The Roanoke Valley is a picturesque place to call home, with mountains and waterways creating a beautiful backdrop for daily life. This postcard-worthy scenery also creates a variety of natural opportunities for outdoor fitness with activities like hiking, biking and stand-up paddle boarding.
If you’ve lived here for any length of time, you probably know about the greenways— a system of paved trails reserved for recreational use that span many sections of Roanoke and surrounding communities. But if strolling the greenway is as far as you’ve ventured into the great outdoors, read on for other ways to get moving, get fit and take advantage of the place you call home.
Roanoke is home to the Blue Ridge Marathon, billed as “America’s Toughest Road Marathon” and held in the city each April, along with half-marathon and 10K options. If completing a challenging race on hilly terrain isn’t on your bucket list, you can still find an organized 5K or trail run in the region every month of the year. Training to run or run/walk one of these races with a local group can be a great motivator, and a way to meet new people.
Companies like RunAbout Sports and Fleet Feet offer training programs and running groups for everyone from newbies to racing veterans, and meet locally. Other informal groups like Roanoke Valley Trail Runners offer weekly trail run and walk groups and informal meet-ups, and beginners are welcome—so you can explore the local trails without fear of getting lost or left behind. Join their Facebook pages for more information.
If you want to give hiking a go, you don’t have to go far to get started. “We are so fortunate to have Mill Mountain right in the city with more than 10 miles of trails,” says James Revercomb, owner of Roanoke Mountain Adventures in Wasena, right off the greenway. “If you work in Roanoke, you can get off work and be on a trail in 15 minutes, which is pretty incredible for a city of this size east of the Mississippi River.”
In addition to Mill Mountain, there are hikes at different spots in the region suited to every skill level, including beginners. Local favorites include a hike to Apple Orchard Falls, one of Virginia’s tallest and most scenic waterfalls, and Carvins Cove, an 800-acre reservoir with 60 miles of trails. The Roanoke Outside Foundation, a non-profit initiative created to showcase Roanoke’s outdoor opportunities, has maps and hiking details on its website, roanokeoutside.com.
On the Water: Kayaking and Stand-Up Paddleboarding
The greenway follows sections of the Roanoke River, and the new foot and bike traffic brought renewed attention to this previously underused resource, says Pete Eshelman, director of Roanoke Outside and Director of Outdoor Branding for the Roanoke Regional Partnership. Kayaking is a great river activity for getting the heart pumping, and thanks to local enthusiasm and financial support, Eshelman says $77,000 was raised to build a new kayak launch in Roanoke City, scheduled to be finished in August of this year. Built on private land, it will be handed over to Roanoke City Parks and Recreation to maintain, providing a new and convenient access point to launch a kayak (roanokeriverblueway.org has more information).
Don’t want to invest in a kayak just yet, or want some guided instruction? Organizations like Roanoke City Parks and Recreation, Roanoke County Parks and Recreation and Roanoke Mountain Adventures offer kayak rentals and/or courses and guided tours. Roanoke Mountain Adventures also has an outdoor gear consignment shop, so you can pursue new outdoor fitness hobbies without breaking your budget.
Another way to get active in the river is with stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), which is the fastest-growing paddle sport in the world, according to Eshelman. Unlike kayaking, which can be done in either calm or rough/whitewater, SUP is best attempted in calm waters—which is probably why SUP yoga is now taking off, too (yes, it’s a thing—you can sign up for a class with Roanoke City Parks and Recreation). You can try out SUP totally free of charge during the GO Outside Festival, or GO Fest, which was created by Roanoke Parks and Recreation in conjunction with the Roanoke Regional Partnership. In its sixth year, the festival continues to grow in popularity (20,000 people attended last year) and is held each October in Roanoke.
On a Bike: Spin Your Way to Health with Trail Riding and Road Riding
There has always been a devoted cycling base in Roanoke, but now there are more opportunities than ever to get out there and get pedaling, even if you haven’t ridden a bike since childhood.
UnderDog Bikes, located on the greenway in Roanoke City, will rent adult and child bikes, but they also rent tandems and adult-sized trikes for something fun and different (helmets included). Many other outfitters, like Roanoke Mountain Adventures, will rent bikes for both road and trail adventures, and will take you on guided rides or provide the information you need for self-guided rides. There are several other bike shops in the area with knowledgeable staff who can set you up with a bike that meets your needs if you are ready to make an investment—a few are Cardinal Bicycle in Roanoke, East Coasters in Roanoke and Blacksburg, and Just the Right Gear in Salem.
Other Ways to Get Fit Outdoors
If you’re looking for a non-traditional way to strengthen your core while enjoying the outdoors, give horseback riding a try. While it won’t torch extra calories, it works the core muscles that stabilize the trunk, like the abdominals, back and pelvic muscles. There are many horse farms in the area that offer lessons for the beginning rider, no matter your age. Group lessons for a few riders be as low as $35 an hour, while private lessons will cost in the range of $55 per hour at farms like the Harmony Equestrian Center in Fincastle. SE Greer Horse Riding offers half and full-day guided horseback rides, and Reba Farm offers trail rides as short as one hour, or as long as overnight rides/camping trips. For all the information you need, go to roanokeoutside.com and check out the pages on “Horseback Riding Guides.” The Roanoke area has many dedicated horse trails geared for different levels of riders, from beginners to experienced equestrians.
Another great local resource for outdoor experiences is Camp Roanoke, which is nestled within 700 acres in Salem. Opened in 1925, it operates traditional day and overnight camps for kids—but it has offerings for adults, too. A high ropes course, low ropes course, zip line (one of the longest tree-to-tree zip lines in Virginia on an accredited course) and a climbing wall with a 44-foot vertical climbing surface are all available for adult fun. Check out the camp’s website for more details at www.camproanoke.com.
Another option for getting off the ground is the aerial adventure course run by Mountain Lake Treetop Adventures, near Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke. The course includes rope bridges, ladders, and zip lines, and there are three separate courses for various ability levels in addition to a youth course for kids eight years old and up. If you want to make a mini-vacation out of it, the lodge offers a special “Everybody Plays” package, which includes three nights of lodging, breakfast, the adventure course as well as archery, mountain bike rentals and more.