Famous for its annual spawning run of striped bass — rockfish or stripers, depending on who you ask — the Roanoke River stretches from the mountains of Virginia to North
Famous for its annual spawning run of striped bass — rockfish or stripers, depending on who you ask — the Roanoke River stretches from the mountains of Virginia to North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound. Whatever you call these silvery fish with the tell-tale horizontal stripes, you can find a plethora every spring in Weldon. Here in “The Rockfish Capital of the World,” anglers from across the country gather to participate in the experience of a lifetime, as tens of thousands of fish splash and crash during their spring run.
You don’t have to be an angler to experience the best of spring in Halifax County. There’s a thrill in the air, as well. Brent Lubbock is the director of operations at Sylvan Heights Bird Park, home to some of the rarest birds in the world. In spring, he says, visitors watch in awe as baby birds hatch and gardens show off their first blooms. “Halifax is an amazing place,” says Lubbock. “In one day, you can bike the Roanoke Canal, feed a flamingo, have an exceptional historical experience, and taste award-winning bourbon.”
Ready for a spring road trip? Recruit your fellow adventure-seekers, and head northeast for a weekend along the Roanoke River.
The Halifax County Visitor Center and Dog Run is located in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina — just off I-95 at exits 173 and 171. Stop by to learn more about summer fun, where to stay, and how to eat like a local!
The rockfish spawning run goes from mid-April to mid-May — about the time it takes for rockfish to make their way from the Albemarle Sound up the Roanoke River. In addition to rockfish fishing, anglers visit the river for shad, largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, and catfish. Fishing guides stand by to offer old pros and newbie anglers the ultimate fishing adventure.
“Come to the Roanoke, fish for one day, and feel like the best fisherman in the world,” says Capt. Rod Thomas, owner of Captain Ponytail Guide Service. “It’s like nothing else you’ll ever do. You don’t have to be a fisherman. Kids, grandparents — anyone — can have a world-class fishing experience. The fish are biting all day long.”
This time of year, it’s not unusual for anglers to catch 80 to 100 in one day. Don’t get too attached, though, as catches are released to aid in population survival.
After a morning fishing trip or before an afternoon launch, stop into the Sunshine Grill for their famous Hot Dog Sandwich. Be ready to trade stories about your biggest catch of the day.
The Roanoke Canal, built in 1823, is now a verdant nature trail on the Roanoke River. Walking along the trail, it’s hard not to marvel at engineering feats, like the impressive stone Chockoyotte Creek aqueduct, that helped shape the region.
An adventurous hiker can complete the entire trail, which starts at Roanoke Rapids Lake and runs just over 7 miles to River Falls Park in Weldon. About 1.5 miles from the Roanoke Rapids Lake trailhead, stop at the Roanoke Canal Museum to learn how the canal was a “super highway” of commerce during the early 19th century.
Along the trail, keep your eyes open for wildlife — deer and fox skittering through the trees and eagles soaring overhead. Your best bet to catch a wildlife sighting is the 3.3-mile mark in the early mornings or late afternoons.
For the perfect picnic spot, head to the western end of the trail where a 17-acre lakefront recreation area offers plenty of spaces to spread your blanket, relax, and take in beautiful lake views.
A flamingo’s welcome awaits you at Sylvan Heights Bird Park, located in Scotland Neck about 30 minutes from the historic Roanoke Canal.
Sylvan Heights, sitting on 28 acres, is the world’s largest waterfowl park. “Visitors don’t have to be bird lovers to take in the majestic sights and sounds of the birds,” Lubbock says.
One hundred and twenty different species of waterfowl from around the world inhabit this breeding sanctuary. Just along a one-mile trail, more than 2,000 birds of every color hail from every continent except Antarctica. You’re almost guaranteed to see ducks, geese, and swans that you never knew existed, Lubbock says.
In the Landing Zone, feed a flamingo and be a perch for a parakeet. Then visit the tropics to see toucans and finches in a spectacular tropical setting. Finally, explore the Wetland Safari Trail, where turtles, beavers, and deer live their best lives.
When friends Bruce Tyler and Michael Hinderliter started looking for a location to house their distillery, they knew they wanted a historic mill building on the water. He remembers discovering the one in Weldon for the first time. “When we saw the beautiful untamed water of the Roanoke River, plus the historic mill building, located near one of the busiest exits on I-95, we knew this was the perfect, coolest location,” he says.
Today, their Weldon Mills Distillery has grown into an award-winning distillery and a destination for family and friends. “The river is a draw,” Tyler says. “The Roanoke River is a gem that people don’t realize is here.”
Start your experience at the Mill Building tasting room, where you’ll get to try their famous small-batch bourbon. Then hop on a trolley to tour the distillery. Enjoy the remainder of your visit from the Mill Building as you sip world-class whisky and spirits in a beautifully restored building that boasts original brick walls and massive windows.
Riverside Mill is a shoppers’ paradise with river views offering a unique backdrop to your excursion. This expansive shopping area, housed in a historic cotton mill, is part antiques mall, part artisan gallery, and part outlet shops. Originally known as the Weldon Cotton Mill Company, the building dates back to 1899 and sits along the scenic Roanoke River. The antique mall houses more than 100 vendors over half an acre, where treasure hunters find collectibles, estate jewelry, furniture, and locally made pottery, glass, and wood carvings.
Mark your calendar for Riverside Mill’s 14th annual spring open house, scheduled for March 24-26., and enjoy refreshments as you browse sales taking place throughout the mill.
After a morning of shopping, take advantage of the Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail Bicycle Loan Program. Bikes are on loan at Riverside Mill’s Bike Barn and the Roanoke Canal Museum.
As you take one for a spin under newly leafing trees, breathe in the spring air and soak up the riverside beauty surrounding you.