McAfee Knob: 1 Day Backpacking Trip

Driving from Columbus, OH to Myrtle Beach takes roughly 10 hours. About halfway through this drive, you cross the Appalachian Trail, and I never like to miss an opportunity to hike on the AT!

The McAfee Knob view point is one of the most famous sights on the AT. It has graced book covers, movie screens, and countless social media sites. It is a true gem in the Appalachian mountains and a pretty easy hike.

Parking access is simple to find at VA 311 (you can literally type McAfee Knob into google maps). The Appalachian Trail crosses the parking lot here and although the parking is often crowded — I didn’t have any trouble finding a spot on a Thursday in April 2019.

Parking lot
Parking area

The hike is about 8.5 miles from parking to summit and back to parking. Out and back.

We didn’t arrive at the parking lot until 6 pm; our plan was to reach the second shelter and camp for the evening. Saving the majority of this out-and-back hike for the morning and enjoying the sunrise on McAfee’s Knob.

We parked our car and headed across the road where the elevation immediately starts to rise. Being as this is on the AT — you can follow the white blazes for this hike, which makes for easy navigation.

Within 1/4 of a mile, you will reach a information kiosk that directs you towards McAfee’s Knob — bear right of the kiosk and continue following the white blazes.

Along the trail you will pass two shelter locations with ample camping sites nearby. Both shelters have a well maintained privy and several established fire pits. The first shelter is within a mile of parking and is named John’s Spring. We met two through hikers here and I was able to hear about the exciting life on the trail….the comradery of long distance hiking is something I miss very much, and I always enjoy talking with people who are making the long trek.

Dave in a shelter
A standard Appalachian Trail Shelter

After leaving John’s Spring shelter, we continued for another mile and found ourselves at Catawba Shelter while dusk was quickly approaching. The shelter itself was crowded with eager backpackers and we set up camp roughly 100 yards away at a designated camping area.

I had my friend David with me as a first time backpacker, which I always enjoy. We made camp and settled in for some campfire stories and an early bedtime. I used my old faithful backpacking tent and David slept in a hammock. There were various semi-flat tent sites near Catawba Shelter and many well spaced trees for hammocks. In April, I was toasty warm in my tent, but David said he was pretty cold in the hammock. Insure you check the temperature before your hike and more importantly the wind speed. Hammock’s can get cold pretty fast when the wind picks up….especially at elevation.

Tenting at McAfee.jpg
My old faithful friend. Over 1000 backpacking miles together

We awoke at 5 am and used headlamps in the darkness to get back on the trail. We wanted to reach the famous McAfee knob sunrise and we flew up the trail for the remaining 2+ miles of this hike.

As dawn began to approach, so did massive amounts of fog. The trail was coated in a beautiful white cloud that made hiking spooky and beautiful. I knew we were growing close to the viewpoint, which is about 30 yards off to the left of the trail. However, the fog made us miss the McAfee Knob sign and we accidentally traveled too far. The trail started to descend quickly which was our clue that we were leaving the summit. Luckily, we were able to notice this mistake and turn around to find the correct viewing location. If you make the same mistake, you will eventually reach the Pig Farm Campsite or Campbell Shelter — Turn around and retrace your steps back to the summit.

The sign for McAfee’s Knob is mounted on the side of a boulder to the left of the trail. Keep your eyes open and you shouldn’t have a problem finding it.

Walking up to the summit; I was hoping for a viewpoint that spanned across miles. I was planning to be stunned by the rolling landscape and beautiful sunrise…..

Stock Photo of Knob
I was expecting to see this!

However, mother nature disagreed with my plans. She chose to give us a slightly different view on this fine morning. We approached the jutting stone ledge and found ourselves fully encompassed within a foggy cloud. No distant view points for us this morning — but I still was not disappointed in the summit. The stone outcropping is beautiful and continues down for 100 yards. Obviously, the biggest photo opportunity is on the ledge/knob, but there are several different stone ridges that awarded us some fun while meandering around the summit.

Below are some pictures from on top of McAfee’s Knob

Luke on the edge

Me on McAfee’s knob in the fog

Dave near edge
David viewing into the fog
McCafee Knob FOOL AT 2019
Seeing if I can give my parents a heart attack (Not nearly as dangerous as it looks!)

After playing in the fog for awhile, we returned to the trail and had a pleasant downhill trek back to the car. A very enjoyable 1 day backpacking trip!

Written By:

Luke Langhals





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