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Flanked by the Appalachain Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Roanoke Valley is singularly blessed with outdoor experiences for all ages and ability levels.
New to the valley? Or a long time resident, looking to finally get off the sofa and do something outdoorsy? Just look up: Roanoke is surrounded by mountains. That means trails of all sorts. Down in the valley a growing greenway system that will boast an 18-mile-long continuous segment in a few years – the Roanoke River Greenway – already features a five-mile stretch that is heavily used and several other smaller segments soon to be connected.
Hiking options include the famed Appalachian Trail, which can be accessed in Catawba off Va. 311 or from Daleville on U.S. 220. There are hikes to the top of Read Mountain and to Tinker Cliffs on the northeast side of the valley, both with views that are worthy payoffs for steady uphill climbs. Carvins Cove, also the main source of water for Roanoke City, features a growing system of trails used for hiking, running and mountain biking. The reservoir is also a favorite destination for fishing and kayaking/canoeing.
Closer to downtown Roanoke, a trail to the top of Mill Mountain and other footpaths in the shadow of that famous neon star – hence the name Star City – appeal to nature lovers in an urban setting. The five-mile Chestnut Ridge loop trail is right around the corner on a spur leading to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where other hiking, biking and horseback riding opportunities beckon.
In recent years Roanoke civic and political leaders have come to realize the valuable economic development asset that the great outdoors are here, using that asset now as a tool to attract young professionals and new businesses. Newcomers like Joe Hanning, who moved to Roanoke from Ohio with his wife and two young children in the summer of 2011, were first attracted to the area’s natural beauty and outdoor amenities.
Hanning, who works for Roanoke City Parks and Recreation as an events specialist, has jumped right in. His favorite destinations include mountain biking and trail running at Carvins Cove, and short hikes with his family on paths that connect to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“There’s something for everybody and its right here in our back yard,” he says. “That’s the great thing about it.”
Roanoker Vince “Blaze” Mier thru-hiked the 2,100 -mile-plus Appalachian Trail last year, a Georgia-to-Maine journey that took him about seven months to complete.
“There’s so many different things to do [locally],” says Mier, who picked up his trail name Blaze along the AT. He recommends McAfee Knob, “the most photographed spot on the [Appalachian] Trail, along with Tinker Cliffs. Further away but within several hours ride Mier suggests a hike to the summit of Mount Rogers in Grayson County (highest peak in the state) and Shenandoah National Park, home of Skyline Drive.
How big is the outdoors here? The Roanoke Regional Partnership even hired a director of outdoor branding, Pete Eshelman, also a co-chair for the Blue Ridge Marathon (now in its third year). An “outdoor circus” and a film festival with an extreme recreation theme (the Banff Radical Reels Film Festival) are other vehicles Eshelman has helped create over the past two years.
The Blue Ridge Marathon’s 26.2-mile run from the valley floor up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and back has been self-described as America’s toughest. Those wholike to run 5Ks, 10Ks and the like can race just about every weekend if they want to, except for the dead of winter and the warmest part of the summer. Check out the Star City Striders and Mountain Junkies websites for a calendar of races.
An outdoor enthusiast himself, Eshelman has recommendations for those new to the valley or just visiting. “I always try to point out the greenways. They’re such a great asset.” He also highlights Mill Mountain footpaths, boating on the Upper James River Water Trail in Botetourt County (“its absolutely gorgeous out there,”) and the Appalachian Trail – especially the hikes to McAfeeKnob or Dragon’s Tooth.
Eshelman’s own favorites include Carvins Cove for biking and hiking, and Douthat State Park, where cabins can be rented. He also enjoys canoeing and kayaking on Craig Creek or the James.
Within 45 minutes to an hour from Roanoke there are national forests, state and county parks and preserves (like Bottom Creek Gorge on Bent Mountain, maintained by the Nature Conservancy), all offering hiking experiences and, in some cases, opportunities for mountain bikers.
