Roanoke and its surrounding areas are one the best places in southwestern Virginia for engagement photos. You can find everything – gardens to industrial/urban backdrops to mountain views to waterfalls – all within an hour of the city.
Below I’ve listed ten places that would be stunning backdrops for engagement photos near Roanoke. Some will require a hike to access (which suits me fine – I’m an outdoorsy person with a fondness for adventurous settings), but others can be easily accessed, like Mill Mountain, downtown Roanoke or Cahas Mountains. There really is something for everyone!
Here are my recommendations:
If you want an urban vibe I would explore downtown Roanoke with its historic city market, art museum and brick warehouses.
If you want an easy-to-access view, then Cahas Mountain Overlook off of the Blue Ridge Parkway might be a good fit.
But if a lake vibe with mountains in the background is more your thing or you want to get on the water, then Carvins Cove is definitely the place.
If you want something that is “quintessential Roanoke,” then I recommend the iconic Mill Mountain Star.
McAfee’s Knob is the place that says “I love adventure,” since it calls for an eight-mile hike
Want an epic rocky view, but don’t want to hike eight miles? Then do Hanging Rock Overlook Trail instead and shave off seven miles.
An epic waterfall is accessible with a moderate hike at Stiles Falls.
Natural Bridge State Park provides incredible mountain views, rolling hills and huge natural rock formations as possible backdrops for your session. All easily accessible.
And, finally, if you are down for a challenge with an incredible view as payoff, then Sharp Top Mountain might suit you.
Ready for the full breakdown?
Let’s dive in!
The Roanoke Star sits on top of Mill Mountain, not far from downtown Roanoke. It’s the world’s largest freestanding illuminated star and is kind of a cultural landmark for Roanoke. In front of the star is a viewing platform of downtown Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Walking paths lead to a second overlook not far from the first.
Mill Mountain also features a wildflower garden and hiking trails so there is plenty of variety for this easy-to-access location not far from the city center.
Park at the Roanoke City Market. Walk around the farmer’s market, get coffee and donuts, pet dogs. Then head toward the Taubman (art) Museum. Use the incredible architecture of the museum as backdrop for your photos. Then head over to Center in the Square and take the elevator up to the rooftop where you can watch the sun go down over downtown and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Carvins Cove Natural Reserve is a 630 acre water reserve for the city of Roanoke. While swimming is prohibited at the reserve there are more than 60 miles of trails and a beach-like shoreline at places.
You are allowed to boat at the reservoir so if canoeing or kayaking is your thing, let’s get on the water and explore!
If you just want the views then we can explore the shoreline, get on a dock or watch the sun go down over the mountains.
McAfee’s Knob is probably the most iconic spot on the Appalachian Trail. The trailhead for the hike is also only about 30 minutes from downtown Roanoke! But getting there is the easy part. This beautiful, moderately graded hike is long – about four miles to the summit and four miles back.
But once you get to the top you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled mountain views and an incredible rock overhang that’s well worth the effort.
If you want epic views and a whole lot fewer people for less effort than McAfee’s Knob then consider Hanging Rock Overlook. This is definitely a hidden gem in southwestern Virginia. The overlook is only about a half mile from the parking area and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have it to yourself! While the overall summit is smaller than McAfee’s Knob, fewer people and a less-intense hike may make it your best pick.
Stiles Falls is located on private property of a Methodist summer camp. They open the hike to the public except when camp is in session so if you are visiting in the summer – definitely double-check dates. Otherwise this is an incredible three-mile out-and-back hike to a beautiful waterfall.
You park at the front of the property and then walk the dirt road back to the trail. On the way to the trail you pass meadows with mountain views and a small pond. There are creek crossings and a well-maintained wooded trail on the way to the waterfall itself.
I would consider this hike easy-to-moderate – as in my two-year-old hiked the whole way in without help.
The waterfall itself is lovely, and if you get there early you might have the whole thing to yourself.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has dozens of incredible trails and overlooks for your engagement photos. One of the ones near Roanoke is Cahas Mountain Overlook. The overlook itself is east-facing, so it’s one I would recommend for sunrise if you want that epic light behind the mountains, but it’s also stunning in the evening.
Drive right up, park and walk down the meadow to beautiful vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. No hiking required!
Natural Bridge State Park is best known for its 215-foot natural rock arch. But this Virginia state park also boasts rolling meadows, mountain views and a river. Want some starry photos? Natural Bridge State Park is an International Dark Sky Park, meaning there is very little light pollution and you can get some of the best views of the night sky in Virginia!
Sharp Top boasts one of the most jaw-dropping vistas in the region. The steep 1.5-mile hike will lead you to a summit with 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That beauty also makes it popular. It’s been characterized as “agonizingly crowded,” so this is definitely a hike to explore at sunrise (on a weekday if possible). If you avoid those peak times (i.e., Saturday at sunset) it will reward your effort by offering a stunning backdrop for your engagement photos.
Boxerwood Nature Center is located about an hour north of Roanoke in Lexington. It features a “fairy forest,” a pollinator garden, a native garden, a wetland and a large children’s play area. Gravel paths take you from one section to the next. It’s lovely and easily accessible for any ability. It is, however, the only spot on this list that requires a photography permit.
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