Don’t let cold weather keep you indoors. Six winter outdoor adventures are waiting for you in Virginia’s Blue Ridge! We have the scoop on where to find frozen waterfalls, the best places to sled when it snows, and even a tip on cross-country skiing.
Lace up your boots and bundle up tight for epic mountain experiences you won’t soon forget.
1. Winter Waterfall Hikes
Waterfall chasing is not a new idea, though many have yet to set out on the quest. And if you thought waterfalls were for summer only, sadly, you’re mistaken. A frozen waterfall is one of the most beautiful wonders of nature you can see.
Feel as though you’ve walked out of the wardrobe and into Narnia when you encounter the impressive mass of the frozen Cascade Falls in Pembroke. Seek out the series of falls along Roaring Run Trail in Eagle Rock, and then head to Bottom Creek Gorge in Bent Mountain, home of Virginia’s second highest waterfall, to complete the trifecta.
2. Ice Skating at Elmwood Park
The safest way to ice skate in Virginia’s Blue Ridge is to glide onto the rink at Elmwood Park. Skates are available for rent at Elmwood on Ice, and up to 100 people can skate at the same time. It’s one of the most affordable ways to spend quality time with your favorite people, and you get some exercise, too.
3. Snow Sledding in Public Parks
When there’s snow on the ground, sledding is a must! Pick up a sled at any number of retailers or go the old fashioned route of sitting on a trash bag, then head to one of our favorite public parks to get a running glide down the hills. Among our favorites are Highland Park in Roanoke’s Old Southwest neighborhood, Salem Municipal Golf Course in Salem, and Greenfield Recreation Park in Troutville.
You’d be remiss to think kayaking is out of the question during winter. To the contrary, winter offers a very different landscape to appreciate, as well as calm waters most of the time. Head out when there’s snow and you’ll be treated to a real wonderland worthy of your Instagram account. Our top still water spots are Carvins Cove Natural Reserve and Smith Mountain Lake, which also happen to be our favorite summer still water spots, too.
Winter kayaking is only recommended for advanced paddlers who probably already have their own gear, but if you're in need of equipment, Roanoke Mountain Adventures is open throughout the season and can help you rent everything you need.
The views are on full display when the leaves have fallen, which means winter is the prime time to layer up and take to a few great trails in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
Hay Rock overlooks Carvins Cove Natural Area and is part of the beautiful stretch of Appalachian Trail that makes its way through Virginia's Blue Ridge. Fun fact - Virginia is home to more miles of the A.T. (554 miles) than any other state!
Mill Mountain is the home of the Roanoke Star and includes miles of trails coursing up, down, and all around. Follow any one of them to see something you can’t see during full foliage seasons.
Read Mountain Trail (pictured above) is one of several on Read Mountain Preserve, and you’ll want to meander more than one to reach Buzzards Rock, the key destination on the mountain. From more than 2,100 feet you’ll look out over the Roanoke Valley. It’s quite a sight to behold.
6. Mountain Biking
Just when you think you know a place, the season changes and gives that place an entirely new appearance. At least, that’s our experience with some of our most acclaimed bike trails. Those of the Explore Park (9+ miles) yield views unseen in other seasons while those of Carvins Cove Natural Reserve (60+ miles) showcase parts of the reservoir you’ll be surprised to encounter. In fact, we think you’ll hop off and linger in a spot or two just to take it all in. If you're up for an epic challenge, head to North Mountain for a ride along Dragon's Back, featuring rocky terrain that's great for winter riding!
Respect the Trails - Please be mindful of winter weather and conditions that can do serious damage to our trails. If it's muddy outside or the ground is wet, it's best to stay off the trails. This Roanoke Outside blog post is a great resource on tips for winter mountain biking in the region.
Blue Ridge Parkway Bonus
Sometimes winter brings enough snow to close the Blue Ridge Parkway. While that may be frustrating for some, it’s just the news others wait for. Snow on the Parkway means cross-country skiing is officially in season.
Drive to a Parkway entry point and strap on the skis to head off on a snowy adventure not often found in other areas of the Commonwealth. In the winter, the Blue Ridge Parkway is “America’s Favorite Snow Trail,” and you heard it here first.
If you’re looking for even more winter adventures in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, check out our Top 5 Reasons for a Winter Visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We’ll be watching for your #BlueRidgeDay captures on Instagram, as the odds are slim to none that you will be able to keep these views to yourself.
NOTE - This post was updated in December 2019.