Let the Roanoke Star be your reward for a 6-mile mountain bike ride that includes a thousand feet of climbing. Start in the Virginia city’s historic Grandin Village and head toward Mill Mountain Park, which includes more than 10 miles of multi-use trails.
The star — with a view of the city from 1,045 feet — is “a big part of who we are in Roanoke, welcoming and beckoning all people to come,” said Mayor Sherman P. Lea Sr.
The star, constructed in 1949, is illuminated each night and is clearly visible throughout the area. There’s even a web cam at the site so visitors can be “stars” in their own right.
It’s a fine picnic spot during the day, too, where you’ll meet other tourists, locals, and artists who come to chill out on warm afternoons. Ryan Gustafson, lead singer of The Dead Tongues band, stretched out on the grass by the star just before he opened for the bluegrass duo Mandolin Orange at the Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount.
For an easier, flatter ride, try the Roanoke Valley Greenways, a network celebrating its 20th birthday this year and offering more than 30 miles of paved trails along the Roanoke River. This is a good option for families, since the greenways are connected to a string of public parks and playgrounds.
For easy access to the greenways, rent bikes at Underdog Bikes where the mascot dog, Zombie, provides a friendly greeting.
Paddling and touring Buchanan
The town of Buchanan, about a half-hour drive from Roanoke, offers on-the-river activities combined with Civil War history.
Stop by Twin River Outfitters — operated by twin brothers John and Dan Mays — to rent canoes, kayaks, rafts, and tubes for drifting along the Upper James River.
The brothers also put together river trips, combining canoeing and riverfront camping, that range from two to five days.
For a unique place to stay within walking distance of Twin River Outfitters, make a reservation well in advance at the James River House, a historic inn on Main Street in downtown Buchanan. It dates back to 1870 and features five guest rooms, each with its own private bath.
A walking tour of Buchanan includes some Civil War history, but be sure to make your way across the swinging bridge that stretches between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. Stop in the middle of the bridge, as it sways gently, to watch the cliff swallows fly over the river. Usually sparse in the Roanoke Valley, these acrobatic birds have built several nests on the middle cement pilings of the Route 11 bridge.
The Blue Ridge brewery incubator
The Blue Ridge Mountains have become a breeding ground for craft brewers, entrepreneurs who love to talk about beer, whether it’s their own or a friend’s down the road.
Drop by Soaring Ridge, Big Lick, Twin Creeks, Hammer & Forge, or Chaos Mountain breweries — or plan a visit to all of them.
Insider tip: Try a “crowler,” a smaller version of the growler, for a more portable, easy-to-chill vessel for your favorite beer.
The drive out to Chaos Mountain Brewery — about 30 minutes from Roanoke — is a twisty-turning trip near Cahas Mountain, so visit the website for directions and don’t rely on your GPS. The name of the brewery — originally Cahas — devolved over a few beers into “Chaos,” and the eye-catching graphics make for fun T-shirts and pint glasses.
Chaos Mountain Brewery also hosts regular pub runs; choose between a 3- or 5-mile route.
The fiber of the gods?
Paradise really can be a 4-mile run when you combine it with a Blue Ridge sunrise and alpaca running socks.
At Pacabella Farm, in Wirtz, Va., owner Robin Watson shared that alpaca fleece has been known as the “fiber of the gods” for about 2,000 years. “Only royalty was allowed to wear alpaca,” she said.
After purchasing a pair of alpaca running socks, I was fully ready to feel like a queen. Alpaca fleece is unbelievably soft. And Java and Myka, the two alpacas I met at the farm, were unquestionably friendly and cute. But would alpaca really make a good performance fabric?
Time for a test drive — or run, in this case.
Four miles later, it’s all true. I’ve never had a more comfortable running sock. It turns out alpaca wicks away sweat, stays soft, is lightweight, and works in the 70-degree temperatures I was in, as well as in colder weather. No wonder the gods preferred it.
The Roanoke area, which bills itself as Virginia’s Blue Ridge, has established a reputation as an outdoor recreation destination with all kinds of biking, running, and on-the-water activities. But, it also remains a cultural and dining destination, with museums, theaters, galleries, and restaurants to enjoy.
“We like to think of this as a metro-mountain destination that you can really make your own,” said Debora Wright, who promotes the area.
Roanoke Area Tourism: visitvbr.com