2015 TOP Mid-Sized Town

Roanoke, Virginia

Population: 98,465

Set against a backdrop of rolling countryside and idyllic ridgelines, the city of Roanoke is perfectly poised to offer visitors and residents alike a balanced blend of scenic beauty in a diverse and thriving urban environment. Situated at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the heart of the valley, alongside a river, wrapped in the arms of national forest, you’d think outdoor recreation would have always been an integral part of the city’s identity.

Yet it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Roanoke began to step away from its storied past as an industrial hub and promote the great outdoors outside, and within, city limits. As plans for greenways and urban parks took shape, so too did a community that supported an active lifestyle. By 2013, there was no question as to the direction Roanoke was going—with the formation of the Roanoke Outside Foundation (a non-profit created by the Roanoke Regional Partnership) came events, initiatives, and even businesses, that not only encouraged people to get outside, but also helped them get there.

“We kinda feel like it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” says Roanoke Mountain Adventures co-owner James Revercomb.

Revercomb is part of that new wave of outdoor-minded businesses. Born and raised in Roanoke, Revercomb never envisioned returning to his hometown. In fact, he spent the better part of eight years far from the Star City as a snowmobile and fly-fish guide in and around Jackson Hole, Wyo. Despite the western town’s reputation as a mecca for outdoor tourism though, Revercomb and his wife eventually came to the conclusion that there’s no place like home.

“We figured that if we weren’t in Roanoke, we’d be wishing we were,” he says. “The cost of living is fairly high [in Jackson Hole]. We were enjoying what we were doing, but we were thinking longer term. We knew we wanted to be in the mountains in a place where we could still recreate and have that quality of life as well as career opportunities.”

In early April of 2015, Revercomb and his father opened up Roanoke Mountain Adventures as a gear rental and guiding service for the greater Roanoke area. Though starting any business can be a daunting task, the Revercombs have seen nothing but support from the local community.

Blaine Lewis shares that sentiment. “We knew Roanoke was an area that would support the type of business we were going to bring here,” says Lewis, owner of Fleet Feet Sports.

Lewis, whose wife is originally from Roanoke, also relocated to the city in 2003 after leaving a 16-year career stint as an adult probation and parole supervisor to open up a franchise of Fleet Feet Sports (headquartered out of Carrboro, N.C.). As a runner and triathlete, Lewis says Roanoke’s access to the outdoors combined with a low cost of living made moving to the city a no-brainer.

“Roanoke has grown and changed a lot in the past 12 years,” Lewis says. “From an outdoor perspective, Roanoke was just starting to find its roots there. From a business standpoint, it’s great because we’ve been able to help contribute to the active lifestyle growth here as well.”

As the momentum behind the city’s outdoor recreation scene continues to grow, Roanoke, once ranked as one of the “best places to retire” by Money Magazine, is also attracting a much younger, more active generation.

WHEN TO GO

With the Blue Ridge Parkway located just a 15-minute drive from town, Roanoke tends to see the most traffic during the spring and autumn months. We can’t blame them, as the budding trees and fall foliage make for spectacular sights. But with cool summers and mild winters, is there really a bad time to visit town?

STAY

INNS & LODGES:

Black Lantern Inn (blacklanterninn.com; rooms from $130/night), The Inn on Campbell (theinnoncampbell.com; rooms from $200/night)

Rose Hill Bed & Breakfast (bandbrosehill.com; rooms from $100/night)

Shenandoah Gateway Farm Bed & Breakfast (shenandoahgatewayfarmbnb.com; rooms from $150/night)

CAMPGROUNDS & CABINS: Dixie Caverns Campground (dixiecaverns.com/camping)

EAT

Coffee: Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea

Breakfast: The Roanoker Restaurant

Lunch: Local Roots

Dinner: The River and Rail

Brews: Soaring Ridge Craft Brewery

Sweets: Pop’s Ice Cream & Soda Bar

Après Adventure: Cocktails at Lucky

PLAY

RUN: Park at the Chestnut Ridge Overlook parking lot off of Mill Mountain Spur Road. Run, walk, or meander your way through the 5.4-mile figure-eight loop. The trail is wide and well-graded, bordered by thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron. Just a 10-minute drive from downtown Roanoke, this trail is a popular after-work destination for many locals.

BIKE: From town, take the Mill Mountain Greenway to Monument Trail. Climb for a half hour up to the Roanoke Star, an icon of the city that overlooks the valley. From there, hop on Wood Thrush trail for a ripping descent back to the greenway. Want more? Head 30 minutes outside of town to Carvins Cove, the second largest municipal park in the country. Whatever your route, make sure to include a cruise on Lakeside and a descent down the Gauntlet, both classics in the Carvins Cove area.

PADDLE: Rent a SUP from Roanoke Mountain Adventures ($55/day) or have Mr. Revercomb himself guide you down the waters of the Roanoke ($75/person). Beginners will learn the basics of paddleboarding in a safe environment while enjoying the scenery that surrounds them.

EVENTS

Star City Half Marathon & 10K: November 21, 2015

D Cup Enduro Downhill Race Series: Spring 2016

Blue Ridge Marathon: April 16, 2016

Roanoke GoOutside Festival: October 2016

Fleet Feet Sports Pub Run: every Tuesday at 6pm