Southern Agenda

A View with More Room

An illustration of a train car taking a selfie on a rocky outcrop

Illustration: Tim Bower

McAfee Knob, the Appalachian Trail’s most photographed overlook, has long suffered from its own popularity. The trailhead parking lot fills early, creating traffic jams for day hikers eager to tackle the nearly eight-mile round trip to a stone ledge that—if you frame your picture just right—appears to hang over the lush Catawba Valley. “It looks very dangerous and dramatic, but it’s not really,” says Diana Christopulos, a past president of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. She says the hardest part of the hike can be finding a place to park, and then dashing across a busy mountain highway blind spot to the path, one of the riskiest road crossings on the nearly 2,200-mile Georgia-to-Maine trailway. After years of complaints, Roanoke County has launched a trailhead shuttle that runs on a continuous loop from a park-and-ride in Salem, Friday to Sunday from March through November (and on holidays like Memorial Day). Transit planner Paula Benke says the changes are overdue: “People parked on both sides of the road. There was ticketing and towing.” But she understands McAfee’s appeal. “It sounds a little trite, but it is breathtaking.”