Diana Christopulos, an outdoor enthusiast who also advocates for cleaner air as president of the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition, likes the trails at Green Hill Park in western Roanoke County, especially unpaved ones like the Pawpaw trail.
“The forest in there is exquisite,” she notes. The Fallingwater Cascades trail near Peaks of Otter is another favorite. “You go by a whole series of waterfalls.” The 3.7-mile jaunt (one way) to McAfee Knob, that dramatic rock outcropping along the Appalachian Trail, is the one she recommends most. “It’s just a great hike.”
Those who like their recreation indoors can look to the Green Ridge Recreation Center in Northeast Roanoke County, which features indoor pools and seasonal outdoor water play, a full complement of fitness choices and classes for those interested in various artistic pursuits. The Roanoke Valley is dotted with parks, offering playing fields for youth sports, walking trails, bike paths, tennis and basketball courts, public swimming pools and more.
Spectator sport-wise, professional baseball at Salem Memorial Baseball Park every summer features the Single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. In the past few seasons a half dozen players have been fast-tracked from the Salem Red Sox to the big club in Boston, so you really can watch future major leaguers at a beautiful ballpark, with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains as an added bonus.
That’s about it for pro sports locally, although the Appalachian Rookie League Pulaski Mariners play baseball just down the road. The amateur Commonwealth Games, based in Roanoke, offers dozens of opportunities every summer for participants and spectators alike, at all age and skill levels.
Hockey fans can root for Virginia Tech’s club team at the Roanoke Civic Center every winter. Roanoke College and Hollins University offer Division III NCAA action. The City of Salem hosts several NCAA championships every year, including the D3 Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl (football), the men’s basketball Final Four (also Division III) and softball (D2 or D3).
And look for big-time football 40 miles from Roanoke, where the perennial top-25 Virginia Tech Hokies play in Blacksburg, though tickets are hard to come by.
If you’re in to “urban biking,” pedaling a two-wheeler along busy streets, the number of dedicated bike lanes in the Roanoke Valley remains limited but growing. Yet an increasing number of people are leaving their cars behind and giving it a try. James Rosar, who rents, sells and repairs bicycles from his Cyclo-Ward shop in downtown Roanoke, likes to steer people to bikeroanoke.org.
“That’s a treasure trove of information…especially bike routes downtown, feeder routes and services,” says Rosar. There is also information online about group rides people can take part in. Kirk Avenue is one of his favorite places to ride a bike downtown; Riverside Drive is another favorite as he makes his way from the Wasena area.
Some downtown businesses now cater to bikers – Tudor’s on Church Avenue has offered discounted biscuits to those who pedal up to the store; chocolatepaper gave out free sweets last year to those who kept riding through the winter months.
Rosar’s philosophy: “if you know how to ride [safely] all the roads are good.” Cyclo-Ward has hosted classes on riding bicycles safely in urban environments. “It’s very important to mesh well with traffic,” says Rosar, a fixture downtown on his bicycle – when he’s not repairing them.
A Salem-based chiropractor by trade, Josh Gilbert is an outdoor enthusiast who hikes, runs and mountain bike. With wife Gina, he also stages competitive trail runs under the Mountain Junkies banner and provides timing services for other races. Explore Park, Carvins Cove and the trail up Sharp Top Mountain at the Peaks of Otter are among his favorite recreation spots.
“Tough but not very long, that’s a favorite sunrise or sunset hike to us – the best effort-to-reward ratio,” says Gilbert of Sharp Top (non-mountain junkies can cheat by taking a shuttle bus to or from the summit.) Dragon’s Tooth and McAfee Knob are other venues he points out to newcomers.
Chip and Ashley Donahue decided they were spending a bit too much time indoors with their young children. So they decided to head outside on a regular basis, and KIVA – Kids in the Valley, Adventuring, was born.
