Charlottesville, VA

The U.S. Bureau of National Economic Research recently awarded Charlottesville with the distinguished title of “Happiest Place in the US”, and with its surging craft beer reputation, easy access to nearby vineyards, and impressive music scene, it’s easy to see why.

The art and culture in this city are second to none, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello makes its a top notch destination for travelers from around the world, but it’s Charlottesville’s proximity to the great outdoors that keeps us coming back time and again.

From Charlottesville, a short drive west will get you to the gates of Shenandoah National Park and the notoriously scenic Skyline Drive, a mecca for road cyclists. Once there, you’ll find more than 500 miles of hiking trails and over 190,000 acres of protected scenery—much of which is open to backcountry camping. Also nearby is the Wintergreen Resort, one of the top snowsports destinations in the South. In town, Walnut Creek State Park offers fifteen miles of flowy singletrack around a scenic lake, and the Rivanna Trail circles the entire city, enabling runners, bikers, and hikers to explore the wild woods from their backyards.

Get Outside in Charlottesville!

Top 10 Charlotteville Adventures
  1. Mountain Bike the Single Track in Walnut Creek Park. Located about 20 miles southwest of Charlottesville, Walnut Creek Park encompasses 525 acres and harbors a 15 mile network of singletrack that ranges from tight and twisty to intermediate and beginner. Walnut Creek Park also offers visitors opportunity for hiking, kayaking, swimming, and disc golf. Open in map.
  2. Paddle the Moormans River from Charlottesville Reservoir to Free Union.The put-in for this paddle is about 40 minutes northwest of Charlottesville proper, just below the Charlottesville Reservoir. Perfect for the intermediate to beginning level paddler, this trip follows the course of the Moormans River through 13.5 miles of class I-III rapids in the heart of the beautiful Virginia countryside. Open in map.
  3. Run, hike, or bike on the Rivanna Trail.The Rivanna Trail circles the town of Charlottesville in a near contiguous 20-mile loop. With plenty of spurs and offshoots, this trail is a popular destination with hikers, bikers, runners, wildlife watchers, and just about any other type of outdoor enthusiast you can dream up. Because of its proximity to the heart of town, the Rivanna Trail offers Charlottesville residents and visitors a quick escape from the city while providing access several city parks, the campus of UVA, community gardens, a dog park, mature hardwood forests, fishing, and much more. Open in map.
  4. Do a multiday section hike on the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Park from Swift Run Gap to the Bearfence Hut.This hike follows the white blazes of the AT for 9.1 miles along panoramic mountain tops to a rustic AT shelter built in the 1940s. During the journey you’ll summit Saddleback and Baldface mountains before descending to Bearfence Hut. The hut sleeps six but has plenty of surrounding spots for tent camping. Remember to always yield to AT through hikers when staying at the Bearfence Hut. Open in map.
  5. Hike to the Summit of Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park.This is often called the most dangerous and challenging hike in Shenandoah National Park, but it’s also considered one of the most rewarding. Depending on your route and skill level, an Old Rag trip can take anywhere from 5 to 8 hours, and ascending to the summit can require as much as 3,000 feet of elevation gain—complete with a one mile section of semi-technical boulder scrambling. It’s an arduous climb, and hikers must pay close attention to weather conditions, but the astonishing views from the top make make this hike well worth the effort! Open in map.
  6. Road Cycling on Route 76.This historic bicycle route—also known as the TransAmerica Route—tours the length of the United States from Oregon to the Virginia coast, and more than 40 miles wind through the heart Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville. For a great experience on the TransAmerica Route, consider starting on the downtown section then continuing on to the more remote and scenic stretches of the trail that wind through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  7. Fish the James and Shenandoah Rivers. Both these rivers are recognized as premier fishing destinations, known for aggressive and healthy smallmouth populations. The numerous islands, boulder fields, rock garden, and clay banks of the James afford anglers the opportunity to boat fish up to and over 20 inches, while the pebbled bottoms, grass beds, and undercut ledges of the Shenandoah form a fly fisherman’s paradise. Open in map.
  8. Hiking in the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. A 980-acre forest full of wildlife and mature hardwood, the Ragged Mountain Natural Area is remarkably close to town. Visitors to this area will be rewarded with wildlife viewing opportunities, seven miles of rugged trails, and access to two lakes with more than four miles of shoreline. Open in map.
  9. Hike the Saunders-Monticello Trail at Kemper Park in Monticello. This is a short, easy trail that offers visitors to Monticello—the historic home of Thomas Jefferson—an interesting perspective on the property. At a distance of two miles, the Saunders-Monticello Trail winds through the park before ascending the side of Carter Mountain toward Monticello. The trail then leads directly to the Monticello ticket office over the recently completed stone-arch Saunders Bridge. A pedestrian underpass at the lower trailhead that leads to additional parking will constitute the final piece of the project.Open in map.
  10. Backcountry camping and fly fishing at Big Run in Shenandoah National Park.The Big Run watershed is the largest watershed in Shenandoah National Park—providing hundreds of millions of gallons of water per every inch of rain to downstream residents— but it’s also home to some of Shenandoah’s finest fly fishing and a few secluded backcountry campsites. For an awesome Big Run experience start at the Big Run Loop trailhead, accessible via the Big Run Overlook. From there you’ll traverse some meandering switchbacks while slowly descending over 1,000 feet into the holler below. Open in map.

In the Area

Explore Charlottesville, VA
  • Sharp Rock Vineyard. Virginia is well known for its growing number of wineries and vineyard and the Charlottesville area is no exception. Sharp Rock Vineyards, located on the Hughes River at the foot of Old Rag Mountain, about an hour northeast of Charlottesville is one of the most beautiful vineyard locations in Virginia. Their tasting room is open open all year Friday through Sunday and by appointment. Visit the Wineshop year-round to order wine to be shipped directly to you.. Open in map.
  • Blue Mountain Brewery Virginia is widely regarded for its burgeoning wine scene, but the state doesn’t skimp when it comes to craft beer either. Blue Mountain Brewery is a unique destination in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Located on route 151 approximately 1.5 miles south of route 250, the brewery is less than 20 miles from Charlottesville, 15 miles from Wintergreen Mountain Resort, and only 5 miles from Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. Their brews are produced onsite where they handcraft about 80,000 gallon of craft beer a year. The brewery’s water source is a 300-foot well drilled by an old spring and fed by miles of untouched forest watershed. 9519 Critzer’s Shop Road – Afton, VA 22920. Open in map.
  • Hatchmaker Guiding Service L.E. Rhodes has been fishing the James and Shenandoah rivers for over 45 years. He has 17 years of guiding experience. The last 15 of those years he has operated Hatchmatcher Guide Service. An Orvis-endorsed fly fishing guide, Rhodes knows that everyone likes to catch fish, but he also aims to send his every client home having learned something new about the sport of fly fishing.  434-286-3366, ler@hatchmatcherguideservice.com.

Native Knowledge

Local Lore
  • We love guiding in Virginia because of the excellent opportunities each season holds. Spring is usually a very productive time of year for Brookies, but you can have success throughout the year. We like to give Brook Trout a break during their spawning period (October & November). Late Spring through early Fall we chase warm water species like Smallmouth on the James, Rivanna, and the Shenandoah.
    Cole Columbus
    Albermarle Angler
  • One of my favorite hikes close to Charlottesville is Ragged Mountain. It’s so close to the city, but when you’re there you feel like you’re far away from civilization. It also offers one of the best large lake views in the area.
    Chris Gensic, Park and Trails Planner
    City of Charlottesville