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Blue Mountain Adventures Expands As Outdoor Recreation Destination At Explore Park

When I visited Blue Mountain Adventures in June, 2019, the tubing and kayaking destination had just opened at its Explore Park location off the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Roanoke Valley.

Two years later, the enterprise has survived the COVID-19 pandemic, expanded its attractions and has become a very popular family and group-friendly location catering to anyone looking to get up- close and personal with nature and the outdoors.

Blue Mountain Adventures was the brainchild of Holly and Jonathan Hart. The Hart family are Roanoke County natives who have a passion for the outdoors. The family moved out to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado to fulfill their desire for adventure recreation.

Jonathan worked with San Juan Huts, managing, maintaining and servicing overnight accommodations for outdoor adventures. When they returned to Virginia’s Blue Ridge in 2015, the Harts discovered a newfound excitement for outdoor recreation in this area and more people taking advantage of the fantastic natural resources available.

Blue Mountain Adventures Camp Store is where tubers, kayakers and campers check in for their trips down the river and camping in nature.

Blue Mountain Adventures was built around a love for the great outdoors and a desire to share it. The goal is to provide an outdoor experience complimented by accommodations with emphasis on low environment impact.

Holly Hart commented in 2019 on the goals of Blue Mountain Adventures. “We are capitalizing on the natural gems we have in Southwest Virginia, but also taking care of those treasures through investment and maintenance. We are excited for the community. It’s such a mental and physical benefit to get outside and be active. We’re proud to be making it more accessible for all levels from novices to enthusiasts.”

Blue Mountain Adventures Camp Store is where tubers, kayakers and campers check in for their trips down the river and camping in nature.

Blue Mountain Adventures has more than met those goals. In late-June, I was given a tour of the expansion in outdoor accommodations as well as taking another look at the exciting tubing and kayaking down the Roanoke River Gorge below the Niagara Dam waterfall.

Blue Mountain Adventure manager Willie Richardson, now working in his first season as a full-time employee after prior part-time experience with the outfitter, talked about the expansion and basics of tackling the exciting one-mile run down the river that draws singles, families and groups.

“We really weren’t affected that much by the pandemic,” Richardson noted. “We’re all about being outdoors, so it was one of the few things people could safely do. We attracted a lot of first-time tubers and campers, and a lot of people from out of town. Now, with things opening up even more, our activity has been great.”

“We’ve expanded our operation and now offer river adventures every Friday through Monday through Labor Day weekend. During the other days (Tuesday through Thursday) we predominantly cater to private parties with groups of 15 or more. Most of all we try to be very flexible to everyone’s needs. We focus on being customer friendly.”

“Our fleet of river equipment has expanded as well,” Richardson added. “We have 60 tubes, 5 adult kayaks, 5 kid kayaks and 6 standup paddleboards. The cost for an all-day tube rental is $25. We start running trips at 10:00 AM and go until the last pickup from the river around 3:30 PM. The average time for one run is between 1 and 1 1/2 hours, so you can get in as many as four runs if you stay out the whole time. Some people want to make several runs, others are happy with one, it’s your choice. And, if you don’t get here until 2-2:30 for one run, we will accommodate you.”

The rental includes the large blue tube which resembles a large truck inner tube, life jacket, dry box to secure personal items while on the river, and transportation to the river put-in point and transportation back to the Camp Store after runs. Rafters can break up their runs throughout the day.

One thing that is emphasized is safety. The minimum age for a single tuber is 7.

Two tubers float down the one-mile run of the Roanoke River gorge, where nature offers surprises around every bend.

“We take the river seriously,” Richardson pointed out. “Our staff is constantly going back and forth on the riverside trail, so we’re watching the activity and know where tubers should be.. This section of the river is mostly floating along with Class I rapids and one Class II if the river is up. The river level is primarily determined by rainfall, so we know what is at hand. The river is about waist deep in most places. Occasionally, we’ll have a tuber jump into the water and their tube starts to float away. We just retrieve it and get it back to them. This section of the river is great for first timers and for family fun. But, experienced rafters and groups have a great time as well because they can leisurely float the river and interact along the way while being in nature.”

Such was the case that day when members of three families were getting ready for their first group tube ride outside the Camp Store. Mary and Robert Dusenbury, along with their children Jasper and Milo, were visiting from San Francisco to join friends from the Roanoke Valley, Susie Light and her son, Jack, along with Archer Dunkenberger.

“We’re here visiting and tried the zipline up the hill,” Mary Dusenbury said while sporting a San Francisco Giants ball cap to prepare for the sun. “We decided to tube so the whole group could have fun together going down the river.”

A young woman who preferred to identify herself only as Mallory from Roanoke, echoed Dusenbury’s take. “It’s outdoors and I love it. This is Roanoke’s hidden gem.  It’s a casual way to have fun with friends.”

While the tubing and river runs are often booked to capacity on certain days, you are best served by making reservations in advance to secure your trip. Richardson also emphasized walk-ups are always welcome and the outfitter will do everything possible to get everyone on the river for an unforgettable run.

The large canvas tents suited for families or groups have a queen size bed, sleep sofas, kitchen, covered front porch and plenty of room to have fun in the outdoors.

Blue Mountain has recently added exciting alternatives for campers who want to experience nature and the outdoors with a number of very unique twists. New elevated structures with a roof called Treetop Platforms are located along the river’s gorge that can accommodate 4 campers bringing their own tents or those sleeping in sleeping bags. These are intermingled along the riverfront trail and include a firepit, grill and picnic table.

The large canvas tents suited for families or groups have a queen size bed, sleep sofas, kitchen, covered front porch and plenty of room to have fun in the outdoors.

Twelve primitive campsites that range from fitting one to four tents, plus firepit or grill and picnic table are situated throughout the facility with river front or river access. Two of the larger sites can accommodate up to 25 campers. One is handicap accessible. Prices start at $20 per night.

Additional tent structures have been added on roads away from the river. During my tour, recent William Byrd graduate Keaton Band drove me in an ATV to preview the sites. For $50 per night, five smaller bell tents are situated throughout the camping area. The bell tents include two cots, a solar light for camper’s use, fire pit and picnic table.

For larger groups, from families to groups of friends who want the feel of the outdoors with a few more conveniences, spacious canvas tents that include a queen size bed, pull-out sleep sofa beds and propane kitchen, all enclosed in a zip-up mesh front entrance, are available.

A large covered front porch can be a great place for additional cots or sleeping bags, with a fire pit and picnic table just steps away. These tents rent for $120 per night. The Blue Mountain staff indicated camping will be available until December and added that most camping supplies are available for purchase at the Camp Store, from snacks to ice and extra firewood.

Road construction and closures on the Blue Ridge Parkway has altered the access to the Explore Park. From Roanoke, take the parkway entrance off Route 220 near Clearbrook and turn North. Follow the parkway approximately 6 miles to the Explore Park turnoff (the main parkway is closed at this point). Continue to the Explore Park headquarters and bear left down the gravel road that leads to the Camp Store. An alternate route from Mt. Pleasant Blvd. near Food Lion in Southeast Roanoke, turn onto Rutrough Rd. just above Food Lion and travel 4 miles to the entrance on the left to Explore Park on Chestnut Ridge Rd.

Make sure you wear comfortable clothes and shoes (no flip-flops), and plan on getting wet. A day with nature and the outdoors is a sure-fire way for fun and excitement along the river gorge.

Bill Turner



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