“We were just hoping to get more families out,” says Chip, an elementary school teacher in Roanoke County. They went from inviting friends to inviting everyone with children, keeping them posted via e-mail and a website (kidsadventuring.org) as to the next outing. KIVA kids have hiked, planted flowers and picked up litter along the way. KIVA even rated a mention in the latest book by Richard Louv, author of “Last Child In The Woods,” as Donahue proudly points out.
For family-friendly outdoor venues, Donahue says “we could spend all day at Mill Mountain Park.” The Discovery Center there is a good way to be introduced to the natural history of Roanoke; the nearby wildflower garden and walking paths are a peaceful respite .
Green Hill Park is also at the top of his list for family outings and Donahue likes the smaller “button” parks his group discovers all around the Roanoke Valley – like Eureka Park. Some are just easements, without even a name. “It doesn’t have to be anything fantastic, just a natural spot,” he says.
The Roanoke Valley has plenty of those “natural spots,” places more and more people – residents and visitors alike – are taking advantage of these days.
2012 Valley Recreation Guide
Virginia Tech. NCAA Division I programs in men’s and women’s basketball, cross-country, indoor and outdoor track, soccer, tennis, swimming and diving. Men’s golf, baseball, football and wrestling. Women’s volleyball, softball and lacrosse. 800-VATECH-4 or 540-231-6731. hokiesports.com.
Roanoke College. Sponsors Division III varsity sports, including lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, tennis, basketball, baseball, cross-country, track, volleyball and golf. 540-375-2500. maroons.roanoke.edu.
Virginia Tech Ice Hockey. Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association. Home Ice: Roanoke Civic Center. Season: Oct-Feb. 540-853-5483. virginiatechicehockey.com
Virginia Western Community College. Men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball. 540-857-6326. virginiawestern.edu/studentlife/athleticsmain.php
Valley Parks and Recreation. Sports for children and teens include Dixie League and Little League baseball, T-ball, girls’ softball, peewee softball, soccer, football, basketball, volleyball and cheerleading and many others. Roanoke City: 540-853-2236. roanokeva.gov; Roanoke County: 540-387-6078. roanokecountyparks.com; Salem: 540-375-3057. ci.salem.va.us/depts/parks_rec/; Botetourt County: 540-473-8326. co.botetourt.va.us; Franklin County: 540-483-9293. franklincountyva.gov/parks.
Green Ridge Recreation Center (operated by Roanoke County). 7415 Woodhaven Rd., Roanoke. Splash Valley Water Park, indoor pool, kid zone, gym, wellness area, walking track. 540-777-6300; roanokecountyva.gov/index.aspx?NID=618.
Smith Mountain Lake. Private and state access to boating, camping, fishing, hiking, picnicking and swimming. Also sailing, vacation rentals, golf. 540-721-1203. visitsmithmountainlake.com.
Carvins Cove. Public boating, fishing, picnicking, rowboat rental and seasonal concessions. 540-563-9170.
Claytor Lake. Boating, swimming, camping, hiking, picnicking, fishing. Marina. Sixteen cabins and campsites by lake. 540-643-2500. dcr.state.va.us.
James and Maury Rivers. Fishing and river-running. Canoe and kayak trips via Twin River Outfitters, http://canoevirginia.net/ Lexington. 540-261-7334. upperjamesriverwatertrail.com.
Loch Haven Lake. Canoeing, kayaking, swimming, fishing, diving, beach, hiking trails, picnic areas and tennis courts. Membership. 540-366-1174. lochhavenlake.com.
New River. Fishing, canoeing, tubing, river running. Livery and shuttle service, canoe and kayak rentals on New River and Walkers Creek through New River Canoe Livery, Pembroke. 540-626-7189; newrivercanoelivery.com. Tangent Outfitters offers guided fishing and canoe trips, mountain bikes, tubing and rentals. 540-731-5202.
Franklin County. Smith Mountain Lake State Park offers 37 acres that include a beach area, as well as picnic facilities, ADA-accessible fishing pier and hiking trails. 540-297-6066.
Craig County. Craig Creek Recreational Area offers swimming, canoeing and fishing. 540-864-5195.
