The Catawba Valley Hike & Bike!
You might be asking what that is. Just before I left Virginia, I was lucky to squeeze this great little day trip in. It is a ‘biathlon’ of sorts, that I just came up with for fun. For my Hokies out there who like to push themselves athletically, they’ll enjoy this idea, and it’s very close to Blacksburg, just out Harding/Blacksburg Road into Catawba!
The logistics: You’ll need a car and a bike. First, you’ll need to get up early and drive out to the Andy Layne Trailhead off of rt. 779. There, you’ll park your bike. Then return by car to the parking area where the Appalachian Trail crosses rt. 311, typical for a McAfee’s Knob dayhike. From here, you’ll start your biathlon. Bring plenty of water with you (I took 4 liters, including a stop for a refill), including enough for the biking at the end…or just leave some extra water with your bike.
The hike: Hike from the parking lot on 311 north on the Appalachian Trail. The total amount of hiking for this trip adds up to 12.8 miles. This hike takes you along some of Virginia’s finest trail, including the world famous McAfee’s Knob, a commonly unseen view of Carvin’s Cove Reservoir, and the beautiful Tinker Cliffs. It is along the ridge of Tinker Mountain that goes around the Catawba Valley, but there is more up and down than you might expect. However, it is still a hike that can be done in good time. It is just important to remember to bring enough water, as you’ll have to hydrate not just for the hike, but for the biking at the end.
There are at least two springs along the way, and I highly recommend refilling at Campbell Shelter (with proper water purification of course) before the long, waterless stretch of hiking leading back down to where you parked your bike.
After walking all the way from McAfee’s Knob to Tinker Cliffs, continue north on the AT until you reach Scorched Earth Gap, and be sure to descend via the Andy Layne Trail…a great day of hiking in itself, but your day is not over yet!
The biking: The beginning of the biking portion begins at the Andy Layne Trailhead.
From here, you will bike ~ 9.5 miles back to your car on rt. 311. I hope you have a road bike, because this would be a slow and unpleasant ride on the mountain bike with suspension. You can choose two routes back to your car: 779 to 311, or 600 to 779 to 311. Personally, I recommend the second option (just take your first right onto 600, rather than staying left onto 779) because the road is better maintained, wider and less windy for safe bike riding with traffic. This part is great fun, but difficult after a long day of hiking and with hiking boots and a backpack on. Definitely not the ideal conditions for a ride, but that’s what makes it fun and challenging! I took me just about an hour to complete the ride. Return to where you began your day!
Conclusion and Variation: This is a fun and challenging idea for those who are willing to wake up early and seize the day. I especially love the fast ridgewalk between McAfee’s and Tinker, and the view of Carvin’s Cove. A great day, and I’m sure it would be even more fun with friends.
The cool thing about this trip/idea is that it can be varied to your liking based on difficulty, time, fitness, etc. So, can’t do the 12.8 miles and 9.5 miles? Then link up the ~ 10 miles between rt. 311 and Dragon’s Tooth, and ride your bike back 4 miles to your car (can do this trip either direction). Are neither of these enough for your adventurous self? Well, you can put in one hell of a day, and link up the ~ 23 miles between Dragon’s Tooth and Tinker Cliffs/Andy Layne Trail, and bike back ~ 11 miles to your car. I don’t even know how safely possible that is, unless you run most of the hike.
So, get out there Hokies, challenge yourself, and enjoy a great hike & bike, and some of southwest VA’s finest stretches of trail and road!