Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Roanoke, VA

  • Published 2022/11/30

Roanoke in Roanoke County, Virginia, is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia.

The city is known for the Roanoke Star, a neon sign seen from the top of Mill Mountain that looks out over the city.

The city is the eighth most populous in Virginia, with a population of 100,011 as of the 2020 census.

The Taubman Museum of Art is located in the heart of downtown and features the works of American masters like Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent.

It’s known for its magnificent mountain views and various parks.

It won’t cost you a lot to enjoy the nearby park’s walking paths, barbecue pits, and open grassy spaces.

Here are the 15 free things to do in Roanoke, Virginia:

Go Birdwatching at Mill Mountain Park

Cliff views from Mill Mountain Park

Jon Bilous /

Mill Mountain Park is one of the most renowned parks in the area.

Mill Mountain and the Recreational Exploration Center are two of the most well-known attractions in the park.

The park is next to the Blue Ridge Parkway, making it easy to get to by car or on foot.

Tourists and locals alike frequent this landmark.

In addition, there are picnic sites, hiking routes, and two overlooks that gaze out over Roanoke for miles.

Wildflowers along Mill Mountain Park's trail

Andriy Blokhin /

Mill Mountain has many excellent multi-use paths for various outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, hiking, and running.

The park spans 568 acres and passes through different tree species, including oak, pine, maple, and more.

Low bush blueberry and mountain laurel grow beneath the overhanging branches, with a moss and fern ground cover.

Numerous migrating birds, such as the bay-breasted warbler, stop by this area every spring and fall.

Occasionally, people reserve the regional park for private events like weddings and celebrations.

Park visitors are welcome to visit the park on Jb Fishburn Parkway SouthEast.

People at Mill Mountain Park's overlook

The Old Major /

Play Some Hoops at Wasena Park

Wasena Park City Park, adjacent to the Roanoke River Greenway, is a well-known park in the Roanoke Valley.

There is something for everyone to do at this park, thanks to its many sports courts, playground equipment, and open spaces.

The Roanoke Parks & Recreation Department manages the park.

It is conveniently located near the Roanoke Valley Greenway.

Wasena Park features outdoor tennis courts, a baseball diamond, a basketball court, and a skate park.

Kids will enjoy the playground and gain some much-needed exercise.

It has a scoreboard, lights, and spectator seating, making it ideal for spirited athletic contests.

Get your adrenaline pumping by visiting the park at Winchester Avenue SouthWest.

Visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge and Statue

Husband and wife Jeffery and Anna Varilla designed the seven-foot-tall bronze statue of Martin Luther King Jr., which is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge and Statue.

Originally called the Henry Street Bridge, it was renamed to honor Dr. King in 2008.

It was built in 1891; however, in the 1990s, it was raised to make room for double-stacked container trains.

The original bridge has been converted into a pedestrian walkway.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge and Statue is rich with symbolism and historical significance since it divided Downtown Roanoke and the Gainesboro area.

The bridge and statue are strong symbols of the region’s rich African American ancestry and history.

The bridge and statue now incorporate quotes from Dr. King.

In addition, speakers are embedded into the memorial benches, so visitors can listen to MLK Jr.’s speeches.

Pay tribute to a legendary American at M.L.K. Jr. Bridge.

Visit the Taubman Museum of Art

Close details of Taubman Museum of Art's building

O.C Ritz /

The Taubman Museum of Art is located in the heart of downtown.

It is a cultural Mecca and features 11 galleries with 15 to 20 exhibitions per year.

Artists such as John Singer Sargent, Thomas Cowperthwaite Eakin, Petah Coyne, Purvis Young, and John Cage are featured in the museum’s permanent collection.

Exterior of Taubman Museum of Art

Warfieldian, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum, established in 1951 as the Roanoke Fine Arts Center, is currently housed in a historic building designed by famed architect Randall Stout.

The museum has something for everyone, including Art Venture, a hands-on creativity center designed especially for children.

After visiting the galleries, families can collaborate on art projects and create their own masterpieces.

Visit the museum at Salem Avenue South East and channel your inner Picasso.

The museum welcomes visitors and provides free general admission.

Go Window Shopping at Black Dog Salvage Marketplace

Black Dog Salvage Marketplace is a well-known warehouse with ample open space that sells a wide range of antiques and refinished furniture.

It is a prominent warehouse known for its large selection of antiques and refurbished furniture.

In addition, pieces of commercial salvage and other one-of-a-kind objects fill this 40,000-square-foot warehouse.

