The Perfect Weekend Itinerary for Roanoke, VA

Located in Southwestern Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies Roanoke. This hidden gem is often overlooked, despite having an endless number of things to do. Here you’ll find everything from nature activities to interactive museums and one-of-a-kind boutiques. And while Roanoke is considered a large city, it has preserved its small-town charm with down-to-earth, friendly locals.

Roanoke was the next city I visited after Asheville during my East Coast road trip, and I was impressed with all it had to offer. It’s the perfect getaway for anyone looking for a combination of a city escape and outdoor adventures. So, I’ve put together a Roanoke itinerary that will help you get acquainted with the city and the surrounding area. There are some classics as well as some hidden gems. It has everything you need to guarantee a fantastic visit.

Weekend Itinerary for Roanoke Virginia
The Perfect Weekend Itinerary for Roanoke, Virginia

Table of Contents

Roanoke Itinerary – Day 1

Visit the Roanoke Star

The Roanoke Star on Mill Mountain
The Roanoke Star!

One of the most recognizable icons in Virginia is, without a doubt, the Roanoke Star. This man-made star was built in 1949 and, originally, served as a holiday decoration. But over the years, its popularity has transformed it into a symbol of the city.

Today, this gigantic star sits atop Mill Mountain, overlooking the city. Here you find one of the best panoramic views over Roanoke, pristine hiking trails, as well as a discovery center, and the Mill Mountain Zoo.

Driving time from Downtown Roanoke: 10 minutes

Address: 2198 Mill Mountain Spur, Roanoke, VA 24014

Tour the Peaks of Otter

Panoramic View of Abbott Lake and Sharp Top Peak at Peaks of Otter
The Peaks of Otter!

The Peaks of Otter is known for its beautiful lake surrounded by three towering peaks (Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill). The main activities here are centered on hiking. And there are a variety of trails for all levels. If you’re looking for an easier hike, consider the trail that circles Abbott Lake. It’s a flat trail that takes about 30 minutes. Then, if you want something more challenging, try tackling one of the three peaks. Either way, the scenery is spectacular and it’s a great place to spend the afternoon outside.

Useful Tip: If you don’t want to hike, there are lawn chairs around the lake where you can sit and enjoy the scenery.

Driving time from Downtown Roanoke: 1 hour

Address: 85554 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Bedford, VA 24523

Wander Downtown Roanoke

View from the Rooftop of Center in the Square in Roanoke Virginia
View from the Rooftop

Roanoke has a lively downtown full of cafés, bars, shops, and museums. There’s even a farmer’s market where you can find locals selling baked goods, produce, etc. But make sure to stop by the Center in the Square. They have a whole host of cool museums including, a pinball museum, a history museum, and a hands-on science museum. You can also go to the rooftop for a specular view of the city! It’s an absolute must if you’re in Roanoke.

Address of Center in the Square: 1 Market Square SE, Roanoke, VA 24011

Roanoke Itinerary – Day 2

Hike to McAfee Knob

View from McAfee Knob over the Catawba Valley
The Catawba Valley!

Wake up early and hike to the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail, McAfee Knob. This moderately difficult trail is 7.6 kilometers (4.7 miles) one way and takes about four hours round trip. Information boards detailing the hike are scattered across the trial, from beginning to end. And white rectangles, i.e., white blazes, are painted on trees to help guide you. The trail starts at a small wooden staircase across from the parking lot. It slowly enters the forest and climbs until you reach a clearing. You’ll exit the lush green forest and be greeted with magnificent 270-degree panoramic views over the Catawba valley. It’s one of those things you have to see in person!

Useful Tip: Bears are present in the area. You should be familiar with bear safety, before attempting the hike.

Driving time from Downtown Roanoke: 20 minutes

Address (McAfee’s Knob Parking Lot): Catawba Valley Dr, Salem, VA 24153

Spend the Afternoon at Smith Mountain Lake

View of Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia
Crystal-Clear Water

Dubbed the ‘Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains,’ Smith Mountain Lake is Virginia’s second-largest body of freshwater. And with over 800 kilometers (500 miles) of shoreline, there’s no shortage of things to do. If you’re looking to relax, hang out on the beach and go for a swim in the crystal-clear freshwater. There are also several picnic areas where you can enjoy a packed lunch. Or if you prefer something more adventurous, there are several options available. You can go fishing, canoeing, or hike one of the many trails within Smith Mountain Lake State Park.

