Whether it’s right in town and neglected for years or up the road 50 miles to a place put off too long, the Roanoke area is not just a great place to raise a family; it’s a great place to take that family out exploring and experiencing the region.
Note: The story below is an excerpt from our Jan./Feb. 2015 issue. For the full story download our FREE iOS app or view our digital edition for FREE today!
What better day with the family than a day outside. Especially in the Roanoke metro area, where outdoor treasures not only abound, but are all easy to get to. Here, in no particular order, are 10 ideas for your family, ranging in duration from an afternoon to a weekend.
For families who love getting out on the water: Franklin County rivers – Day Excursion
Over the last 15 years Franklin County has taken the greenway concept in a different direction by creating “blueways” with developed put-ins and take-outs along the Pigg and Blackwater rivers.
If you want to explore in a social, guided way, consider Franklin County’s Ramble Weekend each spring (May 15-17, 2015). The Pigg River Ramble serves as the anchor event, drawing both racers for an 8-mile run and more casual “floaters” for a 4-mile version. Saturday’s Ramble is bracketed by a raucous night run on Friday night and a casual, catered float on Sunday, both on the Blackwater River.
You don’t need to wait until Ramble Weekend to try those routes, or another route along the Smith River or Roanoke River. There’s even a 34-mile run from the Blackwater River all the way out to Smith Mountain Lake. (See routes, directions and maps at franklincountyva.gov/blueways.) If you don’t have a boat, try renting one from Back Country Ski and Sport in Salem (bcski.com, 540-389-8602) or Parrot Cove Boat Rentals in Westlake (parrotcove.com; 540-721-5363).
If you run the Pigg River – which the state stocks with trout in Waid Park – make sure to stop by Bowlings Place (540-483-3403) to get a couple of hot dogs, a bowl of beans and a slice of wheel cheese.
For outdoor and small town-loving families: Douthat State Park and Clifton Forge – weekend
Virginia’s flagship state park is located just across the border from Botetourt County in the Alleghany Highlands. It’s worthy of a weekend to mountain-bike its trails and fish the trout in the lake and surrounding creek. In the summer months, rent boats, swim and camp as well. Make sure to grab an ice-cream cone from the Buckhorne Country Store (buckhorne.com; 540-862-4502), located just outside the park’s boundaries.
If you haven’t been to Clifton Forge in several years, prepare to be amazed. The small railroad town, which you pass by (or through) on the way from Roanoke to Douthat, has seen a dramatic revitalization, under former Roanoke City Manager Darlene Burcham no less.
Go there to visit the C&O Railway Heritage Center (candoheritage.org; 540-862-8653), the award-winning Masonic Amphitheatre (historicmasonictheatre.com) and the Alleghany High-lands Arts & Crafts Center (highlandsartsandcraft.org; 540-862-4447). Grab a bite to eat at Vic’s Family Restaurant (vicscliftonforge.com; 540-862-1620) or stay over at one of the town’s numerous inns or bed and breakfasts.
For families who love art, science and big machines: The museums of downtown Roanoke – day
Some families spend nearly every weekend in downtown Roanoke, but if you’ve been putting off a visit – whether for crowds, parking worries or just falling out of the habit – set aside a day to see what all the fuss is about.
Start with the museums. You can balance the cost of a Center Pass (a joint ticket for Center in the Square’s numerous museums (centerinthesquare.org; 540-342-5700): the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, the History Museum of Western Virginia and the Science Museum of Western Virginia) with the free cost of admission for the Taubman Museum of Art (taubmanmuseum.org; 540-342-5760). And don’t forget the Virginia Museum of Transportation (vmt.org; 540/342-5670),and the O. Winston Link Museum hidden gems that kids love.
As to where to eat? It’s hard to go wrong with any of the great restaurants abounding both in the Market district and the blocks surrounding it.