Sailing Clubs. There are two major sailing clubs at Smith Mountain Lake, the Virginia Inland Sailing Association (540-721-2350; visayc.org), with facilities on the lower Roanoke River, and Black-water Yacht Racing Association (byrasailing.org), which operates out of the Pelican Point Yacht Club.
Many streams are periodically stocked by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Updates: dgif.virginia.gov/fishing/stock. You may also call 434-525-3474 after 4pm for a voice message.
Roanoke Ski Club. North American and overseas trips. Year-round events, including summer activities such as biking and tubing. roanokeskiclub.org.
Blue Ridge Bicycle Club. Year-round events including weekend rides, rails-to-trails trips.
Roanoke Valley Volleyball Association. Year-round league for men and women, all levels of play. rvva.net.
Roanoke Rugby Football Club. Year-round adult men’s league including tournaments and special events. 540-556-2791. roanokerugby.com.
Roanoke Valley Triathlon Club. Assists others in training for triathlons, promotes triathlon training activities and events in Roanoke area. roanoketri.org.
Roanoke Cycling Organization. Group that sponsors weekly bicycle outings in the area. 540-580-7284. roanokecycling.org.
Roanoke Valley Chapter of Float Fishermen of Virginia. Organizes several floats each year and has rafts that are frequently used for white-water adventures. floatfishermen.org/rvc.
Star City Striders. Sponsors annual Women’s Distance and Star City Half-Marathon races. Also participates in other runs throughout the year. starcitystriders.com.
Lancerlot Sports Complex. Six courts; free with membership. 540-981-0205.
Roanoke Athletic Club. Five courts. 540-989-5758. carilionfitness.com.
Kirk Family YMCA. Three courts; free with membership. 540-342-9622.
Carter Athletic Center. Two courts; free with membership.
Carvins Cove. Miles of trails. 540-563-9170.
Glenwood Horse Trail. 65 miles. Jefferson National Forest.
Virginia Creeper Trail. Abingdon to the North Carolina line. Abingdon Chamber. 276-628-8141.
Virginia Highlands Horse Trail. Mount Rogers National Rec. Area. 276-783-5196; 800-628-7202.
Grayson Highlands State Park. Virginia State Parks. 800-933-PARK or 276-579-7092. dcr.virginia.gov/state_park.
Centura Equine Center, Inc. Riding lessons – hunter/jumpers. 540-989-6567.
Sundance Manor Riding Lessons. Lessons for recreational and competition riding. 540-380-4001.
Carvins Cove. Roanoke City watershed; miles of trails. 540-563-9170.
Franklin County Recreational Park. 540-483-9293.
Poverty Creek Trail System. Jefferson National Forest (Blacksburg), 540-552-4641 or 888-241-6669.
Gator Aquatic Center. 1130 Overland Rd., Roanoke. 540-982-7665.
Fallon Park Pool. Fallon Park, Roanoke. 540-853-2206.
Washington Park Pool. 1919 Burrell Ave., Roanoke. 540-853-2369.
Health and Fitness Clubs
Anytime Fitness. 3960 Valley Gateway Blvd., Suite #2. Roanoke (Bonsack area). 540-977-0830.
Botetourt Athletic Club. 105 Summerfield Ct., Roanoke. 540-992-2993.
Universal Kempo Karate. 1727 Roanoke Rd., Daleville. 540-966-3381.
Carter Athletic Center. 4254 Colonial Ave. SW, Roanoke. 540-989-7284.
Curves For Women. Daleville: 116 Kingston Dr.,540-966-3122. Hollins: 7216 Williamson Rd., Roanoke. 540-563-5318.
Roanoke: 3505-B Franklin Rd., 540-344-1040. Salem: 1457 W. Main St., 540-444-0367. Vinton: 1316 Washington Ave., 540-345-3776.
Downtown Sports Club. 16 W. Church Ave., Roanoke. 540-345-7001.
