Roanoke’s Best Hiking Trails: A Guide to Outdoor Adventures

hiking trails in Roanoke

Within minutes of downtown Roanoke are hundreds of miles of trails ready for you to explore. Leave the asphalt, cars, and noise behind and lose yourself while taking a walk in the woods. From the well-known Appalachian Trail and its most photographed point, McAfee Knob, to some hidden gems such as Harkening Hill or Hoop Hole Trail, there’s a hike that suits every type of adventurer.

Key Takeaways

  • Roanoke offers a variety of hiking trails, from easy strolls to challenging climbs.
  • McAfee Knob is the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail and a must-visit.
  • Dragon’s Tooth provides a challenging hike with rewarding scenic views.
  • The Roanoke River Greenway is family-friendly and offers accessible trails.
  • Poor Mountain Preserve Loop and Buzzard Rock on Read Mountain are hidden gems worth exploring.

Exploring McAfee Knob: A Must-Visit Trail

Trail Overview and Highlights

McAfee Knob is one of the most iconic and recognizable points along the entire Appalachian Trail, making it the most popular hike in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. The trail is an 8-mile round trip with an elevation change of 1,700 feet, offering a moderately difficult to difficult challenge. The pronounced rock ledge provides a stunning 270-degree panoramic view, perfect for capturing breathtaking photos.

Best Times to Hike

The best times to hike McAfee Knob are during the spring and fall when the weather is mild, and the foliage is at its most vibrant. For convenience, visitors can utilize the McAfee Knob Trailhead Shuttle Service, which operates Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from March through November.

What to Bring

When hiking McAfee Knob, it’s essential to come prepared. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Plenty of water
  • Snacks or a packed lunch
  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Weather-appropriate clothing
  • A camera for those stunning views

Note: The McAfee Knob Trailhead Parking Lot will be closed from November 2023 through late 2024 due to construction of a new pedestrian bridge. Alternative parking is available at the Catawba Sustainability Center.

Discovering Dragon’s Tooth: A Hiker’s Challenge

The hike to Dragon’s Tooth may only be 2.3 miles one way, but don’t be fooled by the short distance. The first 1.5 miles are relatively easy, winding along streams and well-marked trails. However, the final 0.8 miles will test your bouldering skills with steep ascents and iron climb bars to assist you up rock walls. Prepare for a strenuous climb and ensure you have the right gear.

At the summit, the climb rewards you with stunning views of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. For an even more unique perspective, climb "The Tooth," a 35-foot tall quartzite rock spire. The panoramic views make this hike a photographer’s dream, so don’t forget your camera!

After your hike, consider stopping by Allsports Cafe in Salem for a post-hike meal or Parkway Brewing Company for a refreshing beer. These local spots are perfect for unwinding and reflecting on your adventure. The Dragon’s Tooth Parking Area off Route 311 serves as the starting point for your journey, making it convenient to access.

Trekking to Tinker Cliffs: A Scenic Adventure

Trailhead Information

The Tinker Cliffs trailhead is accessible via the Andy Layne Trail off Catawba Road. This 7.7-mile out-and-back hike will test your strength with nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s recommended to arrive early, especially on weekends, to secure parking. The trail winds through private property, so please respect all signage and stay on the path.

Wildlife and Flora

As you trek to Tinker Cliffs, you’ll encounter a variety of wildlife and flora. Keep an eye out for deer, wild turkeys, and the occasional black bear. The trail is also home to diverse plant life, including mountain laurel and rhododendron, which bloom beautifully in the spring.

Safety Tips

To ensure a safe hike, bring plenty of water, wear sturdy hiking boots, and pack a map or GPS device. Be prepared for a strenuous climb and check the weather forecast before heading out. Remember, a portion of the trail is on private property, so stay on the marked path and respect the landowners’ rights.

Hiking the Roanoke River Greenway

Trail Features and Accessibility

The Roanoke River Greenway is a universally accessible, paved pathway that stretches for 14.2 miles. Beloved by joggers, dog walkers, cyclists, and families, this trail offers nine access points, making it easy to hop on and off. The elevation change is nominal, making it an easy hike suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Plus, it’s free to use!

Family-Friendly Activities

This greenway is perfect for a family outing. Along the trail, you’ll find playgrounds, pavilions, and even a skate park, especially around Wasena Park. The trail also passes several outdoor sculptures, adding a touch of art to your walk. Don’t forget to bring your furry friends; dogs are welcome too!

Connecting Trails

The Roanoke River Greenway is part of a larger regional greenway system that includes more than 30 miles of urban paved pathways. These trails connect various parts of the Roanoke Region, allowing you to explore charming neighborhoods, vibrant downtown areas, and natural beauty all in one go. Whether you’re heading to a restaurant, a park, or even work, the greenway system makes it convenient to travel by bike or on foot.

The Roanoke River Greenway is a transformational asset for the community, often cited as one of the top reasons people move to the Roanoke Region.

