Mill Mountain is a well-known landmark and well-used named in Roanoke, Virginia. It’s the home of the iconic Roanoke Star, a park, a nature center, a zoo, and an interesting “house on the hill.”
It’s a gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a hiking and biking playground, and also happens to be within Roanoke city limits…one of the few mountains in the country to be found within city limits.
It’s one our favorite mountains and we’d love for it to become one of yours.
Here’s what you might not know about Mill Mountain…
Mill Mountain Park & Things to Do on Mill Mountain
Mill Mountain Park is the bulk of Mill Mountain itself. Ten miles of trails wind up and down the steep terrain throwing tricks and turns to those who wander them for excellent hiking and mountain biking. These trails are also part of the Roanoke Valley Greenway.
Download: Mill Mountain Park Trail Map >
Families enjoy Mill Mountain Park for many reasons, but one is the picnicking opportunities with a nearby playground. There is a large picnic shelter with six tables and two grills; a great place to celebrate a day well spent on the mountain.
The Mill Mountain Wildflower Garden attracts more than pollinators; anyone who appreciates native plantings spends time there. The 2.5-acre garden ushers guests to the Mill Mountain Discovery Center, a space for nature education and exhibitions. The garden includes a soothing water feature and a small amphitheater and is maintained by the Mill Mountain Garden Club.
Residents of the Mill Mountain Discovery Center include a black snake, corn snake, bees and their hive, and a sweet little box turtle. No worries; they’re all secured. The Discovery Center can be booked for parties, receptions, dinners, and other special events. Its proximity to the Roanoke Star makes it a great location for any of the above.
The Roanoke Star, perhaps, is the most recognizable landmark Roanoke has to offer. Overlooking downtown Roanoke and the Roanoke Valley, it is the largest free-standing star in the world. More than 2,000 feet of neon tubing create the 88.5-foot tall structure, and occasionally the star changes colors. Only once has it gone dark. Read more about the history of the Roanoke Star >
While you’re admiring the Roanoke Star from the overlook, be sure to smile. There’s a webcam - the Starcam – streaming the view from the star across the world wide web. Go ahead and take a peek at the current live view >
The Mill Mountain Zoo is a 568-acre non-profit and home to a variety of animals and reptiles. The zoo is active in conservation programs for Snow leopard, Red pandas, and Pallas cats while also being focused on Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountain native species like the Bobcat, Red wolves, and more.
Embracing the “growing not mowing” concept to allow natural growth for pollinators, visitors to the zoo will find areas of the park in a more mature state of growth than others. This ensures insects, honeybees, and other pollinators have areas to feed and do the job nature intended. Learn more about the initiatives of Mill Mountain Zoo >
The zoo is open seven days a week with special programming each season. Upcoming events at Mill Mountain Zoo >
The History of Mill Mountain
Once upon a time - for a short period of time - there was a hotel atop Mill Mountain. Visitors arrived at Rockledge Hotel via the steep and winding carriage road, which was a tough advancement in poor weather. Rockledge was open from 1892 to 1894 before succumbing to the reality of its location: too far from the train depot and too tough a journey to reach.
In the 1900s Rockledge had a do-over thanks to the Mill Mountain Incline, a shortcut, of sorts, for those to reach the top of Mill Mountain. In August 1910 the incline opened and scooted passengers to the top of Mill Mountain by way of a cable car system. At the top awaited an observatory and the “new” Rockledge Inn. The incline closed in 1929 after the Henritze brothers made it their mission to improve the carriage road. Once successful, there was no further need for the incline.
The third time was *almost* the charm for Rockbridge Hotel / Inn. In 1964 the property became the home of Mill Mountain Playhouse (now Mill Mountain Theatre). A 1976 fire destroyed the building and forced Mill Mountain Theatre to relocate. You can now find them operating from Center in the Square in downtown Roanoke.
And just to confuse you...there is a grand stone house on the side of Mill Mountain called Rockledge, but it’s not the Rockledge we’ve covered up to this point. This Rockledge was built in 1929 by William Henritze, one of the two Henritze brothers mentioned above. During their ownership of the mountain they improved the road for automobiles and built a grand home that has passed hands only three times since it was built.
Read more about Rockledge (“the house on the hill”) and its current owners, Drs. Nancy and Kevin Dye >
In whatever ways you choose to enjoy Mill Mountain, it’s helpful to know other things nearby that might be fun or helpful. Plan a full weekend or longer around the mountain and these other things to do:
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through Roanoke carrying those who love a scenic drive to points north and south. It’s called “America’s Favorite Scenic Drive” and rightly so. It's a great route for a road trip in either direction - north to the Peaks of Otter or south to the Town of Floyd, but remember to leave time to enjoy the designated overlooks and stunning views along the way.
The Roanoke River is the namesake of the Roanoke River Blueway, courses parallel to the Roanoke River Greenway, passes by Explore Park, and is a go-to for both fishing and paddling.
Located at the base of the mountain, Blue Cow Ice Cream Company crafts small batches of everyone’s favorite childhood memory: ice cream. They make their own waffle cones too, so yeah…you must go.
For a frothy send-off to a day well spent on Mill Mountain, Starr Hill Pilot Brewery & Side Stage is the place to go. There are 23 taps rotating Starr Hill’s best and newest craft beer selections. Food trucks roll up to the patio and the stage hosts musical guests for your entertainment.
For more music, more beer, and more food, Downtown Roanoke is just over the bridge. Shopping, art galleries, museums, restaurants, and nightlife are within easy reach of Mill Mountain. There are pretty great places to stay in downtown, too.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve covered the various aspects of Mill Mountain a time or two. For a deep dive into the history of Mill Mountain, see this previous blog post or search for “Mill Mountain” at the top of the page.
For additional thoughts on planning your trip to the region, consider our Sample Itineraries.
You can also check out some of the other iconic mountains in Virginia’s Blue Ridge by reading the posts featured below.