Tinker Cliffs: Hike the Andy Layne Trail to Epic Views in Catawba, Virginia

I recently hiked Tinker Cliffs in Catawba, Virginia for the second time. It’s still my favorite hike of the three hikes that are a part of Virginia’s Triple Crown.

The three hikes that make up Virginia’s Triple Crown are Tinker Cliffs, McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth. All are fantastic and awesome in their own ways.

Clearing to Tinker Cliffs

McAfee Knob has the famed rock protrusion, while Dragon’s Tooth has the 35-foot-tall quartzite spire, but there’s just something about Tinker Cliffs.

The views from Tinker Cliffs, and all along a 0.2-mile stretch to the top of Tinker Mountain, are just wow. There are no other words. It’s incredible.

Trail Stats 
Length8.1 miles
DifficultyModerate
Trail TypeOut-and-Back
Elevation Gain1,995 feet
Duration4-5 hours
TerrainMostly dirt & rock trails, some stairs
Dog-FriendlyYes
FeeFree
Driving DirectionsClick Here

Andy Layne Trail Parking

The out-and-back hike to Tinker Cliffs (and on to Tinker Mountain, if you like) begins from a small parking area on Catawba Road. Look for the large sign.

Andy Layne Trail Parking Sign

There is room for maybe two dozen cars, but it will be a tight squeeze. I arrived just before 9 am on a Saturday and the lot was well over half full.

Even then, I felt like I was getting one of the last parking spaces. Yet, when I returned from the hike, there were plenty more cars splayed all across the lot.

Tinker Cliffs Trail Kiosk

The blue-blazed Andy Layne Trail starts from this lot. You’ll see a super-size trail kiosk with a Tinker Cliffs Area Map, as well as trail rules and resources.

Andy Layne Trail

It’s a 3.0-mile hike on the Andy Layne Trail to reach the Appalachian Trail. Make note that you will be walking across private property, so stay on trail.

Tinker Cliffs Private Property Sign

The private land was donated by the adjacent Roanoke Cement Company. You may even hear the rumblings of the cement plant these first few miles.

Your first steps may be muddy, too. This depends on how recently there was a good rain, of course. On my hike, the trail was mostly sloppy and mucky.

Andy Layne Trail

It had just rained the night before. Not much, but it was enough to make for a messy hike. This made all the steps on this hike rather slippery.

Speaking of steps, there are lots and lots of steps on this hike, starting at the 0.2-mile mark when you descend more than four dozen wooden steps.

Descending Steps

Wooden Footbridges

You’ll then reach the first of two wooden footbridges at the 0.6-mile mark. This one crosses over gently-flowing Little Catawba Creek.

In a few more steps, you’ll enter a wide-open clearing, then duck back into the woods. At the 0.7-mile mark, you’ll reach the second footbridge.

Wooden Bridge Over Catawba Creek

This footbridge guides hikers across Catawba Creek. Use caution on the ramp to descend back onto the hiking trail on the other side.

Keep your eyes open for cows, too. I first completed this hike in 2020 and spied a few cows cooling themselves off in the refreshing creeks.

Many, Many Steps

You’ll ascend a few steps at the 0.9-mile mark, then the trail is pretty calm and relaxed for a while. A simple walk through the woods.

Wooden Steps

The steps return at the 1.7-mile mark. As in, more than 100 steps that appear to climb into heaven. Take a breath, another 60 or so steps follow this section.

At this point, you’re pretty much done with steps. At the 2.1-mile mark, get ready for a half-dozen switchbacks to help manage the ascent to Tinker Cliffs.

Continue on and at last you will reach the Appalachian Trail at the 3.0-mile mark. The area where this junction is located is called Scorched Earth Gap.

Appalachian Trail Sign

The backstory on the origination of the nickname “Scorched Earth Gap” is absolutely worth a read. Click the link above to Google Books.

Appalachian Trail

At this junction, turn right for a southbound section of the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. You’re now ascending along a ridgeline to Tinker Cliffs.

Appalachian Trail

You’ll reach the white cliffs at the 3.5-mile mark, but you are at the bottom of the cliffs, so there’s still more trail to climb to the booming views.

In a few more steps, you’ll begin to see rocky outcrops and partially obstructed vistas. No need to jockey for views. Wide-open views are close at hand.

Rocky Cliffs

It’s a mild, shaded ascent to the top. Keep following the white blazes and the big vistas across Catawba Valley will shortly open up for you.

Tinker Cliffs

At the 3.8-mile mark, you will arrive at Tinker Cliffs. There is a large rocky outcrop for reveling in the far-reaching views. The vistas are outstanding.

It was not crowded when I arrived – I was the only one there – but if it is crowded, continue past Tinker Cliffs. There are so many open overlooks.

Tinker Cliffs Views

The Appalachian Trail sidles alongside the edge of the bluffs for gorgeous views as you hike. The scenic views are overwhelming and intoxicating.

Rocky overlooks continue for at least 0.2 miles both to and past the summit for Tinker Mountain. At the 3.9-mile mark, I spied the green survey marker.

Tinker Mountain

This geodetic survey marker was placed in 1974 to mark the top of Tinker Mountain as a key survey point for use in map-making.

Survey Marker for Tinker Mountain

This was only the second time I’d found a survey marker placed by the U.S. National Geodetic Survey (formerly U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey).

Finding the survey markers is kind of like an extra bonus when completing a summit hike. This one was out on one of the outcrops in full view.

Wander across all the rocky outcrops to catch all the views across the valley. It’s absolutely worth the extra steps. Enjoy a snack break with a view.

Tinker Mountain Views

Once you’ve admired all the outstanding views, re-trace your steps to the parking area. Your out-and-back hike is complete at the 8.1-mile mark.

Wrap-Up Notes

From the Tinker Cliffs parking area, my hike time was nearly four hours, including time spent taking photos and shooting video from all the overlooks.

If you want to pair the Tinker Cliffs hike with McAfee Knob, it’s a cinch to do this as a point-to-point hike, which would clock in at 13.4 miles.

McAfee Knob

Of course, you’ll need to park cars in the McAfee Knob lot and the Andy Layne lot to make this happen. It’s a great option to check off two big views in one day.

I don’t often complete hikes more than once, but this is one I would do again, even now that I’ve done it twice. The views really are that amazing.

Hiking Options

There are a variety of hiking options for those who want to get in extra steps, even beyond the point-to-point hike with Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob.

McAfee Knob

From Tinker Cliffs to McAfee Knob, it’s 5.6 miles. An out-and-back hike from either parking area would be 20 miles. However, there are camping options.

Camping is not allowed at Tinker Cliffs or McAfee Knob, but there is camping near Tinker Cliffs, at hiker shelters and camp sites along the Appalachian Trail.

Campbell Shelter

The Pig Farm Campsite and Campbell Shelter are less than one mile north of McAfee Knob. There are also two shelters and sites south of McAfee Knob.

One more option for a long hike is to hike to Hay Rock, then from Hay Rock to Tinker Cliffs. This out-and-back hike clocks in at 21 miles round trip.

Carvins Cove Reservoir

This hike includes scenic views across Carvins Cove Reservoir. Bed down at the Lamberts Meadow Shelter between Hay Rock and Tinker Cliffs.