by Scot Bellavia
Roanoke’s mountains aren’t the tallest in the world. In fact, only two of Virginia’s mountains summit above 5000 feet. Humidity is pretty pervasive here too. However, I think the Blue Ridge Mountains are the best in the world. I may be biased because this is my hometown but I have always believed this region is naturally perfect.
We have four seasons (winter means a few big snow days and that’s it). In the spring and summer, when the leaves are full, the mountains give off a blue tint when you look at them from a certain distance. In the fall, we have every leaf color you can imagine boasting itself on our mountains. These mountains define Roanoke and give us the lifestyle many Roanokers live. Our city, county, and surrounding towns’ parks and recreation departments do some fine work getting people to live more outside. We have hundreds of miles of trails and greenway road along the Roanoke River. There are more than 20 miles of singletrack, dirt trials just within the city limits used by runner, hikers, and bikers. There is green space and a public park in every section of town. These total doesn’t even include Carvin’s Cove, a 12,700 acre reservoir with about 60 miles of trails. It is nationally known for mountain biking and offers huge climbs, remote-feel singletrack, water, wildlife, and connection to the Appalachian Trail.
Did I mention we have a section of the Appalachian Trail? Within Roanoke County and neighboring Botetourt, there is a 34 mile loop that people run and hike connecting three favorite hikes and the AT’s most photographed overlook. I like to differentiate AT miles are longer than other trails. Almost always, the AT has more technical, climbing, and sometimes scrambling in each of its miles so to run the AT is a workout like no other. We are fortunate to have this internationally known trail so close to us. I would be remiss to omit the Blue Ridge Parkway from our natural resources. It is a 469 mile roadway between Shenandoah National Park and the Smoky Mountains mostly covered by cars. People run it sometimes and many bike it. This is the location where so much of the region’s most iconic pictures are taken; for our myriad of fall colors, wide blue valleys, and nice trails and wildlife along the way.
Finally, there are national forests and state parks nearby that allow trail runners to get their fill of remote, almost wilderness, nature. All these natural amenities contribute to Roanoke’s running community. We have a vibrant trail running group and many residents are avid volunteers to keep the trails beautiful and accessible. While we do not have mountains that reach higher than the tree line, you can easily get your fill of that same wilderness and elevation training here in Roanoke.