Visiting the Mill Mountain Star

IMG_9030The Mill Mountain star is probably the first thing that will come up if you are new to the Roanoke area/visiting and searching for something to do.

Going up to the star was one of the first things I did when I moved here. It’s also become the place I bring all my out of town guests. Many people say they are surprised the star is so big because it looks so small from far away. If you’ve never visited the star, it’s definitely worth the trip.

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View of the mountains from Mill Mountain Star.

It takes no time at all to drive up to it and the views are stunning. There is a sign that helps you identify which mountains you are seeing and you can see the whole city from that single spot. I recommend checking out the star both during the day and at night. Both experiences are stunning and entirely different. During the day you can see the panoramic view of the mountains, but at night the twinkling lights of the city down below are just breathtaking.

Roanoke Tourism leaders say the star is the areas “must-see spot when visiting the region”.

Here is some history from the Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge website:

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Stunning views at night from the Mill Mountain Star.

“The Roanoke Star was constructed in 1949 and was meant to serve as a seasonal Christmas decoration for the holiday shopping season. The star was illuminated for the first time on November 23, 1949. Through its 65 years, the Roanoke Star has become synonymous with the region and is still one of the most talked about and recognizable icons of Virginia.”

If the weather is nice, plan to spend some time up there. There are two outlook spots that are connected with a trail and a playground for the kids and a bathroom. The Mill Mountain Zoo is within walking distance also at the top of the mountain with stunning views. You can make a whole day of it!

If you get the chance, plug this address into your GPS and check out the star: 2198 Mill Mountain Spur Roanoke, VA 24014

 

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Waterfall hike: Roaring Run Falls is a great Autumn hike

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If you ever want to go on a waterfall hike but don’t feel like working too hard to get there, then Roaring Run Falls hike in Eagle Rock, Virginia is your answer. It is just a 40-mile drive from Roanoke. It’s a beautiful drive through Botetourt County. No need to worry about a parking fee, parking is free! It’s pretty easy to find via GPS and signs will guide you toward the parking lot. When you first arrive, you’ll be greeted by a sign and a set of restrooms (always good to know if there are restrooms!)

IMG_6003As far as the hike goes, you will be faced with a sign that offers three options:

  • You can go left toward Iron Ore Junction Hoop Trail (3 miles each way)
  • Straight to the streamside trail to the falls (.6 miles each way)
  • Right to see the Roaring Run Furnace

IMG_6120If you are taking it easy, I would recommend you go straight toward the Roaring Run trails. We went on this hike this past weekend and the autumn colors were still pretty stunning. The walk is along the Roaring Run stream is pretty easy. Before you know it you are at a small waterfall, where in the summer you’ll see families sliding down the rocks in their bathing suits. Then, if you climb some stairs you turn a corner and see the main attraction: Roaring Run Falls. The stream and the falls are beautifully framed by the fall foliage.

Before you leave be sure to check out the Roaring Run Furnace and read about the historical significance of it.

Want to go?

Here is the address to plug into your GPS: 450 Roaring Run Rd, Eagle Rock, VA 24085

Check out our slideshow of our trip:

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Waterfall Hike: Stiles Falls is an easy hike to an amazing view

IMG_5720There is something about hiking to a waterfall that is so satisfying. Hiking is therapeutic in itself, but when the end reward is that you get to hang out next to a waterfall, that is the ultimate relaxing way to disconnect from our busy lives.

Since moving to Roanoke, I’ve made it my mission to complete all of the waterfall hikes in the area. So far I’ve visited Roaring Run, Cascades, and Crab Tree Falls (blog posts coming soon on those), but wanted to try out a new one. So I turned to the all-powerful Google to find my next waterfall adventure, that’s how I found Stiles Falls.

Stiles Falls is a 3-mile round trip hike in Shawsville, Virginia in Montgomery County about 50 minutes from Roanoke. It’s located on private property where Camp Alta Mons is located, so if camps are in session the hike is closed to the public. Luckily for me, in mid-October, camps aren’t a thing, so I was in the clear. Parking is free and when I first pulled up I was greeted by a very nice man who directed me where to park and explained the map and pointed out where the restrooms are located.

IMG_5677.JPGThe first half mile of the hike is through the camp, which felt uneventful. But right before the official trail starts I came to a clearing where the landscape opened up and revealed a beautiful picturesque view of the mountains along the horizon with dots of color as the fall foliage peeked in through the green leaves. It looked like a picture that should be on the cover of a calendar.

You don’t have to guess when you are about to get on the trail that will lead you to the waterfall because a sign greets you immediately with information about the trail. It informs you that the trail markings will be white, the trail crosses the creek 3 times, the trail ends with a rock scramble, and it warns to not climb above the trails.

IMG_5672Also included on the sign is a little information about how the falls were named. Apparently, Randy Stiles was a Confederate war soldier who was at a picnic at the falls and decided to show off a new skill of swinging from ship riggings by swinging on tree limbs and vines when … well, he fell to his death… and that is how the name Stiles Falls came to be. Kind of depressing, I know. But it definitely was a sobering moment of realization to be careful and not mess with nature to the point of being reckless.

Crossing over the creek was not difficult and there were obvious spots where to step, so I never got my feet wet once. The hike follows the trickling creek that spills over stacks of rocks, scenes almost begging you to stop and take pictures.

