This popular loop on Catawba Mountain shows off the best of Virginia’s Appalachian Trail: valley views, rocky ridgelines, forested slopes, trailside shelters, rippling creeks, imposing stone monoliths, and one award-winning outhouse. From the McAfee Pass parking area, cross VA 311 and pick up the AT heading north. The white-blazed trail shoots up a series of wooden steps then angles right for a gentle mountainside ramble above VA 311.
Traverse four wooden bridges, then look for John’s Spring Shelter (aka “The Boy Scout Shelter”) after one mile. Below the shelter is a sturdy loo-with-a-view, a 1992 gold award winner according to the plaque on the door. The trail crosses roots, rocks, and five more wooden bridges before switchbacking away from the road. Another mile brings you to a spring and a section of moss-bordered trail that soon passes a short spur trail to Catawba Shelter. At the campsites straight ahead, turn left and continue to the fire road. Cross and follow the stone-dappled path up a few easy switchbacks.
After a tantalizing first view of Catawba Valley, the trail swings away from the ridge then winds through a cluster of boulders. Just beyond, a short spur trail leads to McAfee Knob at 1,397 feet. Grab your camera for a stunning view that extends across Catawba Valley, Tinker Cliffs, and North Mountain. On your return, turn right at the fire road. Follow the rutted path as it follows the mountain’s spine back to the parking area.
-Mapped by Amy C. Balfour