When people think of hiking in the Roanoke Valley, McAfee’s Knob is one of the first places that comes to mind. It’s probably the area’s most iconic hike. And it’s definitely the most photographed spot on the 2,200 mile-long Appalachian Trail.
Somehow I have lived in the area for 11 years without ever doing this hike. After a lot of planning that started in May, my friend Charlotte and I finally came together the third weekend of August to hike McAfee’s Knob.
We met up early on a Saturday morning and carpooled up to the trailhead parking lot. I expected it to be crowded, and it was. Luckily, we timed it just right and a few runners were getting back from an early run. We grabbed one of their parking spots and headed up the Appalachian Trail.
It was a gorgeous morning to be out in the woods, but boy was it humid! I was worried it might feel crowded on the trail, given the full parking lot. However, I guess 8 miles round trip is long enough to spread people out. We passed groups of hikers occasionally, but it never felt crowded. We also saw areas along the trail that showed evidence from the recent brush fires on Catawba Mountain.
It’s around 4 miles to the top with about 1,200 feet of elevation gain. The trail climbs gradually at first before becoming more steep for the last mile or so. Charlotte and I had a great time catching up with each other during our trek to the top. However, about 3/4 of a mile from the top, I randomly got this crazy dizzy spell. I think it was a combination of low blood sugar, the exertion of hiking, and the humidity. Charlotte made me sit down on a rock for a few minutes and the dizziness quickly subsided. Onward to the top!
When we got to the top we (okay me, since I was leading) nearly missed the turn onto the spur trail to the overlook. Luckily, Charlotte spotted it. We came around a corner and were treated to a spectacular view!
The view is hard to capture. But you know how these things go. They’re always more breathtaking in person.
There were only a few other people up there when we arrived. We spent some time sitting on the rock outcropping and taking it all in. I also ate half of a PB&J to bring myself back to full life.
Shortly after we arrived at the top, some major clouds and fog rolled in ahead of the impending rain. I’m glad we got to enjoy the views a bit when we first got up there. But being swallowed up by clouds on top of a mountain was pretty cool, too.
Being out at the edge of the rock outcropping made me a bit nervous (Charlotte is much braver than me). However, after a bit of coaxing, I agreed to stand up for the “iconic” McAfee’s Knob photo.
After the photo shoot, we spent some time exploring the top of the mountain. I was surprised at how much space there was up there. On a crowded day, you could definitely find a spot with a view away from everyone else. There were also some really neat areas to explore between the giant rocks, if you’re into that sort of thing. I am not, but Charlotte was.
Once we had our fill, we started making our way back down the mountain. I was feeling much better and any hint of dizziness was gone.
About 1.5 miles down the mountain, the Appalachian Trail intersects with a fire road. For a quicker return trip, Charlotte and I decided to turn onto the fire road.
Towards the end of our hike, we got back on the Appalachian Trail and made our way back to Route 311. We finished the day with just over 8 miles.
It was a great day with great company and I can’t wait to go up there again.