Venturing Through Poor Mountain Preserve Loop

Trail Map and Directions

Poor Mountain Preserve is a serene trail system that offers a peaceful escape into nature. The trail takes you deep into the woods, over a beautiful stream, and past a small but lovely waterfall. This is not a trail for big views or crowds of people. Instead, it’s a spot for quiet contemplation, beautiful wildflowers, and lots of plant diversity. For those completing the Triple Crown as a loop, once you reach Tinker Cliffs, you continue north on the Appalachian Trail until turning left onto Andy Layne Trail. Follow this trail until you reach the parking lot at Route 779 and cross the road to connect with the yellow-blazed North Mountain Trail.

Seasonal Highlights

Poor Mountain Preserve offers unique experiences in every season. In spring, the trail is adorned with vibrant wildflowers, making it a perfect time for nature enthusiasts. Summer brings lush greenery and a cool respite from the heat. Fall is a spectacular time to visit, with the foliage turning into a stunning array of colors. Winter, while quieter, offers a peaceful and serene hiking experience with the possibility of snow-covered trails.

Hiking Etiquette

When hiking in Poor Mountain Preserve, it’s important to follow proper hiking etiquette to ensure a pleasant experience for everyone. Here are some key points to remember:

  • Stay on marked trails to protect the natural habitat.
  • Pack out all trash and leave no trace.
  • Yield to uphill hikers and be courteous to fellow trail users.
  • Keep noise levels down to maintain the tranquility of the area.
  • Respect wildlife and observe from a distance.

Remember, Poor Mountain Preserve is a place for quiet reflection and appreciation of nature. Enjoy the beauty and serenity it offers while being mindful of your impact on the environment.

Buzzard Rock on Read Mountain: A Hidden Gem

Located just seven miles north of Roanoke, this 243-acre preserve is tucked away behind a small residential area and features a nice five miles of trails that are both quiet and peaceful most of the time. Take Buzzards Rock Trail from the parking area that leads to the summit of Read Mountain known as Buzzards Rock. You’ll likely see said buzzards, but also fantastic views of the valley and mountains beyond.

Exploring Mill Mountain Trail in Mill Mountain Park

Trail Highlights

Mill Mountain Trail offers a variety of experiences for hikers of all levels. The trail loop I did was 3.5 miles with an elevation change of 850 feet, making it a moderately challenging hike. You’ll likely see fantastic views of the valley and mountains beyond. The trail is dog-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry friend along. Don’t forget to bring water for yourself and your dog, as this is a dry trail.

Visitor Facilities

Mill Mountain Park is equipped with several facilities to make your visit enjoyable. There are picnic tables at the trailhead, perfect for a pre- or post-hike meal. The Discovery Center offers educational exhibits, including the Mill Mountain History Exhibit, where you can learn about the area’s vibrant history. Restrooms are available at the park, ensuring a comfortable visit for all.

Events and Programs

Mill Mountain Park hosts a variety of events throughout the year. One notable event is the History of Mill Mountain Night Hike, where participants can explore the trail at night, sip hot chocolate, and visit the Discovery Center’s Mill Mountain History Exhibit. The evening ends with a ride down the mountain, reminiscent of the incline from the 1920s.

Just minutes from downtown Roanoke, hike up the Mill Mountain Star Trail to the iconic Roanoke Star for views of the surrounding mountains, valley, and downtown skyline.

Harkening Hill: A Lesser-Known Treasure

Harkening Hill is a hidden gem in the Peaks of Otter area, offering a serene and scenic hiking experience. To complete the Harkening Hill Loop, it is about a 3.3-mile hike, both rated as moderately difficult. Now, if you are up for hiking a little extra distance, add the Johnson Farm Trail to your route for an extended adventure.

Hoop Hole Trail: An Adventurer’s Delight

hiking trail in Roanoke with adventurous elements

Trail Overview

Hoop Hole Trail offers a thrilling adventure for hikers looking to explore the hidden gems of Roanoke. This trail features a diverse landscape, including lush forests, rocky outcrops, and serene streams. The loop trail is approximately 9 miles long, making it perfect for those who enjoy a bit of a challenge. Be prepared for some steep climbs and descents as you navigate through this beautiful terrain.

Camping Options

For those who want to extend their adventure, there are several camping spots along the trail. These sites provide a great opportunity to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy a night under the stars. Remember to follow Leave No Trace principles to keep the area pristine for future adventurers.

Flora and Fauna to Watch For

Hoop Hole Trail is a haven for nature enthusiasts. Keep an eye out for a variety of wildlife, including deer, foxes, and numerous bird species. The trail is also home to a rich array of plant life, from towering trees to delicate wildflowers. Spring and fall are particularly beautiful times to visit, as the foliage adds a vibrant splash of color to the landscape.

Hoop Hole Trail is perfect for those looking to push themselves beyond their comfort zones. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a weekend warrior, this trail offers something for everyone.

Sawtooth Ridge on the Appalachian Trail

The hike to Sawtooth Ridge is one of my favorite easy hikes near Roanoke. It’s a gentle uphill climb to a rocky ridge with far-reaching views of the surrounding mountains. This is the perfect spot for a picnic, and it’s surprisingly quiet considering how crowded it is to hike north instead of south. The trail splits in two early on, and you can choose from an old fire road known as the McAfee Knob Trail or the steep and narrow Appalachian Trail. The footing is easier on McAfee Knob and better for group hikes and downhill walking, but I find the AT more interesting.

