15 Best Day Trips from Roanoke, VA

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Roanoke, Virginia, is a charming city with beautiful views. It is situated between Smith Mountain Lake and Virginia Tech in Southwest Virginia. Roanoke is also referred to as the “Magic City” or the “Star City of the South”. Roanoke is the cultural hub of Southwest Virginia and has good food, great people, and diverse outdoor adventures. The experiences here are unmatched – you have to come here to see it for yourself because Google Earth can’t show this to you!

Buildings around Roanoke are constructed in the Appalachian building style. A major attraction site here is the overlook that features dramatic views of the Roanoke Valley and provides the perfect spot to photograph Roanoke. If you would like to step out of Roanoke to explore, we have compiled a list of 15 best day trips to make from the city.

1. Blue Ridge Parkway

Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge ParkwaySource: anthony heflin / shutterstock
Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway

This 469-mile scenic byway goes through the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. A day trip to these scenic mountains will provide you with the opportunity to enjoy spectacular views.

The most visited part of the Parkway is the National Park System. While traveling along this world-famous road, tourists get to enjoy some amazing experiences such as the Mabry Mill.

The Parkway is America’s longest linear park and connects to the Shenandoah National Park to the north and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the south. In most places, the Parkway is bordered by United States Forest Service property.

2. Town of Vinton

Vinton, VirginiaSource: The Old Major / shutterstock
Vinton, Virginia

This town shares a substantial border with the neighboring city of Roanoke. You will find that most of the neighborhoods in the Town of Vinton are bisected by the border between the two territories.

To the south of the town, there is a 1.5-mile long lakefront in the Roanoke River Gorge that is totally worth visiting. This lake was created in 1904 during the construction of the Niagara dam. Visitors come to this side of the lake to experience the steep and wooded cliffs that offer magnificent views of the neighboring city of Roanoke.

Another highlight of your trip to Vinton is the highly-coveted Vinton War Memorial. This landmark sits atop a picturesque 11.5-acre park in the town.

3. Brushy Mountain

Brushy Mountain PenitentiarySource: LifeArt Images / shutterstock
Brushy Mountain Penitentiary

These mountain ranges are an isolated spur of the Blue Ridge Mountains and are located in the northwestern end of North Carolina. The most incredible thing about these ranges is that they cross a total of five counties – Yadkin, Iredell, Wilkes, Alexander, and Caldwell.

Brushy mountain ranges are approximately 45 miles long and about 6 miles wide. On your trip to these mountain ranges, ensure that you get to the highest peak, which rises to a height of 2,680 feet. This point is referred to as Pores Knob

There is an abundance of apple orchards in the region. Every year, celebrations are held to celebrate the harvest.

You should also pass by the Brushy Mountain Penitentiary, which was reopened as a historic tourist destination. Tourists get the chance to tour the infamous former maximum security prison and buy some memorabilia at the nearby gift shop.

4. City of Salem

Salem, VirginiaSource: Thomason Photography / shutterstock
Salem, Virginia

The City of Salem is located in Roanoke County, bordered by the city of Roanoke. Salem was officially founded in 1802.

Salem’s earliest history exists as archeological evidence showing the existence of Native American Tribes, dating from as far as 8000 B.C to the 18th century. There is so much to explore on a day trip in this historically rich town that was initially named “Totero Town.”

Within the City of Salem, you will find a fort which was named after Andrew Lewis – Fort Lewis. The fort was built in 1752. Another must-visit site on your day trip to Salem is the Salem Public Library, which was founded in 1937.

5. Mill Mountain Star and Park

Mill Mountain Star and ParkSource: Thomason Photography / shutterstock
Mill Mountain Star and Park

This star is the largest freestanding illuminated man-made star in the world. The colorfully lit 88-foot Mill Mountain Star sits majestically on Mill Mountain. Since its construction in 1949, the star has been lit with neon.

The Mill Mountain Star is the Hollywood sign of the East Coast. It soars up to a height of 1,045 feet and is visible for 60 miles from the air. The best time to see the star is at night, before midnight – this is when the star is usually turned off.

The beautifully landscaped Mill Mountain Park boasts biking and hiking trails. These trails are some of the best in the area. This area has some of the best scenic overlooks and picnic areas.

6. Virginia Museum of Transportation

Virginia Museum of Transportation, RoanokeSource: Holly Anne Cromer / shutterstock
Virginia Museum Of Transportation

This historic freight that doubles as a museum houses many Norfolk and Western Locomotives. Some of the collections that are part of the nostalgic show at this museum include electric and diesel locomotives, antique automobiles and trucks, aviation, and vintage steam.

Inside the Virginia Museum of Transportation, you will find the Class A locomotive that is known for its durability and power, and the Class J locomotive that is the only one of its kind still in existence.

You literally need to stand beside the finest rail collections in the US to fully appreciate them; the locomotive wheels alone are as high as the average man.

7. Virginia’s Explore Park

Virginia’s Explore ParkSource: Jon Marc Lyttle / shutterstock
Virginia’s Explore Park

The park is located at Milepost 115 on Blue Ridge Parkway. It features homes and re-enactors from different periods in history.

The mostly-wooded 1,100-acre park provides nature lovers with a great opportunity to enjoy nature’s beauty and wildlife as they stroll through the area. There are over 14 miles of walking and biking trails that are bound to keep you occupied on your day trip from Roanoke.

