Blue Ridge Parkway | VIRGINIA’S EXPLORE PARK VISITOR CENTER (MP 115)

Explore Park and National Park Service Visitor Center for the Blue Ridge Parkway

Explore Park and National Park Service Visitor Center for the Blue Ridge Parkway

Virginia’s Explore Park is a Roanoke County park that hosts a National Park Service visitor center for the Blue Ridge Parkway. I have no idea what the relationship is between the county and the NPS, and nobody at the Visitor Center had any idea either. The Visitor Center is staffed by county employees, not NPS Rangers. I was told that Rangers rarely come around and that no federal funds are given to the park. On the outside wall of the building is an NPS logo, while a county Explore Park sign greets people at the entrance. Ultimately this makes no difference. If you just started your journey down the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 115 and need a map or other information, take a 1.5-mile drive to Virginia’s Explore Park Visitor Center. It is typically open daily, 12 PM to 5 PM on Mondays through Fridays and 10 AM to 4:30 PM on the weekends. See the Explore Park website for the current schedule and other information.

In addition to a place to get information, there is a gift store, a large rack with brochures from just about every tourist attraction in the area, and a small Blue Ridge Parkway Museum. Topics covered in the museum include a history of the Parkway and its construction, lifestyles of the Blue Ridge Mountain settlers and farmers, and the development of industry and transportation in the area. Being that the museum is not a National Park Service museum, I did not read through all of the exhibits as I usually do, but I estimate that it would take about a half hour to do so. There is also a 20-minute film about the Parkway.

Blue Ridge Parkway Museum in Virginia's Explore Park Visitor Center

Blue Ridge Parkway Museum in Virginia’s Explore Park Visitor Center

Explore Park actually started as a state-run living history park focusing on Colonial Virginia history, similar to the parks in Williamsburg and Jamestown, but it never took off as expected and the money soon ran out. Roanoke County became financially involved in 2001 when state funds were reduced, though Virginia still owned the land. The hope was to draw Blue Ridge Parkway visitors to Roanoke. The County then signed a lease with a private developer who had plans to make it into a resort, complete with shops, golf course, and conference center, but that never got off the ground and the lease was terminated. The park was closed in 2008. In 2013, Roanoke County signed a 99-year lease with the state, and the park was reopened, this time serving as an outdoor recreation area with hiking and biking trails, campground, zip line, and other outdoor adventure activities. In addition, the park hosts special events like weddings and business meetings, which explains the enormous amount of parking lots. The buildings from the living history era, which are actually real historical buildings that were relocated to the park from various sites around Virginia, are still on the premises. They are closed, but visitors can look at them.

In all of the above mentioned background on the park, there is no mention of anything to do with the Federal government. One theory presented to me by an Explore Park staff member is that the park does not include the road from the Blue Ridge Parkway, so maybe that is federal land, and maybe the NPS provided money for the road in exchange for hosting a Parkway visitor center. Who knows?

On the road to the park are two scenic overlooks similar to those on the Blue Ridge Parkway (they even have the same signage as those on the Parkway). Only one—Pine Mountain Overlook—has a view, and a very nice one at that. The view at the Back Creek Valley Overlook now overgrown. The parking lots at both overlooks are huge, yet there are no picnic tables or trailheads. The only thing I saw them being used for was for cops to pull over hotrodders racing down the road. None of these lots are close enough to Explore Park to be overflow parking for its events, so they appear to be nothing more than a prime example of the government spending money where it is not needed. A third pullout, the Mayflower Creek Parking Area, is a parking lot for trail access.

Pine Mountain Overlook on the road to Explore Park in Virginia

Pine Mountain Overlook on the road to Explore Park in Virginia

Panoramic view from the Pine Mountain Overlook on the road to Explore Park in Virginia (click to enlarge)

Panoramic view from the Pine Mountain Overlook on the road to Explore Park in Virginia (click to enlarge)

Black Creek Valley Overlook on the road to Explore Park in Virginia

Black Creek Valley Overlook on the road to Explore Park in Virginia

Next Stop South | Next Stop North | Visitor Centers

Back to the Top


With a few exceptions, use of any photograph on the National Park Planner website requires a paid Royalty Free Editorial Use License or Commercial Use License. See the Photo Usage page for details.
Last updated on December 19, 2023
Share this article