Minnesota Monthly

Jul 18 2018

This East Coast visit comes with history, a burgeoning craft beer scene, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Appalachian Trail, and more.

There are never enough days in the week, much less on vacation. I certainly experienced that moment of nervous energy, combined with excitement, when I landed in Roanoke, Virginia—land of fascinating history, beautiful outdoors, and a budding craft beer scene.

After a relaxed flight spent reading about and reviewing all that I wanted to see and do while in the Blue Ridge Mountains, excitement suddenly turned to panic. If you are planning a trip to this region of the United States, you may want to save yourself a little stress by adding a day or two.

I narrowed down my list to “must sees” and “nice to sees,” in order to plan my four-night, five-day excursion. I’ve outlined the highlights on my short list that may come in handy when planning your visit to the Commonwealth.

To get your bearings and sense the energy and beauty of the area, head high above the city to the Roanoke Star and Overlook. The Roanoke Star is the world’s largest freestanding, illuminated, man-made star, constructed in 1949 at the top of Mill Mountain in Roanoke. Following construction, Roanoke was nicknamed “Star City of the South.” It’s visible for 60 miles from the air and sits 1,045 feet above the city.

Minnesotans love their wilderness, and Virginia is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, too—whether hiking, biking, or paddling. I was determined to dip my toes in the water, spin a pedal or two, and hike the hillside to experience a bit of what southwest Virginia has to offer. I spent a spectacular afternoon on the James River, kayaking from Twin River Outfitters and taking in some impressive mountain views. Mountain bikers have more than enough opportunities to get “gnarly” in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. The three most popular rides are Monument, a 1.5-mile ride that can be enjoyed in either direction, whether you’re looking for a long climb or fun descent; Ridgeline, a steep ride of 1.3 miles that may involve some hiking with your bike; and Woodthrush, the longest trail on the mountain at 1.6 miles, taking you through the woods on Mill Mountain. Note: These routes are for intermediate and advanced riders.

While in Virginia, you must find a way to experience at least a portion of the infamous Appalachian Trail. At approximately 2,200 miles in length, the trail is known as a challenging and breathtaking path that provides one of the most unique nature experiences on Earth. A trademark of the trail, and one of the most photographed sites along it, is McAfee Knob. This destination features a stunning overhang rock and a 270-degree panoramic view of the valley.

For a slice of amazing history, visit the Booker T. Washington National Monument, which examines the life of the famous educator, writer, orator, and presidential advisor. Exhibits, films, farm tours, and special events tell of his remarkable rise from enslavement to his status as one of the most influential, and controversial, Americans of his time. Don’t leave the monument without finalizing your visit by ringing the freedom bell.

As with most regions of the country these days, the towns surrounding the Blue Ridge Mountain have jumped to partake in the burgeoning craft brewery movement. Not going to lie: I visited my fair share. I particularly enjoyed the hoppy brews, beautiful setting, and dining selections at Ballast Point Brewing Company. With 128 taps and a restaurant, it was a great spot to take in the beauty of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and reflect on my stay by checking off what I was able to experience in four short days. By the lack of check marks on my “must see” and “nice to see” lists, it looks like a return visit is very likely in store—maybe even to attack more mileage on the Appalachian Trail.

Desinations North America Northeast Southeast Travel Writing United States

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