Looking for a cool mountain destination to take your family this summer or fall? In the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the Roanoke metro area offers an outdoor paradise for active folks and a cozy city with a historic downtown and trendy neighborhoods where you can explore museums, taste craft beer, and shop at unique boutiques. It’s an all-in-one destination that will please everyone in the family—including you!
The best part is you’ll find Roanoke very affordable and everything is easy to get to. “Traffic? What’s that?” the locals say. And you can’t beat the cooler temps and lower humidity in the mountains. Then there are the views that stretch in every direction: lakes, rivers, and majestic mountains. Not convinced? Check out these nine ways to have fun in Roanoke.
Twin River Outfitters in Buchanan
Offers River Trips in Canoes, Kayaks and Tubes
At Twin River Outfitters, your family can choose between a leisurely float down the Upper James River in inner tubes or ride the rapids in a kayak or canoe. I joined my friend Larry for a fabulous six-mile paddle down the James from Buchanan, where Twin River is located, to Arcadia. Class I & II rapids provided some thrills, but observing the wildlife and the tranquil scenery was just as fun. We even enjoyed a quick dip in the cool, clean river. Kids six and up are welcome. www.canoevirginia.net
Climb Among the Trees at Treetop Quest at
Roanoke County’s Explore Park
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll find Roanoke County’s Explore Park, just a short drive from Downtown Roanoke. Offering camping, hiking, and mountain biking, the park is also home to Treetop Quest, a family adventure for ages 4 and up. Five courses offer challenging obstacles and thrilling zip lines up in the treetops. Friendly staff are on hand to help you learn to use the state-of-the-art safety system and offer tips for handling the tougher levels. It’s tons of fun, and afterwards you can cool down with a tasty brew and a bite to eat at Explore Park’s Twin Creeks Brewpub. www.explorepark.org/treetop
Shop for Antiques & Architectural Salvage
At Black Dog Salvage
Besides lots of great shopping downtown, including a fabulous daily farmers’ market, Roanoke is home to Black Dog Salvage, home of the DIY TV series “Salvage Dawgs.” Spread out in two gigantic warehouses close to the city, architectural salvage and antiques, custom furniture, home and garden décor, and more tempt shoppers. “We turned hoarding into a business,” jokes Mike, who together with his partner, Robert, are planning a podcast series to follow up their successful reality show. Once a month through October, catch live music and food trucks at the Dog Bowl, a cozy outdoor music venue adjacent to Black Dog Salvage. All ages welcome. www.blackdogsalvage
Explore 700+ Miles of Hiking Trails
Mill Mountain Star Trail is Perfect for Families
Virginia’s Blue Ridge is home to 700+ miles of hiking trials, including a stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Hikes vary from easy to challenging and offer your family the chance to slow down and smell the forest. Family-friendly trails can be found at Explore Park and Smith Mountain Lake State Park. Or try Mill Mountain Star Trail right in the city. At the top, you’ll find Roanoke’s iconic neon star, an ideal place for watching the sun set over the Blue Ridge. Don’t forget a picnic! www.visitroanokeva.com/things-to-do/outdoor-adventure/hiking-trails/
Mountain Bikers Love the 400 Miles of Trails
Or Try Urban Bikeways on Mostly Flat Terrain
Over 400 miles of mountain biking trails wind through Virginia’s Blue Ridge offering thrill seekers a variety of challenging courses. In fact, the region is known as the East Coast Mountain Biking Capital. For a more leisurely option, rent a bike and hop on one of the area’s greenways. The urban trails are built on relatively flat terrain and connect to many of the region’s public parks and playgrounds—perfect for family fun! www.visitroanokeva.com/biking Bike rentals available at www.roanokemountainadventures.com.
Experience History at Hotel Roanoke
Or Try the Trendy Stone House at Black Dog Salvage
You can’t miss Roanoke’s “grand dame,” the Tudor-style Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the classic hotel offers world-class lodgings with a Southern flair. Your kids will love swimming in the outdoor pool and watching the trains roll by on the adjacent tracks. www.hotelroanoke.com
For a different experience, check out The Stone House at Black Dog Salvage, a gorgeous 3-bedroom home built in 1911 and renovated with architecturally inspired salvage. With its cozy rooms, trendy décor, and cool outdoor spaces, this house will make you feel at home. www.blackdogsalvage.com/the-stone-house/
Taste Global Flavors at Inka Grill Peruvian Cuisine
Or Try Indian and Mediterranean Cuisine at Taaza
During a recent visit, I was surprised to find a variety of international restaurants. One standout is Inka Grill Peruvian Cuisine located downtown. I popped in for a lunch special one day, and my server suggested I try Aji de Gallina. After a tasty cup of chicken soup, she presented a large platter (for only $7.00!) of tender chicken bathed in a spicy cheese and pecan sauce served with rice and steamed potatoes. So good! www.inkagrillperuviancuisine.com
Another excellent choice is Taaza, an authentic Indian and Mediterranean restaurant nestled in historic Grandin Village not far from Black Dog Salvage. I recommend the Chicken Tikka Masala, chicken in a golden tomato sauce flavored with almond paste served with rice. But all the dishes are fresh, full of flavor, and prepared with love. www.taazaroanoke.com
Visit Local Museums for History, Culture & Art
Roanoke’s Pinball Museum is Perfect for the Kids
Add some educational enrichment to your family’s Roanoke vacation by planning a visit to one of the fine museums in town. I loved the O. Winston Link Museum across from Hotel Roanoke. Mr. Link was a photographer who captured classic black-and-white shots of steam trains. His photos are stunning compositions of trains, the people who worked on them, and the communities they served. Other cool museums to visit include the Taubman Museum of Art, Harrison Museum of African American Culture, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia. There’s even a Pinball Museum downtown. Admission includes a two-hour session of play! www.visitroanokeva.com/things-to-do/attractions/museums
Meet the Precious Animals at Mill Mountain Zoo
Learn About the Importance of Conservation
Don’t miss Mill Mountain Zoo, Roanoke’s “precious” zoo, as one of the locals called it. Perched on top of Mill Mountain, the zoo features a variety of animals in spacious habitats, including the newest resident, a cute black bear. She joins bald eagles, North American river otters, red foxes, red wolves, and others in a mission to teach the importance of conservation. Check out zoo events, including the popular Zoo Boo and Night Howls. www.mmzoo.org
For info., go to www.visitroanokeva.com.