Tinker Cliffs

  • Highlights: Great views, Appalachian Trail, wildflowers, Triple Crown
  • Distance: 7.5 miles out and back
  • Elevation change: 1,810 feet
  • Difficulty level: Strenuous
  • Trailhead Parking: Andy Layne Trail Parking, Catawba Road route 779
  • Website: Visit Roanoke and AllTrails
  • Beer Pairings: Parkway Brewing Co.—Triple A Red Ale & Grapefruit Get Bent Mountain IPA 

The Hike:

Tinker Cliffs is our 2nd Virginia Triple Crown hike. We had gorgeous weather in early October and arrived at the trailhead as the sun was rising on a Saturday morning to find the parking lot nearly half full. The parking lot holds about 40 vehicles, so arrive early, car pool, or take a shuttle. 

This hike to Tinker Cliffs uses the Andy Layne Trail and connects to the Appalachian Trail. The Andy Layne Trail was the path of the AT years ago before the AT was rerouted to include Catawba Mountain and McAfee Knob. The trailhead has a kiosk with information about the trail and a bio of Andy Layne. The trail is well marked and very well maintained thanks to the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. Follow the blue-blazed trail past the kiosk into the forest. 

The Andy Layne Trail descends through private land. Hikers must stay on the trail and camping is not allowed. Pass through a fence style and cross Catawba Creek via a footbridge into a pasture. Cows and hikers coexist here so watch your step. As you cross the meadow, look up at Tinker Cliffs looming ahead. 

Leave the meadow through another fence style and enter a riparian buffer area where wildflowers, trees, and shrubs grow near the stream to help increase water quality and provide habitat for wildlife. At .7 miles a footbridge spans Catabwa Creek. The climb at this point is gradual and steady as you pass through the forest.

At 1.7 miles, the trails dips downhill for a bit and then begins a steep climb on the “Stairway to Heaven”. For the next .2 miles, a series of wood water bars serve as steps as you begin to climb Tinker Mountain. Two more sets of steps and several switchbacks help make the steep incline more manageable. 

At 3 miles enter Scorched Earth Gap and the junction with the Appalachian Trail. A large boulder on the right is a nice place to rest as you still have a 3/4 mile climb to go. Turn right and follow the white-blazed AT heading south. The switchbacks continue as you work your way up. Pass beside a large rock outcropping which is part of the subsystem of Tinker Cliffs.

Reach the first viewpoint at 3.6 miles with views of Broad Run Mountain and the valley below. Continue on the AT and at 3.8 miles spectacular views of the Catawba Valley open up before you. A few hundred yards ahead is perhaps the best view. McAfee Knob towers above the valley to the south. If you are feeling ambitious, it’s less than 5 miles on the AT to McAfee Knob.

Enjoy a snack or lunch on the Cliffs and then retrace your steps north on the AT and then turn left on the blue-blazed Andy Layne Trail. The return trip is mostly downhill as you return to the parking area and your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing: 

Parkway Brewing in nearby Salem VA is less than 30 minutes from the Andy Layne trailhead and is a great post-hike beer option.  Parkway has some great beer, hard seltzer, a variety of food options, live music, and indoor and outdoor seating. They are pet and kid friendly. Pete really liked Triple A, a malty amber/red ale with a slight sweetness and a dry finish. It has just enough hops to add a pleasant bitterness. At 5.4% ABV it’s not quite a session beer, but it’s close. 

We both have enjoyed Parkway’s Get Bent Mountain IPA in the past. Parkway has two new variations of Get Bent: one with grapefruit and another with orange. We are not big fans of fruit in beer. We like fruit and we like beer, but strongly believe in separate but equal. Limes in Mexican beer not withstanding. Our friendly bartender at Parkway offered us a taste of Grapefruit Get Bent and it was almost a life changing moment. The citrusy flavor of the IPA paired nicely with the added grapefruit rind. We haven’t converted yet, but we are seriously thinking about it.

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