If you're an outdoor enthusiast living in Southwest Virginia, you’ve probably hiked up to McAfee Knob before—perhaps many times. But there’s a reason why this hike is so popular and so well-known—it’s a great hike. This gorgeous and exceptionally well-maintained stretch of the Appalachian Trail is one that should not be missed. If you’ve done this hike before, we encourage you to do it again to rediscover everything that it has to offer. Fall is our favorite time of year for this hike because of the cooler weather and fall foliage. And it’s a great family hike, too. So pack your camera, a lunch, and plenty of water, and bring everyone together one Saturday afternoon to enjoy one of the most breathtaking views in this area. And bring along some friends and visitors to the area, too. This hike is one that everyone should try!!

Directions

Take I-81 S to exit 141 or I-81 N to exit 140, and follow the signs to Route 311 N and Catawba. Turn on to Route 311, and follow the road for a few miles until you get to the top of the mountain and see signs for the AT and a parking area on your left. Park here. The trailhead will be across the road and to your right. The old fire road will be across the road to your left. Take your pick, but be very careful crossing the road!!

About the Trail

It’s about 3.5 miles from the parking area to the summit (maybe a little more now with trail relocations). You have two options for getting to the top. The more traditional option is to take the AT the whole way. To follow this route, take the trail head to your right after crossing Route 311 from the parking area. The trail has variable terrain with moderate inclines throughout. After about 2.5 miles, you’ll come to an intersection where the fire road crosses the AT. Cross the fire road, and continue along the AT to the summit.

If you prefer to take the fire road, which is just a bit shorter and has more gradual inclines, look to your left after crossing Route 311 from the parking area. After about 2.5 miles, the fire road will intersect with the AT. You’ll need to take the trail to the left to reach the summit.

 

Another option for this hike is to go up the fire road and come down the AT, or visa versa.  

At about 7 miles round trip, this hike will take you about 3 or 4 hours of walking time, depending on your pace. But you’ll want to factor in some additional time for stopping to rest and to enjoy the view when you reach the top.

What You’ll Need

Make sure that you wear thick-soled, comfortable shoes, as the terrain is pretty rocky in some areas (especially if you plan on using the fire road). Regular tennis shoes will work, but your feet may be sore by the end.

If you plan to spend a lot of time at the summit, you will want to bring an extra layer of clothing since it’s usually bit cooler at the top than it is when you start out. A lightweight fleece or windbreaker should be good for early fall hikes. Be sure to check the weatherforecast before you leave on any hike, especially in the fall. A cold fall rain can dampen anyone’s spirits, so bring a rain jacket if the weather looks questionable.

As with any day hike, make sure you take plenty of water (at least one liter per person) and a snack for everyone in your group. If you want to make a day of it, pack lunch. There are large, flat rocks at the summit where you can spread out and enjoy a picnic. Or if you prefer a more shaded spot, stop for lunch at either of the two shelters that you’ll pass along the way—both have picnic tables. Remember to pack out what you take in!

And don’t forget your camera! Once you make it to the top, you’ll definitely want a picture of yourself standing on the famous McAfee Knob ledge.

Skill Level

This hike is a little on the long side for something that we’d typically recommend for a beginner. But because the fire road offers the option of an easier route and because the view at the top is so breathtaking, we’d recommend this hike for anyone. Just remember to go at your own pace, stop to rest along the way if needed, and drink plenty of water. Also, keep in mind that long hikes are easier in cooler weather. So if you’re a novice hiker who wants to give this a try, you might want to wait until the fall weather sets in.

 

You might want to wait for fall even if you’re not a beginner. A mid-October hike when the leaves are changing colors is one of the most remarkable events that the Blue Ridge Mountains has to offer!