Virginia is a state steeped in a rich history with a rugged, natural beauty.

From the monuments and museums to the north, to the rolling hills and lush farmland of the central regions, to the mountain vistas and valleys of the southwestern climbs, to the wetlands and beaches of the eastern seaboard — Virginia is filled end-to-end with friendly communities and a wealth of ecological diversity.

Roanoke area

Church Avenue view, Roanoke VA
Church Avenue View, Roanoke, VA

The state motto is “Virginia is for Lovers,” and never was a motto more fitting. Roanoke, the town our family calls home, is a small city located in southwestern Virginia that is easy to fall in love with, has a little bit of everything to offer (especially for photographers and filmmakers) and included as a rising star among the country’s “Top 100 Best Places to Live.”

Symphony Under the Stars, Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, Elmwood Park, Roanoke VA
An evening with the symphony, Elmwood Park, Roanoke, VA

Not only is it a great place to jump off the beaten path, it’s a great place to settle down and raise a family. Photographically, there are vast opportunities to capture a wide variety of subject matter including landscape, nightscape, outdoor adventure and historic architecture surrounded by endless mountain, pasture, lake, river and tributary views, packed with quaint small town vibes and small city skylines.

Historic Downtown Roanoke VA, NW view
Northwest view — Historic Downtown Roanoke, VA

Along its scenic, winding path connecting the Shenandoah and Great Smokies, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides six connections to the Roanoke area and runs mere minutes from downtown proper. These provide an amazing ease of access to some of the best landscape shooting in the country.

The following image location is one of my favorite spots for portraiture, located from an overlook just a few minutes from home.

Evening gold along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Roanoke VA
Evening gold along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Roanoke, VA

The Smokies and Whitetop Station

Need a reason for a photo trip to add a little something to the portfolio? Catch a flight into Roanoke, rent a vehicle and take-in the 469-mile journey from Waynesboro to the heart of the Smokies in Banner Elk, North Carolina.

Woodrum field, Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, Roanoke VA
Afternoon arrivals, Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, Roanoke, VA

Too long? How does half the size with all the scenic benefits sound? The 220-mile section between Roanoke and Asheville, NC presents some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain for photographers of all types, including the highest maintained road in the state at 4,440 feet at Whitetop Station in Mouth of Wilson, VA.

Whitetop Mountain, Mouth of Wilson VA (elevation 5500')
Whitetop Mountain, Mouth of Wilson, VA (5,500 feet)

Charlottesville and the University of Virginia

Too short? No problem, just add the Skyline Drive from Waynesboro 105-miles north to Front Royal, VA and enjoy the same treatment. Stop off in historic Charlottesville and take in the views at Monticello, the University of Virginia campus and surrounding countryside. The portfolio is guaranteed here with no shortage of lodging and amenity.

Old trail Gold Club in Crozet VA
Old Trail Golf Club, Crozet, VA
The Draftsman Hotel, Charlottesville VA
The Draftsman Hotel, Charlottesville, VA

Between the cobblestones of Charlottesville and home in Roanoke lies another personal favorite and beautifully hidden gem easily accessible by road. Here, the Little Piney tributary finds its source, etching its path into the sides of Mount Pleasant toward its pasture home in the rolling hills of Amherst, VA.

Waterfall cascade along Mount Pleasant, Amherst VA
Little Piney Tributary, Mount Pleasant, Amherst, VA

Merely one of dozens to be explored in the region.

Waterfall cascade along the Appalachian Trail in Buena Vista VA
Cascade view along the Appalachian Trail in Oronoco, VA (Buena Vista)

Roaring Run Furnace

A bit further south and closer to Roanoke, in the town of Eagle Rock, VA, we find Roaring Run Furnace, a site established in 1832 as an iron forge along a steep mountain falls and lower rapid. An interesting dichotomy of history and nature with endless photographic opportunity.

The Roaring Run loop trail is a quick and easy hike, only about 20-minutes in length and loaded with options for fellow water photographers.

Warm and Hot Springs

Travel an hour north and visit the historic towns of Warm and Hot Springs. Enjoy a natural hot bath in the mineral springs or a 5-star stay at the Omni Homestead Resort. Even better, bring the hammock, sleeping bags and tent and settle in for a few days at Bolar Mountain Recreation Area at Lake Moomaw.

Bolar Mountain Recreational Area, warm Springs VA
Last light at Bolar Mountain Recreational Area, Warm Springs, Virginia

Be sure to call ahead and reserve a site at water’s edge for a stellar photographic experience.

Fishing for Fishermen, Warm Springs VA
Fishing for fishermen — Bolar Mountain Recreational Area, Warm Springs, VA

Back to Roanoke

The town of Roanoke was established as the town of Big Lick in 1852 and chartered in 1872. The name of Roanoke is Algonquin for “shell money” as named by the natives who lived 300 miles away where the river emptied into the sea near Roanoke Island. The city became independently chartered as Roanoke in 1884 and enjoyed a booming economy as a Norfolk and Western railway hub as a primary connection between the Tennessee and Maryland lines.

Established originally in 1882, the historic Hotel Roanoke became a welcome landmark for travelers and remains a thriving fixture in the Roanoke community. The current structure is today owned by Virginia Tech, operated under the Curio Collection of Hilton Hotels and connected via Skywalk to the local Amtrak boarding station.

Historic Hotel Roanoke, Downtown Roanoke VA
Historic Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center

Originally established as the Roanoke Fine Arts Center in 1951, the Taubman Museum of Fine Art opened its doors to the public in November 2008. Designed by renowned architect, Randall Stout, the building’s unique shape was inspired to reflect the surrounding mountains and valleys in which it resides.

Taubman Museum of Art, historic Downtown Roanoke, Virginia
Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA

The Virginia Territory originally spanned a distance from South Carolina to Canada prior to segmenting in the 1780s into the states we know today. It’s plains, hillsides and mountains are an interwoven tapestry of Native and European culture and history.

If you’ve never visited the region and are looking for a budget-friendly photo journey, we’re but merely scratching the surface. If it’s time for a revisit, you may as well start packing.

Either way, we’re glad to have you.

A day in the valley — Roanoke, VA

Thanks for visiting, I hope you enjoyed the journey. If you have images from the Virginia, West Virginia or North Carolina areas, I invite you to head over to the Photofocus Community and share freely in the comments to keep the conversation going. Until next time, safe travels.