Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our series, The 4-Hour Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.
Fall weekends aren’t meant to be spent inside, especially considering that Washingtonians live just a short drive from the Blue Ridge Parkway — otherwise known as America’s favorite drive. It’s a winding, relaxing ride that reveals a patchwork of colorful trees that blanket the rugged mountains, rolling hills and pastoral landscapes of Virginia and North Carolina.
And just a few hours down the road, you’ll find the historic city of Roanoke nestled just off the parkway, at the southern tip of the Shenandoah Valley. It’s the perfect place to enjoy one of the last weekends of acceptably warm weather, so don’t hesitate to pack the car up for a long weekend spent leaf peeping, brewery hopping and museum-going.
While there are plenty of charming bed and breakfasts options in Roanoke, we prefer the grandeur of the Hotel Roanoke, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. A Tudor-style hotel built way back in 1882, it’s even on the National Register of Historic Places. Electing to stay in an executive room will also get you access to the Executive Lounge, complimentary breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres.
Another option, especially if you’re traveling with a large group, is to stay at an Airbnb in the area. We’re particularly digging this entire home for rent in Downtown Roanoke with a 5-star rating — it comes complete with three bedrooms (each with en-suite bathrooms), heated floors, and a large front and back porch for entertaining.
Many of the best dining options in Roanoke play to the strengths of the area’s seasonal produce, like the popular Local Roots, offering contemporary American fare with an emphasis on farm-to-table produce and seafood (oysters on the half shell, scallops). For a Southern approach to local sourcing, check out Chef Aaron Deal’s River and Rail, where the menu changes daily and many items are made from scratch in house, such as house-cured meats, house-made condiments and pickled vegetables.
Make sure to stop by Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers, Downtown Roanoke’s first-ever craft brewery. The family-friendly brewery features six flagship beers that are always available, but also be on the lookout for a rotating selection of seasonals as well as events like live band performances and charity fundraisers. Other breweries in the area include the dog-friendly A Few Old Goats, a tasting room by Oregon-based Deschutes, and Big Lick, which features a spacious outdoor patio.
There are more than 600 miles of hiking trails in the Roanoke Valley, so whether you’re an experienced mountaineer or bringing the kids along, you won’t be lacking for the perfect path. Hiking to the top of McAfee will provide you with stunning views — they’re among the most photographed on the Appalachian Trail — taken from the peak’s signature rock ledge.
The Mill Mountain Star Trail will lead you to much different views of both the city and surrounding Roanoke Valley. The summit features the iconic Roanoke Star that lights up the hilltop and picnic areas in case you want to stop for lunch. Those looking for something a little different can check out Dixie Caverns, a nearby underground cave system that’s available for tours year-round.
Another quirky favorite in the area is the Virginia Museum of Transportation, perfect for tapping back into your childhood love of Thomas the Tank Engine. Located in downtown Roanoke’s century-old freight station, you can climb aboard decades-old steam locomotives and check out their extensive collection of steam, diesel and electric locomotives and other types of rail cars.
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