Classic Roanoke Hike Named a Top Backpacking Trip

Dragons ToothWith over 600 miles of trails running through the Roanoke Region, including the most scenic portions of the Appalachian Trail, it is no wonder the area is known as a hiker’s paradise. One classic Roanoke Region hike in particular recently caught the eye of online outside recreation publication, Adventure Journal

A hike traversing McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs on the Appalachian Trail was named to the Journal’s listing of the 20 Best Overnight Backpacking Trips. The “Triple Crown” hike includes McAffee, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragons Tooth, and is considered the most scenic section of the A.T. in Virginia, and possibly along the entire 2,100-mile trail. The trip was one of only three in the Southeast, and joined iconic backcountry trips from around the U.S., including Mt. Whitney and Half Dome in California, Longs Peak in Colorado, and Hawaii’s Kalalau Trail.

Here is what author Brendan Leonard said about the trip:

Virginia’s “Triple Crown”—McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragons Tooth—are the three most iconic views along the Virginia stretch of the Appalachian Trail. To hike all of them, it’s a minimum 28-mile hike (with a car shuttle), or 37-mile loop. To get two of them, McAfee Knob (the rock outcrop that’s one of the most photographed spots on the AT) and Tinker Cliffs, it’s a far more manageable 13-mile weekend hike traversing Catawba and Tinker mountains and overnighting at the Campbell Shelter.

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Le Tour de Roanoke Unites Foodies and Cyclists

Back in April, we wrote about the new season of le Tour de Roanoke, the City Parks and Rec program that tours Roanoke by bike, stopping at various restaurants for a bite along the way. It’s a very cool way to tour the city, get a little exercise, and enjoy some great food. 

Le Tour cyclists

The atmosphere at last month’s Tour was great. Meeting at UnderDog Bikes, the group was an eclectic mix of food lovers, bicycling lovers, beginners, and experts. It was very cool to see such a diverse group of people all participating in the same outdoor activity. It was truly a uniting experience, and something the parks and rec department has been emphasizing recently. 

Le Tour cyclists

“We have been using programs like Hiking and the Homeplace, SUP Yoga, and le Tour de Roanoke as a marketing tool to get people exposed to something new and unique, and then the other programs offered by the Outdoor Section,” explained Parks & Rec Outdoor Education Coordinator Patrick Boas, who started the program last year. “The thought process behind this was, we promote what Roanoke has to offer as ‘the procuct’ and put our programs in the mix.” 

taco hand

Each stop was an opportunity to mingle and get a different perspective on both the outdoor and food scenes in the Roanoke Region. It’s also a great opportunity to explore new restaurants and foods.

“Something that has shocked me the most about this event is that after each tour I will have one or two people come up to me and say in many different ways, ‘I’ve lived here in Roanoke for X amount of years and never knew this restaurant existed. What a great way to explore and see a new side of Roanoke,'” Boas said. “I take this as a huge compliment and hope to continue getting this reaction from my new friends on the tour.” 


The tour is held monthly; pre-registration is required and spots fill up fast. The August tour will take place on August 19, and will include stops at 1906 Ale House, Blue 5, and Sweet Donkey Coffee.

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City Launches Solarize Roanoke Program

Solarize RoanokeYou may see more solar panels going up on roof-tops throughout the City of Roanoke due to the new Solarize Roanoke program. 

The program is a partnership between the City of Roanoke, Community Housing Partners (CHP), local solar installers, Freedom First Credit Union, and local community members, and is designed to make solar energy affordable and accessible to homeowners. The basic premise is that when people sign up for the program, they get a free assessment of their solar needs and capacity then are able to purchase a system through the program at a discount and install the panels through a local contractor.  

For more details on the Solarize Roanoke initiative, check out the press release below and visit

Press release:

Roanoke, VA – At a press conference earlier today, the city officially launched Solarize Roanoke, a program designed to make solar energy affordable and accessible to homeowners. Solarize Roanoke is a partnership between the City of Roanoke, Community Housing Partners, local solar installers, Freedom First Credit Union, and local community members. The program will run until Sept. 30. Homeowners living in the following zip codes are eligible to participate: 24011, 24012, 24013, 24014, 24015, 24016, 24017, 24018, and 24019.