IMG_5821Toward the very end of the hike near the falls, it gets pretty steep. The rock scramble described on the sign is a very real thing,  but not that difficult to navigate. The view of the waterfall did not disappoint. At a 40 foot drop, the waterfall is smaller than other waterfalls you can hike to in southwest Virginia, but it was equally as beautiful. The pool below the waterfall was a swirling foamy aggregation of autumn leaves, a truly beautiful sight.

IMG_5717I had the whole area to myself and after I took all of the pictures I wanted to, I was able to just sit on one of the massive rocks and just enjoy the sights and sounds of the peaceful waterfall on a cool crisp afternoon.

The hike back was all downhill and went by fast.

If you are looking for an easy hike to a beautiful waterfall, I would highly recommend Stiles Falls.

You can even bring your dog, if it’s on a leash of course.

If you want to go here are some details:

Location: 2842 Crockett Springs Road, Shawsville, VA 24162
Phone: 540-268-2409, Facebook
Camp Days: Winter Camp is December 20-22, 2017. Stiles Falls will be closed from 2 PM December 20 until 3 PM December 22.

Click here for more information.

Check out my slideshow of pictures:

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Check out the video of my experience:

Virginia’s oldest covered bridge: Majestic on the outside, horrifying on the inside

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Humpback Bridge near Covington, Va

My first glimpse of the oldest covered bridge in Virginia did not disappoint. Framed by fall foliage, the bridge looks like something you’d see on a postcard. If you want that to be your lasting impression of this historic site, then I suggest you view it from a distance, because if you get too close you’ll be stunned at what you see on the inside of the covered bridge.

It’s always been a bucket list item of mine to see a covered bridge in person. It may sound strange and I can’t explain why, but it’s always been something I wanted to do.

IMG_5505.JPGI had heard there is a covered bridge in Allegheny County (just west of Covington, Virginia) about an hour and 15 minutes north of Roanoke. After a quick google search, I learned the bridge is called Humpback Bridge. It is Virginia’s oldest covered bridge, built in 1857.

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), it is the fourth bridge in the same spot. The three prior bridges, built in 1820 – then 1837 – and 1842, either washed away by a flood or just collapsed.

They must have done something right when building the bridge that still stands to this day more than 160 years after it was built.

“The 100-foot-long, single-span structure is four feet higher at its center than it is at either end, thus the name, “Humpback”. Traffic across the bridge ceased in 1929 when it was replaced with a “modern” steel truss bridge.” -VDOT

In the 1950’s, the bridge got some love and was fixed up and reopened as a place for tourists and locals to visit. Only 4 years ago, in 2013, VDOT put some money into the bridge to restore it using funds from the National Historic Covered Bridge Program.

IMG_5590.JPGOne of the highlights of the bridge is the giant letters spelling out “LOVE”. Sure you see the LOVEwork structures across Virginia as a social media campaign by the Virginia Tourism Cooperation (VTC) to “share the message that love is at the heart of every Virginia vacation”, but this one is something special and incredibly unique.

According to the VTC, each of the materials chosen for the sign has special significance to the area.

“The “L” was created with historic bricks from the area. The “O” is a gear from one of the old paper machines at MWV, representing the history of manufacturing in the area. The “V” is the natural feature created by a tree in the creek bank. The “E” was created with railroad ties representing the history of the railroad in our community.” -VTC

Naturally, after taking a lot of pictures of the LOVE sign and bridge from afar, I wanted to go take a walk through the bridge. Before my eyes even had a chance to adjust from the light of the Autumn day to the darkness cast by the covered bridge, my impression of the beautiful historic bridge completely changed. It’s like walking out of a dream come true into a nightmare.

Why? Nearly every inch of the inside of the bridge is covered in graffiti and all kinds of it too. There are names etched into the wood, neon spray paint on the walls, sharpie and pen marks everywhere you look. The handwriting scrawled on the bridge isn’t just names, there are also very vulgar and crass words from ceiling to floor. Even the wooden fence leading to the bridge on the other side was not safe from the vandalism. The inside of the bridge is so marked up, I didn’t feel safe anymore visiting this landmark. Instead of feeling like I was looking at a treasured piece of history, I more-so felt like I was standing in a long forgotten abandoned building.

IMG_5571The bridge is listed on Virginia’s Tourism site as family friendly but it sure as heck didn’t feel like a place I would recommend to families, the way it looks it seems more like a place where drug deals happen.

The bridge is also described as “lovingly preserved” but there is nothing “lovingly preserved” about the inside of that bridge.

It really is a shame that officials have allowed this to happen. Apparently, this issue is not a new one, in 2014, the Roanoke Times wrote an article about the vandalism. In the article, local officials were tossing around ideas to deter the vandals. One idea was to set up a webcam that streams live just like at Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Star. But three years later, it is apparent nothing has been done.

I can’t believe there isn’t more outrage about the condition of the inside of the bridge. The lack of action to protect the bridge makes me believe that preserving the historic structure is not a priority for local and state leaders, which is incredibly disappointing.

All in all, if you want to visit this bridge view it from the parking lot, take pictures with the LOVE sign, and don’t go anywhere near the nasty porta-potty (like the bridge, it’s also severely neglected and not maintained).

Check out a slideshow from my visit:

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