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Want to Hike the Appalachian Trail’s Most Photographed Spot? Take the Bus.

Volunteers hope a new bus to the McAfee Knob trailhead will cut down on congestion.

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Beginning today, those who want to hike to McAfee Knob can book a shuttle to bypass the trailhead parking lot. The shuttle costs $5 plus processing fees for a one way ticket; hikers must book tickets online since the shuttle will not accept cash. 

After struggling with overcrowded parking for a number of years, Roanoke County launched the new service to help mitigate parking congestion on peak visitation days. Transportation will be available every 30 minutes from the park-and-ride at exit 140 on I-81 to the McAfee Knob trailhead on highway 311 over the weekend. The shuttle will be available from Friday through Sunday from September 2nd to November 27th and then again from March 3rd of next year through November 26th. The hours of operation will vary by month, with the shuttle running from 7 am until 7 p.m. in September, until 6:30 p.m. in October, and until 5 p.m. in November.

Bryan Johnson and Lisa Sink are the new owners and operators of the Ride Source McAfee Knob Shuttle. The team purchased a blue school bus that is capable of fitting 22 people for the job. Those who choose to take the shuttle can expect a 15-minute ride from the park-and-ride to the trailhead. 

A $100,000 grant through Virginia’s Department of Rail & Public Transportation has funded the program through the end of next year; ticket services are expected to support future shuttle efforts, in part. Roanoke County will continue to pursue funding opportunities that could solidify the shuttle as a permanent part of the McAfee Knob hiking experience

In addition to the shuttle, officials expect to begin construction on a bridge in 2024 that would allow visitors to bypass the highway crossing, creating a safer way for visitors to hike.

“If you drive up there in July you won’t see many cars,” Diana Christopholus, a member of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club told “But starting in the fall and in the spring, 600 to 1,100 people go up there and parking gets overflowed … it’s dangerous for everyone.”

Christopholus is hopeful that the new shuttle system will make the parking lot safer: “We [volunteers] have wanted this for a while. That way on weekends and holidays we can smooth things out.”

McAfee Knob is one of Virginia’s most visited outdoor destinations. Featuring spectacular views of the Catawba Valley, hikers come from all around the world to snap photos of this iconic overlook. It’s commonly believed to be the most photographed spot along the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. Some estimates suggest that upwards of 45,000 hikers visit this area every year. 

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