Exploring Roanoke’s Iconic Star: History and Views

Roanoke Star on Mill Mountain with scenic views

No visit to Roanoke, Virginia, is complete without a trip to the iconic Roanoke Star, also known as the Mill Mountain Star. Erected in 1949, this massive neon-lit star has become synonymous with the region, offering breathtaking panoramic views of Roanoke Valley. Recognized on both the National Register for Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register, the Roanoke Star is a symbol of the city’s cultural heritage and a must-see attraction for visitors.

Key Takeaways

  • The Roanoke Star was first illuminated on November 23, 1949, and has since become one of Virginia’s most recognizable icons.
  • The star is the largest free-standing, man-made, illuminated star in the world, featuring 2,000 feet of neon tubing.
  • Visitors can reach the Roanoke Star via Mill Mountain Parkway off the Blue Ridge Parkway or Walnut Avenue from downtown Roanoke.
  • The star is illuminated every night and displays different colors and patterns for special occasions and events.
  • Mill Mountain Park, home to the Roanoke Star, also features attractions such as the Mill Mountain Zoo and the Discovery Center.

The Birth of the Roanoke Star

Roanoke Star on Mill Mountain at sunset

Initial Illumination in 1949

The Roanoke Star was illuminated for the first time on November 23, 1949. Originally intended as a seasonal Christmas decoration for the holiday shopping season, the star quickly became a beloved symbol of the region. Constructed by Roy C. Kinsey of Kinsey Sign Co., along with his three sons, the star was sponsored by the Roanoke Merchants Association. The structure is actually three stars formed by 2,000 feet of neon tubing, making it the largest free-standing man-made illuminated star in the world.

Debates and Decisions

Before the star was erected, there was a local debate about whether to install a cross, a tree, or a star. The decision to go with the star has since proven to be a defining moment for Roanoke, as it has become one of the most talked about and recognizable icons of Virginia. The star can be lit in various colors, including solid white, red, white, and blue, and has been known to blink or pulse on special occasions.

A Symbol of Roanoke’s Identity

Cultural Significance

The Roanoke Star, also known as the Mill Mountain Star, is more than just a landmark; it is a beacon and welcoming sign to visitors. Perched atop Mill Mountain, it overlooks the surrounding valley and Blue Ridge Mountains, serving as a symbol of the region’s charm and hospitality. The star was first illuminated on November 23, 1949, and has since become synonymous with Roanoke, often referred to as the Hollywood sign of the East Coast.

Recognition on Historic Registers

The Roanoke Star’s significance extends beyond its visual appeal. It is a cherished part of the community and has been recognized on various historic registers. This recognition underscores its importance not just as a local icon but as a piece of the broader historical tapestry of Virginia. The star’s enduring presence and nightly illumination continue to captivate both residents and visitors alike.

Today, Roanoke stands as a testament to its rich heritage, with landmarks and relics scattered throughout the city, each bearing witness to its storied past.

Getting to the Roanoke Star

Directions from Blue Ridge Parkway

To reach the Roanoke Star via the Blue Ridge Parkway, take the Mill Mountain Parkway exit at Milepost 120. Follow Mill Mountain Parkway for 2.4 miles, then turn left on Mill Mountain Spur Road to enter Mill Mountain Park. Continue for 0.7 miles until you reach the parking lot beside the Star. This route offers a scenic drive through lush landscapes and is a favorite among visitors.

Routes from Downtown Roanoke

From downtown Roanoke, head towards Walnut Avenue. Follow Walnut Avenue until it merges with Mill Mountain Parkway. Continue on Mill Mountain Parkway until you reach the entrance to Mill Mountain Park. The journey from downtown is straightforward and provides a quick escape to nature, making it a popular choice for locals and tourists alike.

Mill Mountain Park offers the star, a scenic overlook with an incredible view of the Roanoke Valley and surrounding mountains, wildflower garden, many trails for hiking & mountain biking, Mill Mountain Zoo, and the Mill Mountain Discovery Center.

Experiencing the Nightly Illumination

The Roanoke Star is illuminated every night, making it a must-see on most visitors’ lists. As the largest, free-standing, man-made, illuminated star in the world, it is one of the most photographed attractions in the area. The scenic overlook at the base of the structure offers an incredible view of the region.