Gold’s Gym. 3270 Electric Rd., Roanoke. 540-527-GOLD; 5002 Airport Rd., Roanoke. 540-366-4496. goldsgym.com
Green Ridge Recreation Center. 7415 Wood Haven Road. 540-777-6300.
Lancerlot Sports Complex. 1110 Vinyard Rd., Vinton. 540-981-0205.
LifeWise Fitness. 4633 Brambleton Ave., Roanoke. 400-7733. LifeWiseFitness.com.
Planet Fitness. 672 Brandon Ave. SW (Towers Shopping Center), Roanoke. 540-904-6288. planetfitness.com.
Roanoke Athletic Club. 4508 Starkey Rd., Roanoke. 540-989-5758.
Salem Wellness and Fitness. Center. 35 Spartan Dr., Salem. 540-389-1622.
Spa Fit. 1630 Braeburn Drive Suite C, Salem. 540-389-BFIT (2348)
Waldron Family YMCA. 267 Alleghany Springs Rd., Shawsville. 540-268-1623.
YMCA’s of the Roanoke Valley. Kirk Family YMCA: 520 Church Ave., downtown Roanoke, 540-342-9622. Gainsboro Family YMCA: 108 Orange Ave., Roanoke, 540-344-9622. Salem Family YMCA: 1126 Kime Ln., Salem. 540-387-9622. ymcaroanoke.org
YWCA of Roanoke Valley. 605 First St. SW, Roanoke. 540-345-9922. ywca.org.
Zoom Fitness on the Go. 215 S. Jefferson St., Roanoke. 540-224-5678.
Bryce Resort. Basye. Downhill skiing, racing and tubing, night skiing. 2.5 hours north of Roanoke. 800-821-1444 or 540-856-2121. bryceresort.com.
The Homestead. Hot Springs. Downhill and cross-country skiing, ice skating, tubing. Ninety minutes north. 540-839-1766. thehomestead.com.
Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre. Liberty University, Lynchburg. Year-round ski slope on artificial surface. 434-582-3539.liberty.edu/snowflex.
Massanutten. Harrisonburg. Downhill skiing, night skiing, expanded snow tubing. Two hours north. 540-289-9441. massresort.com.
Wintergreen Resort. Snowboard half pipe, downhill skiing and resort lodging. Two hours north. 434-325-2200; 800-266-2444. wintergreenresort.com.
For Appalachian Trail hikes and loop-hikes: ratc.org.
For Kurt’s Hikes: blueridgecountry.com/blogs/kurts-hikes/
Read Mountain Preserve’s Buzzard’s Rock Trail. Bonsack. The 1.9-mile one-way trip up Read Mountain affords views of downtown Roanoke, ending at a photogenic outcropping called Buzzard’s Rock.
Trails on Roanoke City’s Mill Mountain. The 1.7 mile Star Trail goes up the back side of the mountain to the star from Riverland Road. Trail also connects to others on and around the mountain. roanokeoutside.com
Area Golf Courses: The Quick Guide
Ashley Plantation Golf Course. 919 Greenfield St., Daleville. 540-992-4653. ashleyplantation.com.
Ballyhack Golf Club (private). 3609 Pitzer Rd., Roanoke. 540-427-1395. ballyhackgolfclub.com
Blue Hills Golf Club. 2002 Blue Hills Dr. NE, Roanoke. 540-344-7848. bluehillsgc.com.
Botetourt Country Club. 2414 Country Club Rd., Troutville. 540-992-1451.
Brookside Par 3 Golf Course. 6303 Williamson Rd., Roanoke. 540-366-6059. brooksidepar3.com/
Hanging Rock Golf Club. 1500 Red Lane, Salem. 540-389-7275. hangingrockgolf.com.
Hidden Valley Country Club. 2500 Romar Rd., Salem. 540-389-8146. hiddenvalleycc.com.
Hunting Hills Country Club. 5220 Hunting Hills Dr., Roanoke. 540-774-4435. huntinghillscc.com.
