Forget the emotional, mental, and physical strength it takes to tackle all 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail—even if we were strong enough to tackle such an endeavor, who has the time?
But just about everybody has the time for a section hike, whether it’s a brief one-day getaway, a weekend jaunt, or a week-long excursion. The following guide provides mile-by-mile details for six hikes along America’s favorite footpath. We’ve planned your campsites, found the best views, and even offered some side hikes and adventures along the way.
McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs
It’s rare that a short, 13-mile overnight hike comes with multiple long range views from beautiful rock outcroppings, but that’s exactly what’s in store for hikers traversing Catawba Mountain and Tinker Mountain near Roanoke. This quick point-to-point hike passes by McAfee Knob—the most photographed spot on the A.T. and one of the most vertigo-inducing cliffs this side of the Rockies. The trip isn’t for those with a fear of heights. And take note, since the area is so popular, camping restrictions are enforced, so only pitch your tent at designated sites.
Trailhead — Start at the parking lot at Va. 211 and begin the 1,700-foot climb to McAfee Knob.
Mile 1 — Pass by the Johns Spring Shelter.
Mile 2.8 — Pass the Catawba Mountain Shelter and continue hiking as views of the Catawba Valley begin to open up.
Mile 4.5 — Take the McAfee Knob spur trail to reach McAfee Knob, a flat rock outcropping that juts off the side of Catawba Mountain presenting hikers with 270-degree views.
Mile 5.1 — Pick your home for the evening: primitive camping at the Pig Farm Campsite or shelter bunking at the Campbell Shelter a hundred yards farther up the trail.
The spring at Catawba shelter is the only reliable drinking source until you drop off the mountain, so fill up before you begin hiking north toward Tinker Cliffs.
Mile 8.3 — Drop into Birckey’s Gap
Mile 10.1 — Reach Tinker Cliffs, where the A.T. traverses the edge of the cliff for half a mile, with views back to McAfee Knob.
Mile 10.6 — Hit Scorched Earth Gap and the Andy Layne Trail. Take the Andy Layne Trail as it drops down Tinker Mountain on its way to Va. Route 779 (Catawba Road). Eventually, the trail will follow and cross Little Catawba Creek.
Mile 12.8 — Reach your terminus, Va. Route 779.
A.T./Mau-Har Trail Loop
Could the 14-mile A.T./Mau-Har loop be the perfect overnight hike? Mike Vaughn of the Tidewater A.T. Club thinks so. “It has everything a hiker would want: a scenic waterfall and several great views.”This short but grueling loop mixes ridgetop traversing with waterfall-choked canyon hopping for a two-day hiking highlight reel. But contemplative views and scenic swimming holes don’t come easy. Expect almost 7,000 feet of elevation change on this rocky hike.
Trailhead — Start at Reed’s Gap where Virginia Route 664 meets the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take the white-blazed A.T. south and get psyched for some steep climbs, ridgeline views, and steep descents for your first day.
Mile 0.8 — Greet your first vista, a shot of the small community of Love, Virginia, and its surrounding valley.
Mile 1.6 — Pass an info kiosk, the junction with the Mau-Har Trail, which you’ll climb tomorrow, and the path to the Maupin Shelter. Keep hiking on the A.T., which will enter the Three Ridges Wilderness and climb Bee Mountain.
Mile 3.5 — Another great view can be enjoyed from the Hanging Rock Vista on the side of Bee Mountain.
Mile 4.6 — Summit the wooded Three Ridges mountain.
Mile 6 — Find yourself at Chimney Rocks Vista, the most expansive view of the trip. Half a mile later you’ll hit the Flat Rock Vista, yet another broad view from the edge of the trail.
Mile 7.9 — Take the side trail to Harper’s Creek shelter, which has several flat streamside campsites.
Mile 8.6 — Hit the junction with the Mau-Har Trail, turn right up the blue-blazed path, and drop into Campbell Creek Canyon.
Mile 10.1 — You’ll find a campsite and a yellow-blazed spur trail which will take you to the 40-foot Campbell Falls.
Mile 12.3 — After a rocky climb out of the canyon, you’ll cross Campbell Creek several times, eventually following the left fork of the drainage to the Maupin Field Shelter, where the A.T. will take you back to your original trailhead.
Mile 13.9 — Pop out at Reed’s Gap.