McAfee Knob

  • Highlights: Great views, Appalachian Trail, wildflowers, Triple Crown
  • Distance: 8.1 miles out and back
  • Elevation change: 1,820 feet
  • Difficulty level: Strenuous
  • Trailhead Parking: Route 311, Catawba VA
  • Website: Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club and AllTrails
  • Beer Pairings: Golden Cactus Brewery—Moira Brown Ale & Money Tree IPA 

The Hike:

The summit of McAfee is said to be the most photographed site on the entire Appalachian Trail. It’s easy to see why this is such a popular location—the views are phenomenal. McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon’s Tooth comprise the three hikes of Virginia’s Triple Crown

The Triple Crown can either be a multi-day loop of nearly 40 miles or three separate section hikes. We opted for the second option and found a nice AirBnB in Salem as our home base for the weekend. We arrived at the trailhead parking area on route 311 just after sunrise on a beautiful Friday morning. The parking lot was already half full as multi-day hikers leave their vehicles overnight.

Parking can be a problem on all the Triple Crown hikes. Try to arrive early in the morning, carpool, or use a shuttle service. From the parking lot, the trailhead is across route 311. Be careful crossing as vision is limited due to a curve in the highway. Listen for approaching cars and when you don’t hear vehicle noises, go!

The white-blazed AT will be the route for the next 4 miles. The first half of the hike gains less than 500’ in elevation and stone and wooden steps make the climb easier.  On the right are a few partially obstructed views of the Roanoke valley. At .3 miles reach a junction with the fire road and a trail kiosk. Bear right to stay on the AT.

Pass over and around some rock outcroppings and beside two AT shelters before reaching the junction with the fire road at 2.6 miles. Cross the fire road and climb a series of wooden steps as the hike become steeper over the next mile. Pass through a series of enormous boulders and reach a blue-blazed spur trail on the left leading to the summit.

The expansive views open up to the east and north. This is a popular spot so you likely will have the company of fellow hikers as you enjoy the views. Take the obligatory and iconic photos of the Knob. While early morning is the best time to find a parking spot, late afternoon offers the best lighting for photos. 

Tinker Cliffs looms to the northeast at the end of the ridge. This will be our destination tomorrow. Follow the edge of the rim around to the right for even more views. After enjoying the fabulous views, return on the spur trail to the AT. Turn right and follow the AT as it descends to the parking area and your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing: 

Roanoke has a nice variety of really good breweries located nearby. Golden Cactus in downtown Roanoke is a fun place with great beer, live music, and a variety of nearby food options. They are kid and dog friendly with indoor and outdoor seating.

Golden Cactus is a small batch brewery so the beer menu is always changing. We had never enjoyed their beer before before so we opted for a flight of six beers. Our two favorites were Money Tree, an east-coast IPA brewed with west coast hops and Moira, and English-style brown ale brewed with salted caramel. The dry hopped Italian Pilsner, Pils R Gud was a close 3rd. The staff was friendly, the atmosphere was fun, and the beer was good.   

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe, be responsible, and leave no trace.