There’s no denying that Virginia is home to some of the finest hiking America has to offer. With roughly 544 miles of the Appalachian Trail, which is more than any other state; Virginia is easily first in my personal top 10 of states to hike.
Among Virginia’s vast wilderness, two of the most spectacular, must-see hiking destinations include the Cascades and McAfee’s Knob. On a national scale, McAfee’s Knob is far more popular, whereas the Cascades are usually only known to avid hikers of Virginia. Regardless of popularity, they are both spectacular in their own, unique way.
The Cascades, which are located in Pembroke Virginia, part of Giles County, feature an excellent 4 mile round trip day hike. The entire hike is moderate in difficulty, but some steep terrain is expected and often the more rocky parts of the Lower Trail become muddied when wet. This usually isn’t a problem. I personally feel that if you were to only hike one place in Virginia, the Cascades should be that place. I’ve been hiking throughout many different states, since I was around 11 years old, and I have yet to see anything more spectacular. The Cascades are filled with some of the most luscious, dense forestry, and lucid colors imaginable. I feel that I have somewhat shown this through my photographs, but nature’s beauty can never be fully perceived unless experienced in person. The Cascades allow one to get, “lost in the moment,” and simply enjoy Mother Nature for what she truly is.
The Cascades consist of two different trails, the Lower Trail and the Upper Trail. The Lower Trail is a somewhat steep, rocky trail that closely follows Little Stony Creek. Often this trail passes clearings which allow one to walk out and explore the creek, which I highly recommend. There are 4 different bridges you will cross when on the Lower Trail. This is a good way to know how far you have gone, for there aren’t many mileage markers. When you have reached the 4th bridge, you have about 1/4 of a mile left to the waterfall.
The Cascades Waterfall, which has been ranked as one of Virginia’s most beautiful waterfalls, stands roughly 69ft. tall. The surrounding area of the waterfall is usually used for swimming and is a great way to cool down after the 2.0 mile trek in. This offers a nice environment for sweaty hikers, families, and their children to play and picnic.
Once you’ve regained your strength, it’s time to finish up the hike. There are two different options for the hike back. You can retrace your steps from the Lower Trail or you can take the trail less traveled, the Upper Trail. The Upper Trail is just as beautiful as the Lower Trail, except you’ll have a sort of scenic, aerial view of Little Stony Creek. It’s also somewhat easier and is especially good if you are low on energy or have children with you.
One of the most photographed locations of the Appalachian Trail, and quite possibly the most beautiful, is McAfee’s Knob which offers its weary travelers a breath-taking view of Roanoke, Virginia.
The hike to McAfee’s Knob is strenuous – an 8.8 mile round trip. You’ll climb about 1700 feet of elevation in the 4.4 miles it takes to reach the top. As strenuous as the hike may be, the reward of reaching the top and witnessing this beautiful overlook far exceeds any discomfort one might endure on the hike up. McAfee’s Knob is by far one of the most spectacular overlooks Virginia has to offer, and the Appalachian Trail itself, for that matter. The Knob has a 270 degree view which overlooks the Catawba Valley and North Mountain to the West, Tinker Cliffs in the North, and Roanoke Valley in the East.
The McAfee’s Knob Trail Head is located on the right side of the Appalachian Trail parking lot, across VA311, heading North. Trail markers are blazed white and appear frequently.
To return from McAfee’s Knob to the VA311 parking lot, retrace your steps going south. For an easier hike back, feel free and take the un-blazed Old Fire Road, it’s not as pretty, but it gets the job done. You’ll cross the Old Fire Road roughly 1.4 miles prior to the Knob.
Directions to the Cascades:
Take exit 118 1-81 N on US-460. Make sure to bypass exits for Christiansburg and Blacksburg. After about 26.6 miles, make a right turn on Cascade Drive (SR-T623) in Pembroke (there is a gas station at the right turn). The entrance will be in 3.3 miles. Warning: There is a $3 entry fee per vehicle (cash only). If unpaid, there is a $75 ticket. The pay area is at the entrance and directions are on the bulletin board.
Directions to McAfee’s Knob:
From 81 N take ramp onto I-581 N/US-220 N. Take exit 1S on the left and merge onto I-81 S towards Salem/Bristol. Take exit 141 for VA-419 towards VA-311 N/Salem/New Castle. Turn left onto VA-419 N/N Electric Road. Turn right onto VA-311 N. The parking lot will be on the left in 5.6 miles on VA-311 N/Catawba Valley Dr.