After the 2012 launch of Salvage Dawgs on DIY Network, the company received a lot of attention.

The company’s founders, Mike Whiteside and Robert Kulp, launched their venture in 1999.

The business has grown and evolved over the years to become Southwest Virginia’s go-to salvage provider.

It has thousands of one-of-a-kind architectural details, including stained glass, wrought iron railings, fireplace mantels, and more.

You don’t have to spend anything if you’re not ready to purchase.

Instead, you can take time and enjoy looking at the unique items on display.

Explore the Roanoke City Market

Exterior of the Roanoke City Market

Jon Bilous /

A trip to Roanoke wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Roanoke City Market.

The Historic Roanoke City Market is Virginia’s oldest continuously operating market.

This marketplace is open to the public throughout the year and features a wide variety of exciting activities, delicious food, and unique shops.

There is a food court and excellent retail options in the Historic Market building.

All of their products come directly from local farmers after being thoroughly examined to ensure they are safe for consumption.

History marker of the Roanoke City Market

The Old Major /

During the growing season, the city market is a veritable paradise of fresh produce.

Everything you could ever want can be found in Market District, from one-of-a-kind shops and boutiques to delicious restaurants, fascinating museums, and antique stores.

But even if you don’t plan on making any purchases, a stroll through the city market will allow you to experience the sites and sounds of the buzzing marketplace.

The Roanoke City Market is located at Market Street.

View of the Roanoke City Market at night

Ben Schumin, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stroll around Read Mountain Preserve

If you’re looking for a quiet place to relax, Read Mountain is one of the best in the county.

Located on the city’s northern borders, it’s a fantastic spot for a hike and a great introduction to Roanoke’s natural beauty.

It is protected by conservation easements held by the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.

This 243-acre county park features four trails.

The park’s major attraction is a two-mile trail to Read Mountain’s summit, Buzzards Rock.

Most of the territory is forested, preserving a natural environment for future generations.

The park has a five-mile trail system with intermediate to strenuous difficulty ratings.

One of the most beautiful panoramas of the Roanoke Valley may be seen from the summit.

Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy their visit to the park.

The lush forest and beautiful vistas at this preserve will reinvigorate your love of the great outdoors.

Have a Picnic at Garden City Park

Garden City Park is located in the heart of Roanoke City and is perfect for picnics, ball games, and other outdoor activities.

It is conveniently situated between residential areas and Garden City Elementary School.

The park has a brand-new playground, a soccer field, a baseball diamond, and bleachers.

It’s a fantastic destination for families looking to experience excitement and fun.

There are two xylophones and a bongo drum on this park’s playground, perfect for your young aspiring musician.

A picnic shelter and facilities are also available in the park.

You can visit Garden City Park at Hillview Avenue South East.

Watch the Fishes at Center in the Square

Exterior of Center In The Square

Sean Pavone /

Conveniently situated in the center of Roanoke, Virginia, the Center in the Square features a variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

In addition, it provides free rentable space in five buildings to 12 different non-profit organizations, making it a magnet for regional artists and an inclusive celebration of local culture.

One of the most eye-catching features is the Living-Coral Reef Aquarium which serves as the centerpiece of the atrium.

A total of 150 stony and soft-living corals provide shelter for hundreds of saltwater fish in the 8,000-gallon aquarium.

As a bonus, the building has several freshwater aquariums, one of which features predatory species native to the Amazon River.

Its rooftop provides sweeping views of the city and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In addition, there is a koi pond filled with vibrantly colored fish.

The aquarium exhibits are all free and open to the public.

Visit the Center in the Square at Market Square.

Check Out The Artworks at Elmwood Park

Ideally situated in the center of Roanoke’s bustling downtown, Elmwood Park is a popular destination for residents and visitors alike.

It’s home to more than 35,000 trees and plants.

There are two main entrances to the park, one bordered with magnolia trees and illuminated with brilliant fountains and the other adorned with towering works of art.

In addition, Elmwood Park has a magnolia tree walkway, an outdoor amphitheater, a gorgeous fountain, and an art walk.

The Elmwood Park amphitheater has sloping grass seating terraces that can accommodate up to 4,000 people.

Furthermore, the park serves as an example of environmentally responsible practices.

The park’s irrigation system uses a 15,000-gallon cistern to store rainwater for later use to sustainably water the park’s flora.

Parking for 3,800 cars is available within a five-minute walk of the park’s central location, making it easily accessible.

The park is located at Williamson Road Southeast.