If you are looking for a lovely view achieved after a short hike on America’s most famous footpath, check out Sawtooth Ridge near Salem. Park in the same lot used by the throngs of hikers heading up to McAfee Knob, but instead of hiking 8 miles, round trip, this hike clocks in at just under 2 miles. While the famous rock protrusion is one of the most photographed spots on the whole Appalachian Trail, you’ll find lots of spots to spread out and relax, even among all the people sharing the gorgeous view.

The only caveat about this hike (and the next one) is that the parking area is closed through the end of 2024 while a new pedestrian bridge is being constructed. I recommend taking the McAfee Knob hiker’s shuttle on the weekends. It’s $5 each way and dogs are not permitted. Here’s an overview of alternative parking suggestions for Sawtooth Ridge and McAfee Knob.

Family Fun on the Blue Ridge Parkway Trails

Easy Trails for Kids

The Blue Ridge Parkway offers a variety of easy trails perfect for kids and families. These trails are designed to be accessible and enjoyable for all ages, making it easier to enjoy the trail without worrying about finding a parking spot. For other fun trails, go for a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and hike out to some truly remarkable places. Stand below the towering Apple Orchard Falls or wander through the woods along the Chestnut Ridge Trail and Rock Creek Gorge. The Peaks of Otter area offers a variety of options, from strenuous climbs up Sharp Top and Flat Top to a scenic loop around Abbott Lake.

Educational Opportunities

Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway is not just about hiking; it’s also a chance to learn. Many trails feature educational signs that provide information about the local flora and fauna. Guided tours are available for those who want a deeper understanding of the area’s natural history. Additionally, the parkway offers various workshops and classes that are perfect for families looking to make their hike both fun and informative.

Picnic Areas and Rest Stops

One of the best parts of hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway is the abundance of picnic areas and rest stops. These spots are perfect for taking a break, enjoying a meal, and soaking in the beautiful surroundings. Many of these areas are equipped with tables, grills, and restrooms, making them ideal for a family outing. Don’t forget to bring a camera to capture the stunning views and make lasting memories.

Bold: The Blue Ridge Parkway offers a variety of easy trails perfect for kids and families.

Italics: Many trails feature educational signs that provide information about the local flora and fauna.

Highlight: making it easier to enjoy the trail without worrying about finding a parking spot.

Highlight: go for a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and hike out to some truly remarkable places.

Highlight: guided tours are available for those who want a deeper understanding of the area’s natural history.

Highlight: picnic areas and rest stops. These spots are perfect for taking a break, enjoying a meal, and soaking in the beautiful surroundings.


Roanoke truly is a hiker’s paradise, offering a diverse range of trails that cater to every type of adventurer. Whether you’re seeking the iconic views from McAfee Knob, the challenging ascent of Dragon’s Tooth, or a peaceful stroll along the Roanoke River Greenway, there’s something here for everyone. The proximity of these trails to downtown Roanoke means you can easily escape into nature without venturing far from the comforts of the city. So, lace up your boots, pack your essentials, and embark on an unforgettable outdoor adventure in Roanoke. Happy hiking!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time of year to hike in Roanoke?

The best time to hike in Roanoke is during the spring and fall when the weather is mild and the foliage is at its most beautiful. Summer can be hot and humid, while winter may bring snow and ice to some trails.

Are there any family-friendly hiking trails in Roanoke?

Yes, Roanoke offers several family-friendly trails such as the Roanoke River Greenway and the Blue Ridge Parkway Trails, which feature easy paths and plenty of amenities for children.

What should I bring for a day hike in Roanoke?

For a day hike in Roanoke, it’s recommended to bring water, snacks, a map, a first aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent, and appropriate footwear. Depending on the weather, you may also need a hat, sunglasses, and layers of clothing.

Are dogs allowed on hiking trails in Roanoke?

Many trails in Roanoke are dog-friendly, but it’s important to check specific trail regulations. Always keep your dog on a leash and clean up after them to maintain the trails for everyone.

How difficult are the hiking trails in Roanoke?

Roanoke offers a variety of trails ranging from easy to very challenging. Trails like McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth are more strenuous, while the Roanoke River Greenway offers a more relaxed hiking experience.

Is parking available at the trailheads?

Most trailheads in Roanoke have designated parking areas. However, popular trails like McAfee Knob can have limited parking, especially on weekends. It’s a good idea to arrive early or visit during off-peak hours.

Are there any guided hiking tours available in Roanoke?

Yes, there are several guided hiking tours available in Roanoke. These tours can provide valuable insights into the local flora, fauna, and history, and are a great option for both beginners and experienced hikers.

What safety precautions should I take while hiking in Roanoke?

Always let someone know your hiking plans, carry a fully charged phone, stay on marked trails, and be aware of local wildlife. It’s also wise to check the weather forecast and trail conditions before heading out.

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