Tuesday, July 01, 1997
Mill Mountain to Roanoke Mountain
Looming above downtown Roanoke is Mill Mountain, the city's best known landmark. A few miles farther, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, is Roanoke Mountain, which is about 300 feet higher than Mill Mountain. You can ride to the top of both of these and back without doing a tremendous amount of backtracking. It's probably the most breath-taking ride you can take close to the city.
The distance is about 18 miles. On 10-point scale of difficulty, this ride is a 9. Plan on riding for three hours, including rest breaks and time to take in the awesome views. Don't even consider it if you're not in good shape. You will climb two mountains. For both, you need low gears. A mountain bike or a road touring bike with a triple chain ring in the front are recommended. Sunglasses or other eye gear is a must. Bring two water bottles, because you'll get thirsty.
The ride starts and ends in the large parking lot in the city of Roanoke's Wasena Park, which is just off the Wasena Bridge.
Park near the low-water bridge and follow the river road across the bridge and into Smith Park. Keep past a second low water bridge. The river road ends on Wiley Drive proper. Go left, ride to Roanoke Memorial Hospital and turn left on Hamilton Terrace.
Make the next left on Piedmont, which follows the Roanoke River. Piedmont will lead you back to Hamilton Terrace. Go left for a short jog to Walnut Avenue. Go right on Walnut and up the hill for three blocks, where you make a right on Sylvan. This road turns into Prospect Road, the old road up Mill Mountain. It's virtually unused by cars and is blocked to vehicular traffic about half way up.
Head down the mountain on the other side. A half mile down is the intersection with Fishburn Parkway. Take a right and follow this road until it hits the Blue Ridge Parkway. Go left. About 100 yards up on the right is a sign that says "Roanoke Mountain, 4-mile loop." Follow that road and you'll wind two miles up to the top of Roanoke Mountain.
This road, which is one way, is one of the steepest around here. Take it slow. It's got hairpin turns that will run you off the road if you're going too fast. When you get out to the parkway, take a left. You'll head south for about a half mile. Take a right on Fishburn Parkway toward Mill Mountain. Stay on Fishburn, however, when you reach the spur road up to the mountain top. The downhill on Fishburn leads onto Walnut Ave. From there, you'll be able to back track to Wasena Park.
There's a convenience store at the corner of Hamilton Terrace and Walnut Ave. There's also water, a soft drink machine and a telephone on top of Mill Mountain. There's a zoo up there (adults and children pay admission) where they have a snack bar.
Don't forget to check out the tremendous view from the Mill Mountain Star. You can also get water at a campground along Fishburn Parkway on your way to Roanoke Mountain.
There's no water on Roanoke Mountain. But there are two gorgeous overlooks. The first has a diorama that identifies many of the mountains you're viewing, assuming the day is clear. The second is a cliff that is one of only two approved hang-gliding takeoff points on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The first leg of the descent down Roanoke Mountain is really steep. There's also a 180 degree turn at the end, so take it easy. At the turn there's a wild blackberry patch. They're yummy around mid-July.