Lighting Patterns and Colors

The Roanoke Star can be lit in various colors and patterns. It was first illuminated all white on November 23, 1949. Over the years, it has displayed different colors for special occasions, such as solid red to indicate a traffic fatality or red, white, and blue for the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976. From September 11, 2001, to April 2007, it was lit in red, white, and blue to honor the victims of the terror attacks and the Virginia Tech massacre.

Special Occasions and Events

The star’s lighting is often changed to commemorate significant events. For example, it was dark for eight days beginning August 12, 2006, to undergo electrical upgrades and again on April 17, 2007, due to a downed power line. It was lit solid white on April 22, 2007, as a symbol of hope after the Virginia Tech massacre. The star was also dark on April 16, 2008, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.

Bold: The Roanoke Star is a symbol of hope and resilience for the community, shining brightly through all seasons.

The star’s lighting patterns and colors make it a unique and meaningful landmark, reflecting the spirit and history of Roanoke.

The Scenic Overlook

Panoramic Views of Roanoke Valley

A scenic overlook at the Star affords an expansive view of the City of Roanoke and the surrounding Roanoke Valley. In fact, there are two overlooks. One is the perfect spot for a close-up view of the Mill Mountain Star, and it is absolutely one of the best places for a nighttime panorama of the valley.

Photography Tips

Outside, as you walk up the hill to get a great view of this building, you will also be in a great place to photograph a couple of Roanoke’s most beloved signs—the Dr. Pepper cap and the H & C Coffeepot. So much to do and so little time!

  • One of the best ways to experience the scenery around Roanoke it is by taking a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Called "America’s Favorite Drive,” the parkway winds its way through the nearby mountains and offers stunning overlooks, hiking trails and picnic areas.
  • If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, check out the Texas Tavern in downtown Roanoke. The classic diner has been a

Pro Tip: The overlook is also a great spot for a picnic, with many popular hiking and biking paths and trails nearby.

Mill Mountain Park Attractions

Mill Mountain Park sits beautifully atop Mill Mountain, offering a variety of attractions for visitors of all ages. The park is home to the iconic Roanoke Star, wildflower gardens, and numerous hiking and biking trails. Additionally, the area features great picnic spaces near the overlook at the base of the Roanoke Star.

Mill Mountain Zoo

For over 70 years, the Mill Mountain Zoo has been a refreshing spot on top of the mountain. When you arrive at Mill Mountain Park, you’ll have a short walk from the parking lot to the zoo entrance. Two paths diverge—the paved driveway or a woodland path through a wildflower garden, planted and maintained by local garden club members. I guess you know which I picked to start my outdoor adventure!

Discovery Center

The Discovery Center offers indoor exhibits and an outdoor classroom, making it a perfect spot for families and educational trips. The center provides a hands-on experience with nature and wildlife, enhancing your visit to Mill Mountain Park.

Mill Mountain Park is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring Roanoke. Whether you’re interested in the zoo, the Discovery Center, or just enjoying the scenic views, there’s something for everyone.

Live Starcam: A Virtual Visit

How to Access the Starcam

One special treat to visiting the Roanoke Star is to wave to the live Starcam. You can easily access the Starcam online and see what’s happening at the star right now. It’s a fantastic way to experience the star from anywhere in the world.

What You Can See

The Starcam offers a live feed from a camera mounted on the star, providing a unique perspective of the Roanoke Valley. Whether you’re planning a visit or just curious, the Starcam gives you a glimpse of the breathtaking panoramic views and the family-friendly attractions nearby.

Celebrating Anniversaries

70th Anniversary Celebrations

The 70th anniversary of the Roanoke Star was a grand affair, marked by a series of events that brought the community together. Special lighting patterns were introduced, illuminating the star in vibrant colors that could be seen from miles away. The celebrations included live music, food stalls, and a historical exhibit showcasing the star’s journey since its initial illumination in 1949.

The 70th anniversary was not just a celebration of the star, but a celebration of Roanoke’s spirit and unity.

Community Involvement

Community involvement has always been a cornerstone of the Roanoke Star’s anniversaries. Local schools, businesses, and historic homes participated in various activities, from art competitions to essay writing contests. The events were designed to engage people of all ages, fostering a sense of pride and connection to this iconic landmark.

  • Art competitions
  • Essay writing contests
  • Historical exhibits

The community’s enthusiasm and participation make each anniversary a memorable event, reinforcing the star’s role as a symbol of Roanoke’s identity.

