By Bobbi Olson, JAWS member
Where the heck is Roanoke, Va.?
If you draw a straight line from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, somewhere in the middle you’ll find Roanoke, Va.. Roanoke is by the Blue Ridge Mountains, off the Appalachian Trail, in southern Virginia, at the tip of the Shenandoah Valley region. Yes, there are ways to get there.
Phone: (540) 985-5900
Traveling from Washington, D.C.? Roanoke is 245 miles southwest of you. It’s about a four-hour drive for editors, three for reporters, two for photographers. If you swing west out of D.C. on I-66, you’ll hit I-81 in about an hour and a half. Then head southwest. Keep going. You can’t miss it. But you do have to hang a left on the I-581 spur into town. The hotel is off Exit 5 to downtown, then stay right and cross over Wells Avenue. You could also take the ultra-scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, but then we’ll never see you.
Coming from Atlanta? It’s a 434-mile drive, beginning on I-85 northeast out of town to Charlotte, N.C., then a hard north up I-77 to Wytheville (which I’m sure is lovely). Then you’re going to go northeast on I-81 to Roanoke. Hang a right on I-581 into town, then the same directions to the hotel as above.
Coming from Los Angeles? It’s 38 hours. Don’t be an idiot. Book a flight.
Amtrak’s Northeast Regional trains go from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. to Lynchburg, Va., then a bus takes you into Roanoke. It’s as little as $50 each way on a value fare from DC, and up to $267 for a premium fare from Boston. It takes about five and a half hours from DC and about 15 hours from Boston.
If you hate waiting in TSA lines and walking barefoot on cold linoleum because someone thinks your shoe might blow up, going Greyhound isn’t a bad idea. For JAWdesses coming from the D.C. area, it’s an economical option too. You can book a seat for as little as $31 each way. It’s about seven hours, though.
You can also hike the Appalachian Trail. It runs just east of the city. Not recommended, unless you’re coming from, say, Roanoke.
Flying into Roanoke
Roanoke/Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) is just five miles from the conference center. Delta, American, United and Allegiant service the airport.
The hotel has a courtesy bus that stops at the airport every half hour on the 15s and 45s (for example, if you arrive at 2:30 p.m., the courtesy bus will be there at 2:45 p.m., and the next one will arrive at 3:15 p.m.). The hotel also has a phone in baggage claim to summon a bus. It’s a 10-minute ride and it’s free, with tipping optional. The courtesy bus can also take you anywhere within a 4-mile radius of the hotel.
Taxis from the airport are about $8, or you can Uber it, Lyft it or even hoof it.
Most major car rental agencies have desks at or near the Roanoke airport, including Avis, Budget, Hertz and Enterprise. The hotel says that prices per day are generally about $49, but I found a Budget car for less than $15 a day. Grabbed it!
Directions: Per the hotel, to drive from the airport to the conference center, take I-581 South to Exit 5 (downtown), stay in the extreme right lane and cross over Wells Avenue into the hotel parking lot.
Other airport options
Thanks to the Southern hospitality of the Roanoke Visitors Center, here are suggestions on other area airports that can often offer discounted fares.
Lynchburg Regional Airport (one-hour drive) (LYH). The visitors center folks are big fans of flying straight into ROA, but, because of the Roanoke Valley’s surrounding mountains, LYH can sometimes be a cheaper option. It’s small, though. Only American Eagle flies in and out, but with several flights a day from Charlotte, NC, it can sometimes offer surprising bargains. Avis, Hertz, National and Budget have offices near the terminal. Enterprise is a stone’s throw. There’s a Smart Way Bus from Lynchburg to Roanoke, but the schedule is limited and the stop is several miles from the airport.
Charlottesville Albermarle Airport (two-hour drive) (CHO). The Roanoke Visitors Center says that, because of the University of Virginia, there are a remarkable number of daily nonstop flights to and from CHO from Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Dulles, Philadelphia and more. Airlines: American, Delta and United. It’s a fairly easy drive west on I-64 and then south on I-81.
Piedmont Triad Regional Airport (two-hour drive) in Greensboro, N.C. (GSO). Another favorite option of the visitors center folks because it’s an easy, no-fuss drive on U.S. 220 straight to Roanoke. Airlines are American, Delta and United. It has the full deck of rental car counters.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport (two and a half to three hours) (RDU) Airlines are Southwest, Alaska, Allegiant, Air Canada, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue and United. There’s a full range of rental car counters.
Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT), is 120 miles south, but the Roanoke Visitor Center warns that this is actually about a four-hour drive. It is the largest in the region and might offer cheaper and/or more flexible flights. But then, you will be in North Carolina. Something to consider if you’re an NBA player or LGBTQ. Air Canada, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Southwest, United and ViaAir fly into CLT. It also hosts a raft of car rental agencies. To get to Roanoke from there, take I-77 north and then I-81 north to the I-581 spur to Roanoke.
Parking at the hotel is $8 if you glide it into the space yourself, or it’s $13 for valet.
And just for your comfort and enjoyment, temperatures in southern Virginia that time of year are highs in the 60s, lows in the 40s. Bring a sweater if you’re under 50. A tank top if you’re older.