an information kiosk after about 0.3 miles. Soon, you’ll come across Johns Spring Shelter. Continue on the trail, passing Catawba Mountain Shelter. Cross over the Fire Road and keep going for about another mile, and then you’ll reach the striking lookout point of McAfee Knob, where the rock extends outward.

For the return journey, simply follow the same path in reverse.

McAfee Knob View

A lookout spot near the McAfee Knob hike on the triple crown trail

The view from the McAfee Knob area is simply breathtaking. Situated along the Appalachian Trail, it treats hikers to an expansive scene of rolling mountains, dense forests, and valleys. 

The famous rock formation extending outward provides a perfect spot for photos. However, if that photo spot is crowded, know that there are also many additional photo spots all along the rocky ridge found in the area.

The best times to enjoy the views are spring, summer, and fall. If you love seeing the vibrant colors of fall foliage, visiting during fall adds an extra layer of beauty to McAfee Knob.

Other Trails Near McAfee Knob

Dragon's Tooth on the triple crown trail

Explore the beauty surrounding McAfee Knob by checking out other nearby trails. Take a 4.6-mile trip to Dragon’s Tooth for unique rock formations and stunning views.

Dragon's Tooth on the triple crown trail

If you’re up for a longer hike, the 7.3-mile Tinker Cliffs trail offers its own beautiful scenery.

TIP: If you’re looking to avoid the McAfee Knob crowds, my husband and I thought the views from Tinker Cliffs were just as beautiful (if not, dare I say, better!)

Tinker Cliffs on the triple crown trail

For a more extensive adventure, consider completing Virginia’s entire Triple Crown Loop, covering approximately 34.5 miles and connecting McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon’s Tooth

Other Things to Do Near McAfee Knob (Nearby Attractions)

There’s a wide range of activities to discover near McAfee Knob! Below are nearby attractions that are sure to capture your interest:

Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway

Driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Take a stunning road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, known for its spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Enjoy the winding roads and numerous lookout spots for memorable photo opportunities.

Explore Roanoke, Virginia

Roanoke, Virginia, is a lively city with a rich history and lots to explore.

Visit the historic Roanoke City Market, where you’ll find local crafts and fresh produce. Art lovers can enjoy the diverse collection at the Taubman Museum of Art. Don’t forget to check out the breathtaking city views from the iconic Roanoke Star on Mill Mountain

The city also offers a variety of breweries, bars, and restaurants to discover. I recommend exploring downtown Roanoke, where you can casually stroll and pop into numerous restaurants and shops.

Visit Dixie Caverns

Discover the intriguing underground atmosphere at Dixie Caverns, situated close to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Join a guided tour to marvel at impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Where to Eat Near McAfee Knob

Enjoy delicious dining options near McAfee Knob, with enticing choices just a 10 to 15-minute drive from the trailhead. 

Mac and Bob’s is a go-to spot, offering mouthwatering calzones and a lively atmosphere perfect for sports enthusiasts. 

A short drive away, Mamma Maria’s, boasts an impressive buffet and delightful Italian fare for a tasty dining experience. 

If tacos are calling your name, Tacos Coronado is nearby, serving flavorful Mexican delights.

These restaurants are perfect after hitting the trails, ensuring a satisfying meal for everyone after a day of outdoor adventure.

Breweries Near McAfee Knob

If you’re up for a short drive after your hike at McAfee Knob, you’ll find some great breweries nearby.

Parkway Brewing Company is just 10 minutes away, offering many craft beers in a fun setting.

And Olde Salem Brewing Company is 13 minutes away, providing a charming spot to enjoy their unique brews. 

For those with a bit more time, Big Lick Brewing Company is only 20 minutes away, serving up a diverse selection of handcrafted beers in a friendly atmosphere with great outdoor seating. 

These local breweries are perfect for unwinding and enjoying some good drinks after a day spent hiking.

Where to Stay Near McAfee Knob

Where to Camp Near McAfee Knob

You have plenty of choices for backpack camping along the Appalachian Trail. If you’re into backcountry camping, multiple designated shelters and campsites are nearby, including Johns Spring Shelter, Catawba Mountain Shelter, Pig Farm Campsite, and Campbell Shelter.

For a more classic car camping experience, check out Caldwell Fields Group Campground, around 18 miles west of the McAfee Knob trailhead, or The Country Campground, situated about 20 miles northwest of the trailhead. 

If you’re looking for boondocking spots in the area, click here for more resources on boondocking and finding spots.

All of these options allow you to choose the camping style that suits you best along this famous trail.


For a conveniently located hotel near the trails, you have options like Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Roanoke Salem, just 10 minutes from the trailhead.

And Holiday Inn Express & Suites Salem is also a 10-minute drive away. 

If you prefer a more upscale experience, Hotel Roanoke, a mere 18 minutes away, is an excellent choice. This beautiful hotel in downtown Roanoke offers a phenomenal location and a delightful lodging experience.


For those looking for a rental house, check out the VRBO map below for nearby options.

Where to Buy Gear Near McAfee Knob

When it comes to purchasing outdoor gear near McAfee Knob, you’re in luck with many convenient options in the vicinity. 

Outdoor Trails of Daleville is a mere .4 miles west of the AT in Daleville, Virginia, and 17 miles from the McAfee Knob trailhead. This shop is a full-service gear store catering to Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. We personally shopped there on our thru-hike and loved their selection of hiking gear!

If you’re looking for an item that is more likely to be found at one of the bigger box stores, there is a Camping World and Sportsman’s Warehouse, both 12 miles from the McAfee Knob trailhead. They are some of the best places for all your outdoor needs, offering a diverse selection of gear and equipment. 

Another great option with an extensive adventure gear selection, Roanoke Mountain Adventures, is 18 miles away. Here, you’ll find a range of outdoor equipment catering to many different activities, ensuring you’re well-equipped for a McAfee Knob area adventure. 

Whether it’s hiking essentials, camping gear, or other outdoor accessories, these nearby stores have you covered.

Tips for Hiking McAfee Knob

Here are some tips for hiking McAfee Knob to enhance your trek and make it as enjoyable as possible.

🥾 Wear The Right Footwear And Bring Proper Gear – Wear sturdy and comfortable hiking shoes, and consider bringing trekking poles for stability, especially on uneven terrain.

💧 Bring Plenty Of Water – Remember to bring enough water to stay hydrated on the 8-mile hike. 

🍌 Carry Snacks Or Energy Foods – Bring snacks like energy bars or chews to keep your energy up and replenish calories during the hike. It’ll help you stay healthy and happy throughout your adventure.

🚒 Consider Taking The Fire Road Down – If you prefer to bypass the hiking crowds, you might want to consider taking the less trafficked but slightly more difficult McAfee Knob via Catawba Sustainability Center trail that accesses the view via the Catawba Greenway and a fire road.

McAfee Knob Hike Area Map

Conclusion: Hiking McAfee Knob

McAfee Knob offers an excellent hiking experience in central Virginia. Known for its dramatic rock formation that juts out, creating a fantastic lookout spot, it’s a delightful blend of a challenge and breathtaking views.

If you’re up for a hike that’s both fun and a bit hard, McAfee Knob is definitely worth exploring.

You May Also Enjoy:
👉 AT Thru-Hike: How Long Does It Take to Hike The Appalachian Trail?
👉 Hiking for Beginners 101: A Clear-Cut Guide for Newbies
👉 How to Plan a Backpacking Trip in 16 Easy Steps