If you’re anywhere near Roanoke, Virginia, you should make a point of visiting the Mill Mountain Star, off the Blue Star Memorial Highway. This giant star has become a local icon that overlooks Mill Mountain Scenic Park. This is a terrific place to take the family for a day out or just to step up and enjoy the magnificent view.
I recommend coming here to relax and get out of the city for a while and just taking in the fresh air and checking out the mountains of the Roanoke Valley in the far distance.
The drive up to the Mill Mountains Star is a pleasant journey in itself, on a road lined with green trees and shrubbery. Once you arrive, there’s a little turnaround place where you can park while you take in the vista.
The Mill Mountain Star, aka the Roanoke Star, is the largest man-made star in the entire world. It’s so big that it can be seen from up to 60 miles away. It’s 88-1/2 feet high and has 2,000 feet of neon tubing in it. The city illuminates it every night, with multiple, difference colored lights up until midnight.
History Behind Mill Mountain Star
As the “Star City of the South,” Roanoke, Virginia erected the Mill Mountain Star in 1949. It was originally intended to serve as a cool Christmas star to inspire holiday shoppers in Roanoke. The first time it was illuminated was on the 23rd of November in 1949, just in time for the after-thanksgiving Christmas season shopping rush. (Interestingly, although unrelated, it was in June of 1949 when the first primate was flown into space on a rocket ship.) The initial plan was to dismantle it after the holiday season was over. However, since the day when the Roanoke Mayor at the time oversaw the first lighting ceremony in front of a paltry group of 100 on a frosty night, the Mill Mountain Star has become a beloved landmark in Roanoke.
The project of building the Mill Mountain Star was put into action by the Roanoke Merchants Association, which then enlisted the Kinsey Sign Company with the actual construction of it. Roy Kinsey designed and built it with his three sones, using neon tubing that is still operating to this day.
The star is comprised of three smaller stars that interlock and overlap one another.
Know Before You Go: Mill Mountain Star
It’s a little bit of a hike to get up to the overlook platform, but those in moderate physical condition shouldn’t have a problem. It’s entirely handicapped accessible, with a ramp instead of a stairs. You’re also allowed to bring Fido as long as you clean up any “droppings.”
There’s plenty of shade so you needn’t worry too much about sunblock, but there’s no place to get water or food, so make sure you bring some with you in your vehicle. There’s a large, free parking lot that’s even big enough to manage an RV if that’s your ride.
There’s a smaller little overlook platform on the trail (mentioned below) that’s kind of cozy if you want to bring a picnic lunch. There are about three picnic benches and it’s railed in beneath a shady tree, overlooking the city, so it’s a relaxing place to stop and grab a bite with your crew.
Note that the star is pretty cool, but to me, the main attraction is the view. You’re so high up, yet you feel so close to the town. The overlook platform was built later, as a memorial to M. Carl Andrews, who was Chairman of the Mill Mountain Development Committee. Apparently, he worked hard to create a place where people could socialize and convene in nature.
Wear your hiking shoes or comfortable runners because there’s an absolutely amazing nature area at the base of the Mill Mountain Star. There’s a Mill Mountain Discovery Center, where you can get more information about the area, an awesome American Chestnut Tree Display, a Mill Mountain Wildflower Garden and even—wait for it—a zoo! So when the kiddos get a little tired of walking, visit this small but cute Mill Mountain Zoo and put them on the little kiddie train ride. They’ll love you for it!
For hikers and bicyclists, there’s the Monument Trail, Star Trail, Watchtower Trail, Ridgeline Trail and more. These trails wind down, through and around Mill Mountain and boy are they well tended. The trails are very well maintained, with ample shade and spots along the way to stop, sit and take a breather.
Before you go trail walking or biking, take a minute to check the posted signage for the Mill Mountain Trail Map, because otherwise it’s easy to get turned around.
For services, you’ll find restrooms, drinking fountains, picnic areas and, of course, more viewing platforms at key points along the way.