On the 40-minute drive from Roanoke, Va., to Smith Mountain Lake, take a break for lunch or cool treats at Homestead Creamery. Ice cream is made on-site; flavored milks come in glass bottles. Arrange to have the creamery's mobile unit come to a reception or picnic. Ice cream can be customized; for example, a fishing tourney offered participants ice cream sprinkled with chocolate-chip fish.
At Mariners Landing Community and Conference Center, much of the 7,500 square feet of meeting space comes with a view of the lake, and attendees stay in lakefront condominiums. A covered pavilion opened last summer is nice for cookouts and bonfires. A Robert Trent Jones golf course is nearby.
With roots to 1925, Camp Roanoke is a getaway for young and old. It’s a bunkhouse experience with eight cabins and a total of 90 beds, just right for groups seeking an inexpensive getaway, with on-site options that include canoeing, archery, a high-ropes course and a zip line along the wooded hillside.
Spend a spring or summer evening in a suite at LewisGale Field, watching the Salem Red Sox take on a minor league baseball rival. Salem is a few minutes from Roanoke; its team is an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Suites to suit groups of 15 to 50 are available; hot dog and hamburger
buffets are recommended fare.
A decade ago, Al Hammond ditched the sheep and began turning his 360-acre farm into a special-events venue. Hammond said, "I realized there was more money in fleecing people than sheep." Joking aside, groups get their money's worth when they use BraeLoch or Boxtree Lodge, two large lodges the retiree has built on the property. There are also four lakes, a mile of riverfront, several weekend cabins and “plans for the next 15 years," Hammond promised. It's no wonder Hammond’s hideaway has been discovered by the University of Virginia, the North American Native Fishes Association and other high-profile organizations.
The dazzling 90-foot-tall Roanoke Star and the views from its lookout aren’t the only reasons to climb Mill Mountain. Mill Mountain Zoo, just down the mountain from the star, is an accredited facility with a focus on protecting and preserving endangered species. It can also serve as a reception spot, allowing guests to roam shady trails in the eight-acre park and visit with red wolves, snow leopards, red pandas, Asian porcupines and other endangered animals.