Eastern USA not only has the famous Appalachian Mountain range but also has another beautiful hidden gem which the locals recognize as the Blue Ridge Mountains. These Appalachian neighbors might not soar in height like its western counterparts but boy are they pretty!
One of the best ways to see the ridge is by driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile long scenic drive cutting through these mountain ranges connecting the Shenandoah National Park in the north with the Great Smokey Mountain National Park in the South. TIP: Visit during fall season to see some beautiful colors of nature.
There are plenty of noteworthy hiking trails in this region but one of my favorites and a famous among the hiking community is the McAfee Knob in Catawba, VA. McAfee Knob is the most photographed spot along the Appalachian Trail providing a 270 degree panoramic views. The summit has a protruding stone cliff which, in my opinion, resembles Norway’s famous Trolltunga – Photo Op!?
How to get to McAfee Knob?
The closest city is Roanoke in Virginia which is conveniently located around the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since McAfee Knob is an easy day hike and Virginia Tech happens to be located in the vicinity, you won’t be alone on this trail especially if you choose to hike on a weekend. However, it can be a great weekend getaway since it’s an easy 3-4 hour drive from Washington DC, North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee.
The round-trip hike is approximately 9 miles with an ascend of 1700 feet upto the summit. In a scale of difficulty, I would say it’s moderate if you are physically fit. Give yourself atleast 4-5 hours to complete the entire hike. Once you are at the parking spot, you will find the entrance to the trail across the road.
A couple miles on the trail you reach a fork where you have the option to decide between the easy way up also called the Fire Road or the more scenic and rugged way up through the Appalachian trail.
TIP: I’d suggest taking the scenic & rugged Appalachian Trail up the summit and the easier fire trail on your way back.
Both these trails meet at the last stretch of the hike after which its a common way up to the summit. This last stretch is also the most strenuous part of the hike including a steep uphill climb.
You are rewarded with splendid panoramic views after that effort. Knob is also a popular picnic spot so pack some lunch along for your day hike and don’t forget to carry plenty of water. There is a campsite on the Appalachian trail if you wish you to stay overnight. TIP: If you are comfortable with hiking in the dark then start before sunrise to catch a spectacular sunrise from the Knob.
As I said before, you won’t be alone if you do the day hike so be mindful of the crowd.
I was recommended by a local friend to go to this family owned restaurant called The Homeplace which is an all-you-can-eat family style southern food. It happens to be about 3 mins drive from the trail parking lot, a popular choice for the Appalachian hikers and the best dinner I could have asked for post a great hike.
Finally, enjoy this time bonding with a companion or two or three while you are at it. Let’s go explore!