Hiking the Appalachian Trail

A Smart Family Traveler’s Guide to hiking near Roanoke, VA.


The Appalachian Trail, or “AT” as it is known to frequent visitors, is a 2190 mile trek through the Appalachian Mountains. Stretching across portions of 14 states from Georgia to Maine, the trail passes right by Roanoke, VA. We were fortunate enough to live just a few miles off the path and got to experience, first hand, what many have only heard of on TV and in movies.

In terms of population density, the Roanoke area is the most densely populated section of the trail. Lots of the locals like to join the millions of hikers who venture along at least a part of the trail every year.

Highlighted by spectacular views, the Roanoke section of the trail contains one of the most photographed areas of the entire country. The point known as McAfee Knob is a short 3-mile hike off highway 311 and is along a fairly easy bit of the trail. Considered an easy section of the trail, it is neither handicap accessible nor stroller friendly.

The Appalachian Trail

Since the AT is so long and passes through so many areas, there are no common signs along the route. The trail itself is marked by a wide white stripe approximately 2 x 6 inches painted on trees along the way. The area around the Roanoke Valley is pretty heavily traveled and the trails are easy to spot but many of the more remote areas are not so.

Nearly 90% of the trail passes through state owned or Federal lands. Because of this, carrying firearms along the trail is not advised, especially for anyone attempting to hike through the entire trail.

There are nearly 250 small open shelters along the route. Bathroom facilities typically consist of a 6 inch hole you dig for yourself at least 250 feet away from the trail. Hikers make due the way our forefathers and the early settlers did. You’ll also notice that much of the route is outside of cell phone reception so you’ll be able to disconnect for a while when you’re out there.

Cage’s book on hiking the AT goes into all these things in great detail and comes highly recommended.

The hikers

So, what is it like to hike along this trail? Well, you’re most likely to meet many other hikers if you go out during the right time of the year. Every year, hundreds of people attempt to hike the entirety of the trail and thousands trek along various portions. 

If you’re interested in hiking the entire length of the trail, it is usually advised to start in Georgia in the spring before it gets too hot if you are heading north. Some hikers are known to start in Maine in late summer to make it to Georgia before winter sets in.

Those who complete the trail typically take between five and seven months to complete the trek. Naturally, there are those who have finished much faster but the number of people who never complete the trail is even higher.

Along the way, you may see people camping in random spots. Public restrooms are not very frequent along most of the trail so answering nature’s call often literally means just that. Just be prepared for such calls and you’ll fit right in!

The views

The Roanoke section of the trail is mostly along high ridges in deeply forested areas. The views are typically limited due to vegetation during the spring and summer months. However, when you do reach a clearing, the stunning vistas stretch for miles and the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains reach as far as you can see.


Getting There
The Appalachian Trail is accessible from many points along the entire route. In the Roanoke area, there is parking just off route 311 near Catawba that affords easy access. Just be careful crossing that road!

Worth The Trip

Dwayne: The segment of the trail in the Roanoke area is spectacular! Making your way out to McAfee Knob or further along the Appalachian Trail to some of the other peaks should be on everyone’s bucket list. Just make sure to go when the weather is cooperating!

Heather: I’d love to do a through-hike of the entire trail!