The Appalachian Trail is a 2,175-mile trail following the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine, with 120 miles of the trail winding through the Roanoke Region. The A.T. offers dozens of short and long hikes, easy to strenuous. Throughout the region you can find trail loops that peak at waterfalls and cliffs, always promising spectacular views.
One of the highlights of the trail in the Roanoke Region is McAfee Knob, the most photographed point along the trail. It is also prominently featured in the 2015 movie, “A Walk in the Woods,” starring Robert Redford.
The A.T. offers a great opportunity for overnight backpacking trips. Shelters, which are typically three-sided structures that allow you to camp without a tent, are spread along the trail at varied intervals which allow you to hike at your own pace. An interactive Appalachian Trail map shows shelters, parking lots, and vistas along the A.T.
The climb to Angel’s Rest above Pearisburg is notorious among Appalachian Trail hikers for its punishing incline. You must endure a 1.5-mile, 1,650-ft. climb before you can sprawl over a boulder enjoying the view of the New River. The hike is 4.6 miles round trip.
The well-worn trail leads into a spring-fed ravine and briefly along an old logging road before settling into a consistent, thrashing course of switchbacks. The path crosses over two ancient rockslides and passes through thick poplar and oaks, as well as laurel and rhododendron.
Gradually, the thriving hardwood forest of the lowlands gives way to stunted oaks and shrubs. When you reach the boulders at the top, detour a few hundred feet to the right on a blue-blazed trail for a view of Pearisburg and the twisting New River. The A.T. continues to the crest of Angel’s Rest and follows along a rock ledge overhanging Wilburn Valley for spectacular views.
Apple Orchard Falls is one of Virginia’s tallest and most spectacular waterfalls. Singing streams, dancing down cascades, huge boulders, and thick stands of forest surround stunning vistas and towering bluff lines. The 7.5-mile loop trail is moderately difficult.
Apple Orchard Mountain was named for the nature of the dominant northern red oak forests on its summits and ridges. The weather is so severe on the upper elevations of the mountain that the trees have taken on a stunted appearance, as if they have been trimmed and pruned over the decades.The Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway pass within a short distance of the top of Apple Orchard Mountain.
Off this old road, the trail turns right and meanders with a gentle climb through the woods along another old road. Upon approaching the James River Face Wilderness boundary, the trail begins a more sharp ascent over a series of switchbacks with panoramic views of the James River. The trail becomes easier at approximately 2,200 feet with a gentle climb along the ridgeline with scenic views to the east and west.
Devil’s Marbleyard includes a steep incline for most of the trip, but is well worth the time. The trail is not marked well, but you can follow the blue blazes until the end of the Belfast Trail. Then continue to follow the trail.
The hike itself is not that long, about 45 minutes, but you will definitely want to plan time to stay at the marbleyard and explore.
Devil’s Marbleyard is a boulder field, with many rocks that are the size of a car. The Antietam Quartzite found at the site is the result of a rise in sea level relative to the land that occurred over 500 million years ago. The boulders have tube-like structures running along them that are believed to be fossilized cavities where worm-like creatures lived.
Dragon’s Tooth is a unique geologic feature that consists of Tuscarora quartzite spires which outcrop on the top of Cove Mountain. The tallest “tooth” projects roughly 35 feet above the surrounding rock. The trail to Dragon’s Tooth ascends steep, rugged outcrops of quartzite which form the spine of Cove Mountain and North Mountain. The spine is known as Dragon’s Back.
A difficult 4.5-mile round trip hike, Dragon’s Tooth summit offers magnificent views of nearby and distant peaks year-round.
The bouldering area is pretty far from the parking lot. After hiking several miles on the Dragon’s Tooth Trail you will come to several large fins that are pretty big. The super classic line is the obvious Finger Crack. There is much to be had in the V3 and under category.
A 21.9-mile section of the Appalachian Trail that parallels the James River. This moderately strenuous trail overlooks the James River Water Gap and offers multi-day hiking and camping options.
This is a challenging hike and requires some logistics in setting up a car shuttle because it is a one-way hike on the A.T. Leave a car at the James River Foot Bridge A.T. parking lot then drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway on Route 501 and head south to Sunset Field (MP 78.4) for the second car.
A 6.6 mile, out and back hike on the Appalachian Trail, Kelly Knob is located on a ridge that bridges the valley between John’s Creek Mountain and Clover Hollow Mountain and is immediately off of the Appalachian Trail. While Kelly Knob is not the highest point on the ridgelet (the high point is densely wooded), it is still much higher than its mountain neighbors with a fantastic vista of the New River Valley.
A shorter option (4 miles round trip) approaches Kelly Knob from the opposite direction.
Sandstone bedrock forms a broken escarpment along the east and south of the ridge, and the area around Kelly Knob is particularly striking with 50 foot cliffs containing deep fissures in the rock. The trails to Kelly Knob are well signed and traveled.
McAfee Knob is the most photographed site along the Appalachian Trail. The knob has an almost 270-degree panorama view of the Catawba Valley and North Mountain to the west, Tinker Cliffs to the north and the Roanoke Valley to the east.