Driving time from Downtown Roanoke: 1 hour

Roanoke Itinerary – Day 3

Visit the Natural Bridge

Panoramic View of the Natural Bridge in Virginia
The Natural Bridge!

Thomas Jefferson once said that the Natural Bridge was “the most sublime of nature’s work.” And he would be right! This 66-meter high (215 ft.) limestone gorge was once a tunnel that was used to reroute water. Today, you can visit the Natural Bridge and walk under it for a unique perspective. Not only that but the Natural Bridge State Park has several well-paved walking paths that take you on a magnificent tour, passing waterfalls, caves, and gardens. On average, it takes about three to four hours to visit the entire park. It’s open daily from 10 am to 6 pm with admission starting at $9. For more information and driving directions, visit the Natural Bridge State Park website.

Driving time from Downtown Roanoke: 40 minutes

Address: 6477 South Lee Highway, Natural Bridge, VA 24578

Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway

View of the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway

Believe it or not but Roanoke was the headquarters for the development of the Blue Ridge Parkway. And this is why it’s often called the ‘Capital of the Blue Ridge.’ So, if you’re visiting Roanoke, driving this magnificent Parkway is an absolute must. For a complete guide, including driving tips, make sure to check out my post: The Blue Ridge Parkway – A Complete Guide.

Driving time from Downtown Roanoke: 20 minutes

There are four points of access to the Blue Ridge Parkway:

  • U.S. Route 460 – Milepost 106 – Northernmost entry point to Roanoke (Milepost 106).
  • Virginia Route 24 – Access to Smith Mountain Lake (Milepost 112).
  • Mill Mountain Parkway Road – Access to downtown Roanoke and the Roanoke Star (Milepost 120).
  • U.S. Route 220 – Access to South Roanoke (Milepost 121)

Other Cool Things to See and Do in Roanoke

Have Fun at Explore Park

If you’re looking to add a little adventure to your trip, then Explore Park is for you. This 1,100-acre park is full of fun activities. From pristine hiking trails to adventure courses and ziplines, there is something for every type of adventurer. You can even spend the night in a yurt! Prices vary depending on the activities you do. And make sure to check their website. They offer discounts if you buy tickets online, click here for more details.

Driving time from Downtown Roanoke: 15 minutes

Address: 56 Roanoke River Parkway RD Roanoke, VA 24014 (or Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 115)

Spend the Day in Staunton

Panoramic View of Staunton Virginia
Visit Staunton!

Much like Roanoke, Staunton has a charming downtown that is full of history and warm-hearted locals. There are also a ton of things to do! Here you’ll find an array of historic buildings that line Main Street as well as local independent shops. Not only that but the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library is located in Staunton! And since it’s the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s a perfect place to take a break and stretch your legs before heading back to Roanoke.

Driving time from Downtown Roanoke: 1.5 hours

Enjoy the Views from the Skyline Drive

This 105-mile National Parkway begins at the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It stretches the entire length of the Shenandoah National Park, offering spectacular views of the surrounding area. While the Skyline drive operates similarly to the Blue Ridge Parkway, they are two separate entities. Like the Blue Ridge Parkway, there are an endless number of outlooks, hiking trails, and other outdoor activities. If you’re looking to extend your time in this beautiful area, the Skyline Drive is not to be missed. Entry starts at $30 per vehicle.

Driving time from Downtown Roanoke: 1.5 hours

Southern Entrance (or northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway): Rockfish Gap Entrance StationRt. 64 and Rt. 250

Tips for Visiting Roanoke

  • The best times to visit Roanoke, VA is April-June and September-October. During these times the weather is pleasant, and it’s less crowded than during the peak summer season.
  • Many of the things to do around Roanoke are at least 20 minutes away. Make sure to plan your days so you can see as many things as possible. As an example, you can visit the Natural Bridge, then drive the Blue Ridge Parkway on your way back.
  • Make sure to take a hotel in the city center. Roanoke is not an expensive city so staying downtown won’t cost you a fortune.
  • If you’re driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, Roanoke is a great base. It’s inexpensive, well-located, and has a ton of big city amenities.

With endless activities for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts alike, Roanoke is definitely worth visiting. Use this Roanoke weekend itinerary to help you plan your next trip!

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Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

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