London Downs Golf Club. 1400 New London Rd., Forest. 434-525-4653. londondownsgolf.com.
Mariners Landing. 2052 Lake Retreat Rd., Huddleston. 540-297-7888 or 888-297-PUTT.
Ole Monterey Golf Club. 1112 Tinker Creek Ln., Roanoke. 540-563-0400. oobgolf.com/courses/course/16118/Old_Monterey_Golf_Club.html.
Pete Dye River Course of Virginia Tech. 8400 River Course Dr., Radford. 540-633-6732.
Roanoke Country Club. 3360 Country Club Dr. NW, Roanoke. 540-345-1508. roanokecc.com.
Salem Golf Course. 601 Academy St., Salem. 540-387-9802.
Sycamore Ridge Golf Club. 1270 Trails End Rd., Goodview. 540-297-6490.
Virginia Tech Golf Course. 1 Duckpond Dr., Blacksburg. 540-231-6435.
Waterfront Golf Course. 275 Anchor Dr., Moneta. 540-721-2653. thewaterfrontcc.com.
The Westlake Golf & Country Club. 360 Chestnut Creek Dr., Hardy. Pro shop 540-721-4214 or clubhouse 540-721-3845 or 800-296-7277. golfthewestlake.com.
Willow Creek Golf Club.10500 Virgil H. Goode Hwy, Rocky Mount. 540-483-0797.
Private Swim Clubs
Aqua Net Swim Club. (May-Sept.) 899 Finney Dr., Vinton.
Castle Rock Swim Club. 5950 Brahma Rd. firstname.lastname@example.org. castlerockswimclub.com/
Forest Hills Swim Club. 3360 Kenwick Trail, Roanoke. 540-776-8501.
Hidden Valley Country Club. 2500 Romar Rd., Salem. 540-389-8146.
Hollow Creek Swim Club. 217 Hershberger Rd., Roanoke. 540-366-7665.
Hunting Hills Country Club. 5220 Hunting Hills Dr., Roanoke. 540-774-4435.
Kirk Family YMCA. 520 Church Ave., Roanoke. 540-342-9622.Lancerlot. 1110 Vinyard Rd., Vinton. 540-981-0205.
Loch Haven Lake Club (not a pool). 2755 Loch Haven Lake Dr., Salem. 540-366-1174.
North Lakes Swim Club. 5321 Green Tree Ln., Roanoke.
Olympic Park Pool. 3136 Harris St., Roanoke. 540-774-9990.
Read Mountain Swim Club. 59 Downing St., Cloverdale.
Roanoke Country Club. 3360 Country Club Dr., Roanoke.
Spring Run Swim Club. 6328 Ran Lynn Dr., Roanoke. 540-774-9952.
Stonegate Swim Club. 856 Stonegate Dr., Salem. 540-444-0025.
Botetourt County. 4 (public) courts, 2 lighted.
Franklin County. 6 courts, all lighted.
Roanoke City. 61 courts, 44 lighted.
Roanoke County. 42 courts, 36 lighted.
Salem. 12 courts, all lighted.
Sun Tennis. Starkey Rd., Roanoke County. Two courts, indoors. Private lessons, group clinics. 540-725-4200. suntenniscenter.com.
Virginia Western. Six courts, lighted.
N-DOR Tennis Club. 3622 Aerial Way Dr., Roanoke. Three indoor courts. Membership club. 540-981-1281.
Lancerlot Sports Complex. One indoor court, lighted.
Roanoke City Camps. Outdoor Adventure Camp; Adventure in the Park; Stars Come Out at Night Program; Youth Nature Camp; Discovery Camp. 540-853-2236. roanokeva.gov.
Roanoke County Parks and Recreation. Day camps and overnight adventures at Camp Roanoke. 540-387-6078. roanokecountyparks.com.
Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing. New Castle. Summer camp and year-round conference, retreat and adventure center. 800-782-0779. wilderness-adventure.com.