Take a Stroll at Explore Park

The grounds of Explore Park

Jon Marc Lyttle /

Explore Park in Roanoke County is along the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 115.

The park features hundreds of acres of unspoiled forest, and gentle slopes make up Explore Park.

Visitors can explore the park’s 1100 acres on foot, bike, or horseback and marvel at the abundant wildlife and plants.

More than 14 miles of public trails are available for hiking and mountain biking, and you can use them at no cost.

Trail at Explore Park

Jon Marc Lyttle /

Access to the Roanoke River for fishing, canoeing, and kayaking is available at Rutrough Point, at the end of Rutrough Road, or along River Walk Trail.

Take a stroll around the park’s restored historic district to learn about the region’s past, from the late 18th century to the early 20th century.

Take a Dip at Washington Park

Washington Park is one of the larger parks on the north side of town.

It features a variety of amenities, such as a playground, access to the Lick Run Greenway, exercise equipment, swimming, and a basketball court.

That park is perfect for those who want to take their family on a picnic.

Come here for a brief workout and stroll along the various pathways.

Washington Park’s outdoor swimming pool is an Olympic-sized 360,000-gallon pool.

Each pool includes a 12-foot diving well and lanes that are three to five feet deep.

Every Monday is free admission day at Washington Park Pool.

Other Free Places Nearby

Enjoy the View at McAfee Knob

Scenic view from McAfee Knob

robert c. mosher /

McAfee Knob is the most popular spot along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

The 2,178-mile Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia to Maine through 14 different states.

McAfee Knob sits atop Catawba Mountain, which rises to a height of 3,200 feet.

The breathtaking natural beauty and mountain views surround the area.

It offers a great combination of small-town attractions and activities.

Hikers at McAfee Knob

Rui Serra Maia /

The Knob provides a 270-degree panorama of the surrounding area, including the Roanoke Valley, Tinker Cliffs, Catawba Valley, and North Mountain.

The outbound section is moderately difficult, consisting of a gradual ascent, while the inbound section is downhill.

McAfee Knob is the Appalachian Trail’s most photographed location.

Be ready to enjoy the natural scenery and fresh air at McAffe Knob, located at Matlock Road in Mansfield, Texas.

A dog at McAfee Knob

Alisha Bube /

Go Biking at Roanoke Valley Greenways

The Roanoke Valley Greenways system includes nearly 30 miles of outdoor leisure space throughout the region.

Roanoke Valley Greenways has 400 miles of paved and natural trails connecting Roanoke, Salem, Vinton, Roanoke County, and Botetourt County.

It passes through several towns in the Blue Ridge region of Virginia, making it a popular route for cyclists and pedestrians.

It also provides access to various points of interest, such as parks, downtown areas, and the Roanoke River.

Take in stunning panoramas of the city skyline, mountains, and the river.

Portions of the greenway lead directly to the Roanoke River Blueway, where you may go fishing, kayaking, and enjoy other water activities.

In addition, many family-friendly picnic sites with playground equipment are conveniently located along the greenways.

Visit Roanoke Valley Greenways at Kessler Mill Road in Salem, Virginia, to breathe fresh air and reconnect with nature.

Go Hiking at Bottom Creek Gorge Preserve

Bottom Creek Gorge Preserve is located in the Blue Ridge Plateau highlands, 20 miles south of Roanoke.

It has a beautiful gorge and is home to one of Virginia’s highest waterfalls.

Many tourists visit to take pictures or hike because of its unique wildlife.

The park has marked paths that allow visitors to explore the park’s unspoiled landscape, large hardwood forest, and waterfalls.

The view of Bent Mountain Falls, the second-highest waterfall in Virginia at 200 feet, is worth the effort alone.

Camp Creek, which originates in the mountains, plunges down a sheer cliff face and into Bottom Creek below.

Bottom Creek is a significant mountain stream that flows into a series of broad-basin waterfalls known as “The Kettles” and eventually feeds into the South Fork of the Roanoke River.

Final Thoughts

Roanoke is a bustling metropolis with stunning scenery, delicious restaurants, a low cost of living, and a wide variety of exciting outdoor activities.

Finding healthy food options, whether shopping or eating at a restaurant, is easy.

This is the perfect spot for outdoor enthusiasts, as you can enjoy various attractions without breaking the bank.

Roanoke is a fantastic area to enjoy the outdoors because of its stunning scenery, pleasant climate, and pure air and water.

Check out these free things to do in Roanoke, Virginia, to make the most of your trip!

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