Learn more about the Mill Mountain Zoo and Star in Roanoke, VA for a great summer road trip and staycation idea!
Summer is almost here! Schools are out or will be soon so it’s time to start thinking about keeping those kids entertained.
Not all of us have the time or the money for a nice long relaxing vacation. How about a staycation instead? Look around your own state for things to do close by that only takes a day to visit.
One of the places in my state of Virginia that I love to visit is Mill Mountain in Roanoke, Virginia. I can make a day out of visiting the Mill Mountain Star and Zoo and the Discovery Center, which all sit at the top of the mountain.
Mill Mountain Star
The Mill Mountain Star sits at the top of Mill Mountain in Roanoke, Virginia. It is the world’s largest freestanding illuminated man-made star. Because of the star’s construction in 1949, Roanoke was nicknamed “Star City of the South”.
The star sits 1,045 feet above the city of Roanoke and can be seen 60 miles away! It is 88.5 feet tall and includes 2,000 feet of neon tubing, which require 17,500 watts of power. I’d hate to pay that electricity bill!
You can drive up the parkway to the star and park in the parking lot area behind the star. There is also a trail at the base of the mountain where you can hike to the star if you wish.
Directly in front of the star is an overlook with beautiful views of the Roanoke Valley and downtown Roanoke. From here you can also take in the breathtaking view of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. A Star Cam on the star itself shows the amazing views you’ll see from the Mill Mountain Star overlook.
On one side of the star is the Mill Mountain Star Trail where you can hike to see excellent views. It leads to the base of Mill Mountain. On the other side is a another trail, but this is more of a walkway type of trail. This trail is paved for easy walking and has benches along the way so you can sit and enjoy the beautiful views beyond the trees.
The walkway opens up to picnic areas, water fountains, and a small play area for kids. There is another smaller overlook with picnic tables so you can enjoy the fabulous views of the city of Roanoke while eating lunch.
The Mill Mountain Discovery Center is next to the park area of Mill Mountain. There is a parking lot here so you do not have to walk from the star if you do not want to or can’t.
The Discovery Center is free to visit and offers great Nature Education programs. Here you will find a beautiful wildlife garden, a bee hive, a black snake and a corn snake, and a box turtle. Inside the Discovery Center you will find interactive educational exhibits and tons of information.
Mill Mountain Zoo
Beside the Discovery Center you will find two trails: one leads down a pathway with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the other leads through a beautiful wildlife garden. Both paths lead to the Mill Mountain Zoo.
The Mill Mountain Zoo is home to over 80 animals! When I was younger, the main animal that everyone visiting the zoo wanted to see was Ruby the Tiger. She was usually asleep and hidden, but every once in a while she would come out. It was an awesome day if you got to see Ruby! She died in 2006, which left a lot of broken hearts.
Today you you will see a wolf habitat in Ruby’s place, which is a really neat experience. You can also expect to see a red panda and a snow leopards, which are currently on the endangered list. The zoo recently added some new animals including otters, which are so much fun to watch! Of course my daughter’s favorite are the foxes.
Each animal has an educational board so you can learn more the animal. There are lots of interesting facts about the animals on these boards. You’ll learn about it’s habitat and what it eats along with some other great information.
Mill Mountain Zoo recently added a reptile house as one of its exhibits. The house is rather small and gets a little crowded with not a lot of space for more than a few people at a time. However, it does hold some very interesting snakes and turtles and even a cute little gecko!
The zoo also includes an interactive aviary, a small playground area, an events area where special events are held, and a picnic area with concessions. Gifts and souvenirs can be purchased in the zoo’s gift shop. Don’t leave the zoo without taking a ride on the famous Zoo Choo! The Zoo Choo is a miniature train that follows a track around the entire zoo giving you different views of the zoo and the animals.
Programs and Events
Another great thing about the zoo is that they have a lot of programs going on year round, especially for the little ones. Breakfast with the animals is a great program where you get to have a buffet style breakfast while meeting an educational animal. Afterwards you get a chance to chat with the zookeepers and then there’s a fun activity to do.
The zoo holds summer camps every year for ages 6-13 where they get hands-on experience while shadowing and assisting zookeepers. There’s also plenty of fun and games to keep campers busy and entertained all while learning.
Every October the zoo holds Zoo Boo, which is a fun-filled day of costume contests, trick-or-treating, activities, and performances. Zoo Boo is fun for the entire family and all the activities are free with admission.
What I love about Mill Mountain
I loved visiting the star and zoo as a child and I love bringing my children to the zoo as well. The zoo is always changing and adding new exhibits and programs. It is inexpensive to get in to the zoo, with the entire trip costing under $30. You can save even more by packing a lunch and enjoying the breathtaking mountain views while eating at one of the picnic areas.
Every year that I visit Mill Mountain I learn something new. Not only do I enjoy learning for myself, but I also enjoy hearing about what my kids have learned that day. Overall, Mill Mountain is one of my favorite places in Roanoke to visit, especially if you’re looking for a family friendly and relaxing day.
Where is your favorite place to visit closest to you? I’d love to hear about it!
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