The trail begins on the opposite side of Route 311 from the parking lot. Cross with caution. Travel north on the Appalachian Trail to McAfee Knob by following the white blazes, which are 6-inch rectangular paint marks placed periodically on trees at eye level.
More than 20 miles of fern-lined trails on the property are open to the public for biking year-round. The trails are home to the “Dirty Dawg MTB Race” and offer trail options for all experience levels. Mountain Bike rentals as available at Mountain Lake Hotel.
The 6.6-mile out and back hike on the Andy Layne Trail intersects with the Appalachian Trail and ends with incredible views.
From the trailhead, take the yellow-blazed trail for about 3.1 miles to the intersection with the Appalachian Trail. Turn right onto the white-blazed A.T. (southbound) and reach Tinker Cliffs within 0.75 miles. Enjoy the 180 degree view.
From 1,300 feet near the trailhead and creek crossings to just a hair under 3,000 feet at the cliffs. Bluff top views are the most prominent feature, but there are also nice creek drainages, intriguing rock formations, and lovely forests on the way. Even the part of the trail that goes through a cow pasture includes pleasant rushing streams and scenic views up toward surrounding ridges. Some tough, steep stretches as it rises 1,700 feet in elevation.
Tinker Ridge Trail crosses Tinker Creek, which is the site depicted in Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” then ascends Tinker Ridge at Hay Rock Overloook, providing spectacular views of Carvins Cove and the Roanoke Valley.
The 8-mile round trip hike on the Appalachian Trail is just 15 minutes from Downtown Roanoke and is of moderate difficulty.
The Triple Crown is a combination of three amazing hiking destinations in Virginia. And they’re all conveniently located right around Roanoke. This overnight backpacking trip begins and ends at the Route 311 Appalachian Trail head. This is a difficult hike totaling about 32 miles.
There are several options for hitting the Triple Crown. There are shuttle systems that will transport you from trailhead to trailhead. You can also take advantage of the Appalachian Trail and hike your way between the trails on the Virginia Triple Crown Loop. The conditions for backpacking are subject to change. Stay updated before your trip and check in with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club.
The most photographed site on the Appalachian Trail includes a nearly 270-degree panorama of Catawba Valley, Tinker Cliffs, and the Roanoke Valley.
Breakdown: Beginning opposite of the parking lot off Route 311, you join the Appalachian Trail and head north toward the Knob. There’s an informational kiosk about 0.3 miles in. Follow the white blazes (rectangular paint marks on the trees) to stay on the right path. You’ll cross four wooden walkways and see the Johns Spring shelter. Then you’ll cross five more and pass the Catawba Mountain shelter. Next, cross an old fire road and power line clearing. Walk for another 0.5 mile and turn left on the McAfee Knob spur trail to arrive at the lookout. Come back the way you went up.
Streams, creek drainages, rock formations, and lush forest offer pleasant views on the hike up, which rises 1,700 feet in elevation. Bluff top views at the peak with a 180-degree panoramic view are spectacular.
Breakdown: You’ll start off of Catawba Road and follow the yellow-blazed Andy Layne Trail. You will cross two fence stiles, then two Catawba Creek bridges. Continue as trail bears left, then right after 100 feet. The hardest part of the hike includes a steep elevation gain with some areas of no switchbacks (zig-zagging). Three miles in, you will join the Appalachian Trail (white blazes). Continue and you will see a view of Broad Run Mountain. Next, you will reach a view of the Catawba Valley. The better view is 200 yards beyond this first view, with McAfee Knob clearly visible. Come back the way you went up.
Tuscarora quartzite spires that outcrop on the top of Cove Mountain are the distinguishing feature with the tallest “tooth” projecting about 35 feet above the surrounding “teeth.” The trail ascends the spine of Cove and North Mountain, called “Dragon’s Back” because it is composed of steep rock.
Breakdown: The trail starts with a kiosk at the back of the parking lot. You will follow the blue-blazed trail to the top. Go 0.25 mile and cross two small bridges. You’ll see the intersecting yellow-blazed Boy Scout Connector Trail. Bear right and continue on the blue-blazed trail. Continue for nearly 1.5 miles, crossing the creek several times on a steady incline before reaching the Appalachian Trail intersection. Turn right to go south on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. There will be 0.7 miles of steep rock steps before bearing left at the intersection to follow the blue-blazed trail to Dragon’s Tooth. Come back the way you went up, or once you reach the Appalachian Trail, go beyond the blue-blazed trail you started on and continue north on the A.T. until you reach the yellow-blazed Boy Scout Connector Trail. You’ll go left on this trail until you reach the blue-blazed Dragon’s Tooth Spur Trail, and go right toward the parking lot. This second route back offers different scenic views.
Here’s what we recommend taking for your day hike. (You’ll need more if you’re doing the Triple Crown Loop.)
Stay on the trails and don’t shortcut switchbacks in order to maintain the trails and prevent erosion. Take out anything you bring in. You can also volunteer to join the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club or their Meetup group to keep the Triple Crown trails beautiful. (Special thanks to the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club for their insider tips!)
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