Roanoke and Virginia’s Blue Ridge: Urban Culture; Natural Splendor

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Roanoke, at the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley, is less than a three-hour drive from Richmond. Virtually surrounded by the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, Roanoke shares the scenic splendor of many Valley towns—plus an exciting mix of urban and natural attractions.

Taylor Ricotta of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, said “Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Roanoke Valley in Virginia’s Blue Ridge awaits as your next getaway destination.  This former railroad town has blossomed into a vibrant center of art, culture, culinary creativity, craft beer, and one of the best destinations on the East Coast for outdoor recreation.  You’ll be only minutes away from over 600 miles of a variety of incredible trails for hiking, world-class mountain biking, paddling, and you’ll have easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, “America’s Favorite Drive.”  It’s a paradise of epic mountain adventures.”

Outdoor Challenges

Roanoke is easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and May is breathtaking time of year to drive this scenic route.  Exit at milepost 120 for the most direct access to Downtown Roanoke.

Smith Mountain Lake, about an hour’s drive from Downtown, offers more than 500 miles of shoreline and virtually any form of aquatic recreation. If that’s too calm, try the 45-mile Roanoke River Blueway. Still another great option is Carvin’s Cove Natural Reserve-12,700 acres of boating, fishing, hiking and mountain biking.

As in most Shenandoah Valley cities and towns, cycling opportunities continue to grow.  A recent story in “RootsRated” said this of Roanoke cycling: “Although Carvins Cove is less than 30 minutes from downtown Roanoke, you don’t even have to drive that far to find great singletrack. In fact, you don’t have to drive at all: In a shining example of urban mountain biking, the Roanoke River Greenway flows through the heart of the city like a cycling artery and connects to the trail system at Mill Mountain Park. These trails rise some 900 feet from the base of Mill Mountain, making for a lung-and-quad-burning climb. But the view is worth the ride and at the end, it’s a short trip back to the many post-ride refuel options in Roanoke.”

Hiking is hugely popular in and around Roanoke, and hundreds of miles of trail await your footsteps. One major highlight—McAfee Knob, a bit strenuous but probably the most-photographed spot along the Appalachian Trail. The Mill Mountain Star trail gets you scenic views of the Roanoke Valley, plus a closer look at the biggest manmade star in the world. It’s about three-and-a-half miles, up and back. Find 10 Great Hiking Trails near Roanoke here.

 Indoor Splendor

Looking for something indoors? The eye-popping Taubman Museum of Art (540-342-5760) in Downtown is 81,000 square feet of visual splendor. Eleven galleries of American art and 15-20 original exhibitions a year, plus an interactive learning center for kids make this attraction an absolute must. And the museum was recently named one USA Today’s “25 Must-See Buildings in Virginia.”

Endless Dining Options

After all that exercise and culture, you’ll need a great place to dine and refresh in the evening.  Overall, when it comes to restaurants in Roanoke, the key word is “options;” there are plenty. A very quick appetizer would include these:

The elegant Alexander’s (540-982-6983) in Downtown was named by Open Table as one of the Top 100 restaurants in the country based on quality and positive reviews. Local organic produce and prime quality Virginia aged meats figure heavily into the menu. For something more casual, but nonetheless delectable, locals flock to Burger in the Square (540-400-8645).  A sophisticated atmosphere, “more like Lower Eastside Manhattan than Southwest Virginia,” can be experienced at Lucky (540-982-1249), on the revitalized Kirk Avenue. Local Roots (540-206-2610), a hotspot farm to table restaurant, bases their menu on the SOLE philosophy—Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical. They emphasize fresh, seasonal, local items, many from their own garden. Under the guidance of renowned Executive Chef Aaron Deal, The River and Rail (540-400-6830) has won a number of awards for their innovative take on traditional Appalachian fare.

Learn more about Roanoke at: Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge.  

Banner photo at top courtesy Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

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