Fun Facts About the Roanoke Star

Record-Breaking Features

Did you know that Roanoke is home to the world-famous Mill Mountain Star? Standing at 88.5 feet tall and weighing in at 10,000 pounds, this iconic landmark, also known as the Roanoke Star, is the largest freestanding man-made star in the world. It’s also lit up every night, providing a stunning view of the city from miles away.

Local Legends and Stories

The star was illuminated for the first time on November 23, 1949. Through its history, the Roanoke Star has become synonymous with the region and is still one of the most talked about and recognizable icons of Virginia. Some have even called it the Hollywood sign of the East Coast.

No visit to Roanoke is complete without a trip to the iconic Roanoke Star, also known as the Mill Mountain Star. Erected in 1949, this massive neon-lit star has become a symbol of the city and offers breathtaking panoramic views of Roanoke Valley.

The Roanoke Star in Popular Culture

Appearances in Media

The Roanoke Star, also known as the Mill Mountain Star, has made numerous appearances in various forms of media. Often referred to as the Hollywood sign of the East Coast, this iconic landmark has been featured in movies, TV shows, and even music videos. Its unique neon glow and prominent location make it a favorite backdrop for filmmakers and photographers alike.

Influence on Local Art

The influence of the Roanoke Star extends beyond just media appearances. Local artists frequently draw inspiration from this towering structure, incorporating its image into paintings, sculptures, and other forms of art. The star’s recognizable icon status has made it a symbol of creativity and community pride in Roanoke. From murals to gallery exhibits, the star continues to inspire and captivate the local art scene.

The Roanoke Star is not just a landmark; it’s a beacon of inspiration for the entire community, symbolizing the vibrant and creative spirit of Roanoke.

Visitor Information

Best Times to Visit

Roanoke’s iconic star is a sight to behold year-round, but the best times to visit are during the spring and fall. The weather is mild, and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains are particularly stunning. Summer evenings are also popular for those who enjoy warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours.

Accessibility and Amenities

The Roanoke Star is accessible to everyone, with ample parking and paved paths leading to the overlook. The site is pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry friends along. For those needing assistance, there are wheelchair-accessible routes and facilities. Don’t forget to stop by the visitor center for maps, trip ideas, and the latest deals and special offers.

For a comprehensive guide to visiting Roanoke, including transportation options and insider tips, make sure to pick up a free visitor’s guide or sign up for the e-newsletter.

Visitor’s Guide

To make the most of your visit, grab a free visitor’s guide available at the visitor center or view the virtual guide online. The guide includes everything from local cuisine spots to boutique shopping and breweries. You can also sign up for the e-newsletter to get the latest updates on events and special offers.


Before heading out, check the local weather forecast to ensure a pleasant visit. Roanoke experiences a variety of weather conditions, so it’s always good to be prepared. Whether it’s a sunny day or a crisp autumn evening, the star and its surroundings offer a unique experience in any weather.


The Roanoke Star, with its rich history and breathtaking views, remains an enduring symbol of Roanoke, Virginia. Since its first illumination on November 23, 1949, this iconic landmark has captured the hearts of both locals and visitors alike. Whether you’re exploring the Mill Mountain Park, enjoying the scenic overlook, or simply marveling at the star’s nightly glow, the Roanoke Star offers a unique and memorable experience. As the largest free-standing illuminated star in the world, it continues to be a beacon of pride and a must-see attraction in the region. So, next time you find yourself in Roanoke, make sure to visit this shining gem and take in all the beauty and history it has to offer.

Frequently Asked Questions

When was the Roanoke Star first illuminated?

The star was illuminated for the first time on November 23, 1949.

Why is the Roanoke Star significant?

Through its history, the Roanoke Star has become synonymous with the region and is one of the most recognizable icons of Virginia.

How can I get to the Roanoke Star?

Approach the Roanoke Star from Mill Mountain Parkway off the Blue Ridge Parkway or via Walnut Avenue from downtown Roanoke.

What can I do at the Roanoke Star site?

The site is home to the Mill Mountain Zoo, the Discovery Center, and offers breathtaking panoramic views of Roanoke Valley.

Is the Roanoke Star recognized on any historic registers?

Yes, the Roanoke Star is recognized on both the National Register for Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

When is the Roanoke Star illuminated?

The Roanoke Star is illuminated every night.

What special events have been held at the Roanoke Star?

Roanoke recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of the lighting of the Roanoke Star on November 23, 2019.

What colors can the Roanoke Star display?

The star shines in solid colors of red, white, or blue, and sometimes a combination of the three. It can also blink or pulse.

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