Illustration by Scott DuBar
There’s not much an outdoor junkie can’t do in Roanoke. “Here, it’s all about diversity with easy access,” says Pete Eshelman, a former West Coast ski bum and current avid mountain biker, who moved east to help Roanoke promote their backyard treasures as the city’s Director of Outdoor Branding. “Within 10 minutes you can be on a river, cycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway, or hiking the Appalachian Trail.”
Indeed, Roanoke is perfectly situated for a variety of adventures—sandwiched between the A.T. and the Parkway and bordered by the vast expanse of the George Washington/Jefferson National Forest. It’s no wonder the city has become one of the East’s most popular outdoor meccas with particularly vibrant scenes in cycling and running. Eshelman offered six local favorites.
Eshelman’s Outdoor Picks
McAfee Day Hike
The three-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail to McAfee Knob offers one of the sweetest expansive views the Blue Ridge has to offer. Reputed to be the most photographed spot on the A.T., the rocky overlook delivers a wide panoramic view of Tinker Cliffs to the north, the Catawba Valley to the west, and the Roanoke Valley to the east.
If you have a few days to hit the trail, hike the 32-mile loop of the A.T., Andy Layne Trail, and North Mountain Trails that crosses Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs.
In the Roanoke Valley, you can’t beat the epic singletrack at Carvins Cove, the second largest municipal park in the nation with over 40 miles of trails. Try the popular route from the Bennett Springs parking lot that traverses Brushy Mountain and features a screaming descent down the infamous Gauntlet.
Cyclists shouldn’t be shy about joining the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club’s (brbcva.org) Famous Tuesday Night Ride. The 20-mile jaunt starts and finishes in downtown Roanoke with a stint up to the Blue Ridge Parkway before returning for post-ride beers at Cornerstone Bar & Grill.
Run Mill Mountain
Trail runners can take advantage of the network of footpaths in Mill Mountain Park. Try the eight-mile route that moves from the Ridgeline Trail to the Chestnut Ridge Loop and back to Mill Mountain.
Best Paddle Spots
For a flatwater fix, paddle the scenic 13-mile stretch of the Upper James River Water Trail Flat Water from Iron Gate to Craig Creek. Whitewater boaters play in the class II waves of the three-mile Roanoke River Gorge run.