As crisp winter winds give way to the warmth of spring, Virginia's Blue Ridge is abloom with boundless natural beauty, plenty of lively events and a host of farmers' markets brimming with colorful flowers to usher in the new season.

Add a little spring to your step at the Blue Ridge Marathon on April 21 in downtown Roanoke. The challenging course, touted as "America's Toughest Road Marathon," lies amid the stunning scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains and includes 3,620 feet of total elevation gain and 7,234 feet of total elevation change. The race starts and ends at the Taubman Museum of Art. For a calmer pace, fly-high in family fun at the 14th Annual Blue Ridge Kite Festival, April 21 at Green Hill Park in Salem. The free event features professionally choreographed routines and kite flying tricks by  the Richmond Air Force Kite Club. There will also be free kites other giveaways for children, food, and arts and craft vendors.

Also in Salem, sports fanatics can catch the action and maybe a ball or two as the Salem Red Sox kick off their 2012 season. The team officially opens on the road, but will return home on April 13 against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The opening homestand will feature a three-game weekend series against the Pelicans followed by a three-game series against the Red Sox's Highway 460 rival - the Lynchburg Hillcats. This year marks the Red Sox's fourth year as a Boston Red Sox affiliate and 46th season in the Carolina League.

If you look to bask in the vibrancy of the region's welcoming blooms, start along the Blue Ridge Parkway where you'll find such showy shrubs as Rhododendrons and Wild Hydrangeas, and such colorful flowers Bluets and the Turks-Cap Lily highlight the already picturesque landscape. Due to the lower elevation, bloom peaks along the parkway in Virginia's Blue Ridge are typically earlier than more southern areas of the parkway. Capture the natural charm of the parkway by camera as you hike one of the numerous scenic trails or enjoy lunch amid the mountain views at one of the many picnic areas along the way.

Continue in the revelry of nature at the Earth Day Celebration April 21 in Roanoke's historic Grandin Village. The free event boasts an array of local farmers and gardeners who will be on hand to share their knowledge and tips on everything from saving money to promoting healthier lifestyles in the creation of community gardens and backyard farms. Go for more green on April 28 as Virginia's Historic Garden Week showcases a tour of South Roanoke gardens and homes. Statewide, the annual affair invites visitors to an open house of more than 250 of the state's most bountiful gardens, memorable homes and historic landmarks at the peak of spring color. The Roanoke Valley's event will include tours, a luncheon and an up-scale yard art and bulb sale.

The budding season also is rife with the start of warm-weather festivals. The Town of Vinton will host its 58th Annual Vinton Dogwood Festival, April 25-29 in downtown at the Vinton War Memorial. The free event boasts a five-day carnival and live entertainment. Events on Saturday, April 28 include entertainment stages, a craft show, a distance run, children's activities, antique car show, and annual parade at 2:30 p.m.

Sip notable Virginia wines as you sway to sultry sounds April 28-Sept. 15 during the Wine Trail of Botetourt County's Summer Concert Series. The series will open with a performance by the world famous, award winning band The Seldom Scene at Daleville Town Center, and continue on Saturday evenings at various locations in Botetourt County, including the county's three wineries.

If your taste buds crave something sweet, head to downtown Roanoke for the Community School's Strawberry Festival, May 4-5 at Elmwood Park. Use what you save on admission to the free event to splurge on delectable homemade strawberry shortcake, strawberry sundaes, chocolate-dipped strawberries and much more. There will also be arts and craft vendors, children's activities and live entertainment. The two-day, family-oriented festival is one of the Valley's most popular and well-known events, drawing approximately 30,000 visitors to downtown Roanoke annually.

For those who desire a more savory treat, the Virginia State Championship Chili Cook-off Festival has you covered, May 5 at Railside Plaza in downtown Roanoke. Admission is $4 in advance, $5 at the gate, with children age 10 and under free. The largest event of its kind in the state, the festival features local and regional chili cook teams competing for the bragging rights and the top spot to represent Virginia at the World Championship Chili Cook-Off each year.

No matter your passion, relish the best of the season in Virginia's Blue Ridge. For more information about warm-weather events in the Roanoke Valley, visit our website and our mobile website at, call (800) 635-5535 or stop by the Roanoke Valley Visitor Information Center located at 101 Shenandoah Avenue NE in downtown Roanoke, and open 9am - 5pm daily.