Adventure Us: Roanoke River Trail and Overlook

In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt was president, there were 45 states in the Union, and the Panama Canal was under construction. Meanwhile, in the booming town of Roanoke, the population had surpassed 20,000, the downtown streets had just been paved with brick, and east of town, the Niagara Dam had just been constructed on the Roanoke River. Today, the Roanoke River Trail and overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway provides a stunning view of the dam and river gorge to passing travellers. 

The Niagara Dam lies southeast of Vinton, where the Roanoke River cuts through a 900 foot gorge as it winds through the Blue Ridge mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the gorge on a high bridge at mile marker 115, and just south of the bridge lies the parking area for the overlook and trail. The Roanoke River Trail is a short 0.25 mile loop with connecting paths to a high viewpoint and to an access point on the river below, While the distances are very short, the descent is steep! The first thing you see on the path is a spectacular view of the river plunging over the Niagara Dam, framed by the surrounding mountains. Continue along the loop trail under the bridge for an interesting nature walk, with signs pointing out various notable flora. A path leads to a high lookout over the river gorge, which would be especially good in winter when there are no leaves to block the view. Finally and best of all, follow the sign for the Fisherman’s Trail down to the river’s edge, where you can (carefully) climb the boulders and enjoy the view of the river rapids (and fish, too, if the name is any clue). From here you stand directly across the river from the historic Niagara Power Plant, constructed at the same time as the dam. When it was built over a century ago, the dam and power plant supplied some of the first electricity to Roanoke, primarily for the use of the Roanoke streetcar transit system. Its construction was celebrated as a historic moment for the city’s journey into the modern era. Today, as the sign indicates, the Niagara Power Plant has the honor of being the smallest – and no doubt one of the oldest – hydroelectric power plants in the AEP system, but it is still operational. 

The Roanoke River gorge also holds adventure for those into kayaking or canoeing. The Roanoke River Overlook is an access point on the Roanoke River Blueway, and the Class II rapids downstream of the dam – called “Little Niagara” – are a popular challenge.

If you’re traveling down the Blue Ridge Parkway, stop at the Roanoke River Overlook trail to enjoy a spectacular view and a historic Roanoke landmark!

Name: Roanoke River Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway mile marker 115

Time from Roanoke: under 30 minutes

Activity Options: Trails, views, history, canoeing, fishing

Nearby Food: Many Roanoke options within 15 minutes 

Nearby Attractions: Mill Mountain Star and Zoo, Explore Park

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Cristy Carr

Cristy and her family keep busy writing, tutoring, homeschooling, homesteading, and adventuring in the beautiful Appalachian mountains.
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