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Destination Overview

The Roanoke Valley in Virginia's Blue Ridge allows you the opportunity to experience all four spectacular seasons in the beautiful mountains of Virginia.

The region is recognized for its railroad heritage, numerous festivals, world-class outdoor adventures, and historic markets with nearby shopping, including hand-made crafts and Virginia specialty items. You'll also discover Southern hospitality at our restaurants, shops and attractions.

Points of Interest

  • Nestled in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Milepost 120.
  • Railroad History/Virginia Museum of Transportation — Virginia's Blue Ridge boasts its railroad heritage at the remodeled historic Norfolk & Western freight station housing the Virginia Museum of Transportation. The museum is home to the largest collection of diesel and steam locomotives in the United States, including the Class J No. 611 and 1218 steam engines, with over 50 pieces of rolling stock in the museum yard.
  • O. Winston Link Museum — Through his stunningly artistic, and often surreal, photography and audio recordings, the vision of internationally acclaimed photographer O. Winston Link comes to life! Discover the rich culture and heritage that surrounded America’s major steam railroad, the Norfolk & Western Railway.
  • Historic Roanoke City Market in Downtown Roanoke — The market is the oldest such market in continuous use in Virginia. In 1882, licenses were issued to 25 hucksters around the same time the city was chartered. Today, the Historic Roanoke City Market includes unique shopping, produce, art galleries, country stores, restaurants and Center in the Square.
  • Center in the Square — Housing the Science Museum of Western Virginia, History Museum of Western Virginia, Mill Mountain Theatre, Roanoke Pinball Museum and Harrison Museum of African American Culture, Center in the Square is a family-fun and educational destination.  Make sure to see the new aquariums on the floor, including the largest living reef tank in the Mid-Atlantic, and the new green rooftop featuring breathtaking views of the valley, green initiative items such as rain water collection, and a view into the Science Museum's butterfly enclosure from above.
  • Taubman Museum of Art — Features significant selections of American art, modern and contemporary art, design and decorative arts, folk and visionary art, and works on paper. The museum also features a changing array of both regional and national exhibitions.
  • Attractions — Additional attractions include Mill Mountain Zoo, Dixie Caverns and more. Regional sightseeing includes Smith Mountain Lake and the National D-Day Memorial.
  • Outdoor Recreation — A vast array of outdoor recreation is available. Choose from hiking, biking, fishing, golfing, camping and more. The Appalachian Trail winds its way through the region as part of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.
  • The Roanoke Valley is the largest metropolitan area in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains with major road access via Interstate 81 and a regional airport with over 40 daily flights through the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.
  • Accommodations — Overnight in one of our 5,000 available guest rooms, from the historic to the modern.
Eastern US road map

Location

Located within a day's drive of half the nation's population, the Roanoke Valley in Virginia's Blue Ridge is situated on Interstate 81 in the heart of Virginia's mountains.  Roanoke is approximately 251 miles south of Washington, DC, and 216 miles west of Colonial Williamsburg. Learn more about where Virginia's Blue Ridge is located.

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History

European settlers first discovered the Roanoke Valley over three centuries ago. However, the history of the region stretches back thousands of years to geological events that created this vast expanse of ridges and valleys and left alternating limestone and salt deposits in an area that would later come to be known as "Big Lick."

Animal herds came first, mostly bison, elk and deer, and then Native American hunters, particularly the Totera tribesmen.

The earliest written evidence of the Roanoke Valley dates from 1671, but local historians date the first settlements to 1740, when Mark Evans and Tasker Tosh claimed the land.

Virginia's Blue Ridge, like most of the early frontier, was not for the faint-hearted. The salt marshes that once made the valley a fertile hunting ground were also the cause of countless deaths.

Militias were a necessity against frequent Native American and British raids. General Andrew Lewis, who distinguished himself in the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774, purchased land in then-Botetourt County (later formed into Roanoke County) that eventually encompassed the present limits of the City of Salem.

The City of Roanoke had less auspicious beginnings, although it soon became the busiest commercial center west of Richmond. Once a rough, tawdry outpost along the Wilderness and Great Roads, it was never more than a bumble collection of hamlets, including Gainesborough and Big Lick, until Frederick J. Kimball brought the railroad to town in 1881.

The 19th century was the Age of the Iron Horse. Several railroad companies, including the Virginia & Tennessee, the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio and the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, were established in this area around the time of the Civil War, but they soon went under.

Several Philadelphia financiers, led by Kimball, realized there was money to be made with the discovery of bituminous coal in West Virginia.

When some enterprising locals got wind of the plan, it took a Paul Revere-esque midnight ride to Lexington with a satchel containing $10,000 to convince the railroad executives to establish the junction in Roanoke.

The grateful locals almost renamed Big Lick after Kimball, President of the newly formed Norfolk & Western Railway, but he instead urged them to rename their city in honor of the river that runs through the valley (the name comes from a Native American word, "rawrenock," which refers to white shell beads used to trade.) Thus, Roanoke was born.

As Roanoke was gradually evolving into a bustling center for transportation and commerce, Salem was developing its own unique character. Designated the seat of Roanoke County when it was carved from Botetourt County in 1838, Salem was an important stopping point for pioneers and traders looking to make their fortune along the western frontier.

Even today, Salem, which became an independent city in 1968, maintains an identity completely separate from Roanoke. 

When Norfolk & Western merged with Southern Railway, becoming Norfolk Southern, and moved its headquarters elsewhere, the economic future of the Roanoke Valley was left in doubt. Over the past three decades, however, the region has emerged as a center for healthcare, banking, shopping and tourism.

With true pioneer spirit, the valley flourished from nothing more than a salt marsh to become the heart of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Roanoke Star

Indians wandering between the parallel ridges of the Allegheny Mountains named their great valley, Shenandoah, "daughter of the stars." Here, nestled in this beautiful valley, is the progressive-spirited "Star City of the South" - Roanoke.

And, visible from just about every part of this city is the splendidly illuminated, 100-foot-tall Roanoke Star. Below are some facts of interest about our most notable landmark.

  • Erected in 1949
  • Height of structure: 100 ft
  • Height of Star: 88.5 ft
  • Weight of steel structure: 60,000 lbs
  • Weight of Star: 10,000 lbs
  • Weight of concrete base: 500,000 lbs
  • Depth of base: 6.5 ft
  • Visibility from air: 60 miles
  • Length of neon tubing: 2,000 ft
  • Current consumption: 17,500 watts
  • Height above sea level: 1,045 ft

The Star is illuminated white every night. It's also illuminated different colors, such as red, white, and blue, for certain holidays and special occasions.

Check out the view from the Roanoke Star with our webcam.

Roanoke Valley Spotlight

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