SPRING TRAVEL: Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Enjoy a family-friendly mountain getaway
Roanoke Star Sunrise Credit Sam Dean Photography
Roanoke Star Sunrise. Image courtesy of Sam Dean Photography

Virginia’s Blue Ridge encompasses the city of Roanoke and its surrounding communities, which include the city of Salem, Botetourt County, Franklin County, and Roanoke County. Roanoke remains so historically intact that it’s easy to imagine the city 100 years ago. Locally owned restaurants and shops occupy old buildings with decorative tile and brickwork. A weekly farmers market with local vendors near the City Square adds a sense of community and small-town charm. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the proximity to biking and hiking trails, parks, and attractions, and families will appreciate the easy three-hour drive from Charlotte.


Fire Station One Boutique Hotel, Hotel Roanoke, and The Liberty Trust in downtown Roanoke each have unique architectural features and histories for the family to research before visiting. If your crew prefers outdoorsy lodgings with hiking trails and other amenities, check out the cabin rentals at Explore Park, Claytor Lake State Park, Douthat State Park, Fairy Stone State Park, and Smith Mountain Lake State Park. Jamison Mill Campground and Smith Mountain Lake State Park have campsites.


Before you head out for the day, stop by Scrambled in the City Square for their famous Vanilla Flavored French Toast or a signature scramble. Scratch Biscuit Co. serves a range of biscuits loaded with country fried sausage, country ham, Nashville hot chicken, and more. For a quick bite, Bread Craft sells fresh pastries, coffee, and juice in a no-frills café in downtown Roanoke. Bernard’s Gastropub & Eatery will satisfy a range of palates with dishes like chicken and dumplings, poached pear salad, and bourbon-glazed salmon. The Village Grill serves burgers, barbecue, meatloaf sandwiches, and mashed potatoes that pair well with a craft beer or glass of wine at the end of the day. If you’re in the mood for a sports bar, Mac and Bob’s in Salem has plenty of seating and a large menu.


Climb aboard a caboose or sort the mail on the 1925 Pullman Car at the Virginia Transportation Museum. View a 1923 Piedmont Motor Car (only 3,000 were made), a 1914 Model T Roadster, and learn about the history of women in aviation and listen to recorded interviews with Tuskegee Airmen. Outside, explore locomotives that date back to 1955, a 1935 school bus, a fire engine from 1890, and a horse-drawn hearse. Drive 10 minutes to Mill Mountain to see the Roanoke Star, the largest, free-standing, man-made, illuminated star in the world that was originally a Christmas decoration erected in 1949. Visit native animals at nearby Mill Mountain Zoo, and walk less than a mile to see the Natural Bridge at Natural Bridge State Park. The path includes stairs and wanders along the creek. Longer trails – 1.8 and 3.3 miles – within the park have skyline and woodland views. Explore the caves at Dixie Caverns, where guides lead hour-long tours through narrow spaces and share the history of the cavern. While you wait for the tour to start, stop by the adjacent antique mall and find everything from Mickey Mouse ears to wall art and century-old dishes.


Plan your visit around one of these seasonal activities:

May: Festival in the Park’s family-friendly activities include performances, petting zoo, arts and crafts, games, bouncy houses, and a playground. Car shows, live music, and local artists and vendors are also part of the fun.

May: Strawberry Festival is a long-standing community school fundraiser. Purchase shortcake kits, strawberry shortcakes, and sundaes, and browse the booths selling artisan products.

July: Salem Fair features cowboys and lumberjacks, magic shows, and pig races over an almost two-week period.

September: Olde Salem Days lets you start holiday shopping early, with more than 300 artisans and crafters showcasing their wares.

October: GO Outside Festival highlights “human-powered recreational and sustainability activities that support the outdoor community.”

October: Blue Ridge Folklife Festival celebrates the region’s cultural heritage with music, food, crafts, and more.

December: Dickens of a Christmas kicks of the holiday season with events on three different evenings with a tree lighting, parade, and pet costume contest.

Schedule a couple’s weekend at the Microfestivus Craft Beer Festival in August or the Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival in September.

Loveworks Black Dog Salvage Credit Jennifer Griffin Visit Vbr

Loveworks Black Dog Salvage. Photo by Jennifer Griffin.

Horizontal Natural Bridge Credit Jennifer Griffin Visit Vbr

Horizontal Natural Bridge. Photo by Jennifer Griffin.

Dixie Caverns Credit Dixie Caverns Visit Vbr

Dixie Caverns. Photo courtesy of Visit VBR.