Adventure Us: Explore Park
Living in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a privilege we try not to take lightly, and we love to find new ways and new places to enjoy this beautiful area. But we also have our old favorite haunts, and one of those is Explore Park, located just southeast of Roanoke along the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 115. It was one of the first adventures we went on back when we were new to the Roanoke area and packing our baby around in a backpack carrier, and it’s a place we’ve returned to again and again even as our children have gotten older.
Explore Park encompasses a huge and diverse area, clocking in at over 1,100 acres. It spans two counties, Roanoke and Bedford, and contains miles of river frontage on the Roanoke River, acres of forest, and some gently rolling meadows and clearings. It also features a visitors center, a brewery, several historic villages, an adventure park, several campgrounds, and multiple hiking trails.
Begin at the visitor’s center by checking the trail map posted in the parking lot. Any of the trails are nice, but our favorite walk is to loop past the “Old Fort” and then up through the “Riverside Village” area. Doing so takes you right along the river for a few hundred yards, offering a great opportunity to skip some rocks or do some wading. We almost always see wildlife: deer, frogs, and salamanders or skinks.
The hand-hewn log fort and village buildings, in addition to the old grist mill, are fascinating glimpses into what life might have been like for the early European settlers to our region. We have found that they provide excellent fodder for the imagination and a good springboard for an interesting history lesson. And don’t miss the two overlooks located on the drive out of the park back toward the Blue Ridge Parkway; they are stupendous.
Explore Park can be accessed at 56 Roanoke River Parkway Rd or 3900 Rutrough Rd. Hiking is available any day of the week, but if you’d like to try the food at Brugh Tavern or the adventure park Treetop Quest, be sure to come on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Also note that the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed immediately south of Explore Park, so you need to find an alternate route to access it if you usually come from the Boones Mill or Mill Mountain direction.
Name: Explore Park, 56 Roanoke River Parkway Rd or 3900 Rutrough Rd
Time from Roanoke: 10-25 minutes
Activity Options: Trails, history, camping, fishing. wading, picnicking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, beautiful views, adventure park, restaurants, visitors center
Nearby Food: Brugh Tavern/Twin Creeks Brewpub (on-site)
Nearby Attractions: Blue Ridge Parkway, Don’s Cab-Inns Campground