This Underrated Historic US City Is A Great Vacation Spot For Any Time Of Year

The states on the United States' east coast have some of the oldest cities in the country. While New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. all have iconic historical sites, there are smaller cities in these coastal states with plenty of history and things to do as well. Further inland from Virginia's large cities like Richmond and Norfolk is Roanoke. Do not let its seemingly landlocked location deter you. It is less than four hours away from Washington, D.C., and a little over four hours from the Atlantic Ocean. While this part of the state is famous for its red fall foliage, there are plenty of activities year-round, and with fewer crowds than the aforementioned eastern cities. 

A unique icon of Roanoke is the Mill Mountain Star, which dates back to 1949. This massive neon sign is almost 90 feet tall and is surrounded by the extensive Mill Mountain Park. Hiking trails in the park lead to the star or the M. Carl Andrews Overlook, offering sweeping views of the city below. Mill Mountain Park also contains a small zoo and a wildflower garden.

Roanoke shows off its history through multiple museums

As previously mentioned, Roanoke is a historic city, and its museums showcase this all over town. Across the train tracks from the Taubman Museum of Art are the O. Winston Link and Roanoke History Museums, both at the former location of the N&W Railway's passenger station. The O. Winston Link Museum shows the photographer's revered artwork, which captured Roanoke's time as a hub for the railroad and steam industries. The Roanoke History Museum houses a massive collection of artifacts showing the history of western Virginia's former occupants, including Native Americans. Other highlights include a letter from Thomas Jefferson and medical supplies used before and during the American Revolution.

Center in the Square is popular for its multiple attractions, including more fascinating museums. The Harrison Museum of African American Culture, Roanoke Pinball Museum, Kids Square, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia are all located within the same building. Center in the Square also has an 8,000-gallon aquarium with a living coral reef and 250 species of fish.

Hike to McAfee Knob just minutes outside or Roanoke

Roanoke is in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains and is close to the Appalachian Trail as well. In fact, McAfee Knob — a popular spot on the Appalachian Trail — is only around 14 miles from Center in the Square. An easy route on Catawba Valley Drive (or a more winding, but quaint route on Old Catawba Road) leads to the McAfee Knob trailhead. Hikers can choose to start here and follow the dedicated trail, or branch out onto the Appalachian Trail for some time before the two intersect again and lead to the McAfee Knob viewpoint. The hike to McAfee Knob is about four miles no matter which route you take.

While there is a parking lot at the McAfee Knob trailhead, spaces are limited. To avoid a packed lot, try the shuttle which runs every 30 minutes. The shuttle leaves from another parking lot off Interstate 81 Exit 140 and drops passengers off at the trailhead. However, the shuttle only runs on weekends and tickets must be purchased through the Visit Roanoke website.