There are dozens of buildings from the past that reflect the history of southwest Virginia, and a wide range of past cultural experiences to relive. This will allow you to be immersed in the culture to bring the past to life in a way that history books never can.

8. Science Museum of Western Virginia

Butterfly Garden, Science Museum of Western VirginiaSource: Ginger Wang / shutterstock
Butterfly Garden, Science Museum of Western Virginia

This museum exhibits themes that include the environment and its health, computer coding, healthy bodies, scientific methods of engineering, healthy earth and how it works, and science through toys.

The museum was chartered in January 1970. Originally, it was housed in the 400 square foot basement of Cherry Hill but was moved six years later, to the abandoned 3,000 square foot Tinker Creek School building.

The Science Museum of Western Virginia features a tropical butterfly garden that has butterflies from all corners of the world. The garden changed from a habitat for exotic butterflies to a garden for pollination.

9. Green Ridge Recreation Center

Swimming PoolSource: YanLev / shutterstock
Swimming Pool

This recreation center is built with family fun in mind. The 76,000 square foot facility offers great attractions in one convenient location.

There is the indoor center that offers family-friendly facilities such as a swimming pool, a gymnasium, and a fitness area. The outdoor area features an outdoor aquatic area with 34 foot high slides, a spray-ground, and a current river.

Green Ridge Recreation center also has an indoor track with beautiful mountain views. If you are looking for a place to hold your kid’s birthday, this would be an ideal spot.

10. Bottom Creek Gorge

Hiking TrailsSource: Belinda M Gordon / shutterstock
Hiking Trails

Bottom Creek Gorge has beautiful trails and amazing falls. Among these falls is the second highest waterfall in Virginia

Visit Bottom Creek Gorge to enjoy a quick hike through some old farmsteads with lots of woodland flowers. There is also a wide variety of beautiful plants, wildflowers, and wildlife on this creek that is a hotbed for rare species. There are three trail options – Red, Blue, and Yellow.

Do not miss out on the great photo opportunities provided by the powerful streams of Bottom Creek – a beautiful site to see.

11. Read Mountain Preserve

Read Mountain PreserveSource: mzglass96 / shutterstock
Read Mountain Preserve

This preserve contains 243 acres of forested land and aims at preserving a natural environment so that future generations can enjoy it years from now. The day trip to Read Mountain Preserve is appropriate for all ages, so make sure you bring your entire family along – including the dog.

If you are willing to take on a pleasantly challenging yet rewarding day hike, you need to make your way to the top. This strenuous yet enjoyable hike will offer you peaceful panoramic views.

The main feature of this hidden gem is a 1.9-mile moderately rugged trail that takes the average hiker approximately 2.5 hours to get to the top.

12. Rock Castle Gorge Trail

Rock Castle Gorge OverlookSource: Jon Marc Lyttle / shutterstock
Rock Castle Gorge Overlook

This trail boasts beautiful colors, from the wide array of wildflowers, trees, and other plant life.

Take a stroll through the trail as you enjoy the wonderful views of the gorge. There is a lot to learn about the families that used to live here in the past. They used water from Rock Castle Stream to provide power for their mills.

Rock Castle Gorge boasts over 200 species of wildflowers, 45 species of trees, and 28 species of ferns. All these are sheltered within the deep, narrow confines of the gorge. This botanical haven is almost untouched by man.

13. Peaks of Otter

Peaks of OtterSource: Malachi Jacobs / shutterstock
Peaks of Otter

The Peaks of Otter are well known for their exceptional hiking trails that challenge fitness enthusiasts. The three peaks are perched on top of a dense forest along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Peaks of Otter are a haven for recreational activities and covers acres of steep topography. There are numerous hiking trails and abundant wildlife, including rare species of birds that can be spotted around the Peaks of Otter.

If you like to fish, you should do so at Abbot Lake; it has catfish, sunfish, and bluegill. This 24-acre lake is the biggest attraction in the Peaks of Otter Park.

14. Buck Mountain Trail

Buck Mountain TrailSource: Sarah Stasik / Facebook
Buck Mountain Trail

The Buck Mountain trail takes you into a virtually untouched spot in nature. There are numerous rocks to climb and amazing spots to sit and listen to the birds around you. This experience is enough to help visitors savor the wildwood flavor.

The trail is surrounded by trees and these limit the views around. If you would like to get excellent views, you ought to climb to the summit.

The trail is not as long, but it’s totally worth it, as there are plenty of places to sit and read as you reflect.

15. Bedford County

Fall Colors in Bedford CountySource: Jon Marc Lyttle / shutterstock
Fall Colors in Bedford County

This county was created in 1753 and was named in honor of the English statesman and fourth Duke of Bedford, John Russell. Bedford County became an independent city in the year 1968 and covers an area of 769 square miles. Of these, 753 square miles are land, while the remaining 16 square miles are water.

The area is largely inhabited by indigenous people who are mostly Siouan-speaking tribes. The county is surrounded by the Rockbridge County to the north and Campbell County to the South.

15 Best Day Trips from Roanoke, VA:

  • Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Town of Vinton
  • Brushy Mountain
  • City of Salem
  • Mill Mountain Star and Park
  • Virginia Museum of Transportation
  • Virginia’s Explore Park
  • Science Museum of Western Virginia
  • Green Ridge Recreation Center
  • Bottom Creek Gorge
  • Read Mountain Preserve
  • Rock Castle Gorge Trail
  • Peaks of Otter
  • Buck Mountain Trail
  • Bedford County