In order to make solar cost competitive with standard electricity, Solarize Roanoke combines discounts on solar installations and a 30-percent federal tax credit with affordable long-term financing. The loan payments on a solar system for a typical house can be roughly equal to monthly electricity savings, meaning the overall cost of electricity changes very little, and homeowners are buffered from increases in electricity prices in the future.

When a homeowner is interested in going solar, Solarize Roanoke organizers first conduct a satellite site assessment to determine if the roof is a good candidate for solar panels – looking for orientation, trees and other obstructions. From there, a solar installer conducts a free solar site assessment to determine how large or small of a system is needed to provide power for the home and how much it costs.

The City of Roanoke offers a tax reduction in addition to the federal tax credits for all city residents purchasing solar equipment. By providing a bill of sale for properly installed solar equipment, a homeowner is eligible for a real estate property tax exemption for a portion of the purchase. This exemption is valid for five years thus adding to the homeowner’s savings.

A recently concluded Solarize program in Blacksburg resulted in at least 50 solar contracts on homes. Other communities around the state have followed suit, including Richmond, Charlottesville, and Arlington County.

Solarize Roanoke is a key component of the city’s wider efforts to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

The public is invited to an event on Tuesday, July 22 at 6:00 p.m. at Mountain View Recreation Center to learn more about the Solarize Roanoke Program; additional community meeting times are listed online at or

For more information, contact Mason Cavell, program administrator for Solarize Roanoke at 540-267-6137, or by e-mail at

Made in Roanoke Business Profile: Mountain Laurel Designs

Mountain Laurel DesignsThe world of ultralight backpacking is one of the fastest growing activities in outdoor recreation. As more an more people venture into the backcountry, they demand gear that is lighter, stronger, and more functional than ever before. One of the companies on the cutting edge of cutting ounces is based right here in the Roanoke Region: Mountain Laurel Designs.

Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) hand makes backpacking equipment from their facility in Roanoke, and is known throughout the world as a leading innovator in ultralight gear. The facility crafts everything from backpacks and shelters, to sleep pads and bivy sacks all with one common theme: simplicity and light weight.

When company founder Ron Bell moved to the Roanoke Region from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he sought to explore the mountains. Always an outdoorsman, Bell had previously worked as a search and rescue climber in Yosemite National Park and wanted to apply the lightweight, less is more philosophy of big wall climbing gear to backpacking.

The only problem? No one was manufacturing gear that satisfied his need.

So he started creating his own.

“I wanted to backpack a lot more in the Blue Ridge area but I didn’t want to carry a lot of the heavier gear that was available at the time, decades ago,” he says. “So I started making my own gear to go backpacking.”

What began as a hobby born out of necessity led to Bell selling his ultralight designs to fellow campers on Ebay, then to creating his own small business website, then eventually to quitting his day job and committing to MLD full time. Bell now employs six people at his Roanoke facility and has a major international following – 25 percent of sales are outside the United States, mostly in the United Kingdom and Australia.

MLD is known for using the highest quality, lowest weight materials available on the market. Most products are made from either silnylon which is about half the weight of tradition tent material, or the more advanced cuben fiber, which weighs only about 20 percent of traditional tent materials. MLD was one of the first to use cuben and has been building products with the material longer than any other company in the world.

Bell says the size of his company is one of the advantages he has over larger manufacturers.

“Cuben is extremely strong and very thin, but takes a high degree of craftsmanship to work with, because you end up bonding the material,” he said. “You can’t just cut it and sew it and run it through the same type of high speed sewing assembly lines that say, a factory in China can.”

The mountains surrounding Roanoke also make the perfect testing grounds for new products and prototypes.

“Living in an area where there are a lot of people doing a lot of outdoor things gives you a lot of inspiration and drive to try to improve your gear all the time,” he said.

As ultralight backpacking’s popularity continues to grow, so will MLD’s business, you will surely see more locally produced gear on the trail.

Mountain Laurel Design products are available through their website,