It’s known as the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail. Once you see McAfee Knob you’ll know why, as this unique rock outcropping near Roanoke, Va., offers astounding views of the Catawba Valley, North Mountain, Tinker Ridge, and on clear days, even the Roanoke Valley. The easiest access is a 3.5-mile A.T. jaunt that climbs from VA 311. On the way up, check out Devil’s Kitchen for some bouldering opportunities. At the top, taking silly posed photos on the knob is a fun tradition. McAfee Knob is most popular in the fall when the leaves are changing, but expect to see more people during the autumn color explosion.
If you want a longer hike with more solitude, try hiking Tinker Cliffs. You can combine the cliffs and McAfee Knob into one hike, as they are about five miles apart. The trail gets steep, but the views from the ridgetop are quite rewarding. One suggestion is to start at Route 779, taking the Andy Layne Trail to the A.T. and then pass Tinker Cliffs on the way to McAfee Knob.
Dragon’s Tooth is another scenic, rocky summit in the area. Several Tuscarora quartzite spires crown the top of Cove Mountain, the tallest of which is 35 feet. Though only 2.3 miles from the Dragon’s Tooth trailhead off VA 311, this hike is much more difficult than the McAfee hike due to a steep elevation change.
Biking in Carvins Cove
Prefer traveling on two wheels? Carvins Cove Natural Reserve is both a major water source and recreation area for the Roanoke Valley. The 11,000-acre Carvin’s Cove Reservoir has an expansive network of singletrack. The A.T. lies along its northwest ridgelines, and the cove can be seen from Tinker Cliffs. Beginner and expert mountain bikers alike should enjoy the cove’s excellent variety of trails. Through the system’s 30 miles you can try expert-level screamers like the Gauntlet, which features a 1,500-foot singletrack drop, while intermediates will enjoy the Funhouse. For a workout, try the fire road known as the Thousand Foot Climb. Trail markings are scarce at Carvin’s Cove, so stop by Just the Right Gear (www.justtherightgear.com) and grab a map of the trails system.