From riverside local parks to the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Va., are surrounded by an abundance of hiking opportunities. Winter is the perfect time for a quiet hike with less crowds and no bugs to worry about. Layer up, pack a hot drink, and hit the trails with these local suggestions. Don’t forget to wear your mask in public spaces and maintain social distancing even when outside.
Downtown Charlottesville is just a 25-minute drive from the southern end of Shenandoah National Park and the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, both popular destinations for hikers, cyclists, and motorcyclists no matter the season. For the highest peaks, most dramatic overlooks and sunsets, toughest climbs, and best experiences, take these trails to experience a winter wonderland in the mountains.
The fee ($30/vehicle, $25/motorcycle) to enter Shenandoah National Park is well worth the cost. Just off Skyline Drive, Riprap Trail offers stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley, rock scrambles, and creek crossings. Keep an eye out for the waterfall which may freeze over depending on temperatures. Plan for 45 minutes to drive to the parking lot from downton, plus an additional five to six hours to complete the full 9.1-mile loop. Nearby Turk Mountain Trail offers a shorter 2.5-mile out and back hike with a big reward at the overlook.
Entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway is free, with numerous overlooks and picnic spots along the way. But you can’t see the best views from the road. Hop on Humpback Rocks Trail, one of the most popular in the area, for a short but steep climb to a 360-degree view of the area making it a perfect sunrise and sunset spot. The Appalachian Trail parallels and crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive at several points, allowing you to tack on more miles to your route.
The whole family will enjoy exploring Sugar Hollow in scenic Albemarle County as the trail follows the river, hugs a mountain, and ends at a cluster of swimming holes. Although it will be too cold to enjoy a swim, this loop is an excellent way to immerse yourself in nature and the winter stillness.
Closer to town, there are a variety of ways to enjoy the sights of Charlottesville on foot. For scenic views of the water and city, the Rivanna River Trails are easily accessible from the Downtown Mall while offering access to different parts of town with a mix of paved and natural trails. Ivy Creek Natural Area also offers a range of trails, each of which are relatively flat and accessible.
The Saunders-Monticello Trail is an accessible path winding through hardwood forests with views of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, especially when the trees are bare. Arrive early in the morning for an optimal experience. The main section of the trail is just over two miles long with access to a wide network of narrow paths, some of which lead as high as the edge of Carter Mountain Orchard and an arboretum with native trees and shrubs at Kemper Park. Just over the mountain are the Highland Rustic Trails, a system of rolling, scenic trails adjacent to the historic home of James Monroe. Be sure to tour the historic properties of James Monroe’s Highland while you’re there.
Keep the Adventure Going
There’s nothing better after a hike than a slice to go from Crozet Pizza, made fresh each day with a special family dough and sauce recipe. Pair it with a side of jalapeno poppers and a cold can of beer to toast to your getaway. Be sure to check out one of Charlottesville’s many other unique dining options while you’re in town, ranging from fast and casual to upscale.
When visiting Charlottesville, you’ll be at the center of Virginia’s wine country. Set in a scenic location, Pollak Vineyards is a boutique winery focused on making French-style wines ranging from a sweet viognier to a full body cabernet sauvignon. Grab a bottle to go from their curbside pickup or reserve a seat on their porch and patio. Many wineries in the area have heated outdoor spaces so you can enjoy a drink safely outside while staying warm in the cold mountain air. Explore more drink options from Pro Re Nata Brewery, including their flagship craft beers, seasonal drafts, hard ciders, and a selection of local wines. Keep an eye on their calendar for live music held on their expansive lawn.
After a long day outside in the brisk mountain air, cozy up at one of the boutique hotels, bed & breakfasts, cabins, or other rentals in the area. You’re going to want to get a good night of rest before another day spent getting the most out of your trip. For a full list of available options, click here.
These are but a few of the highlights that await you in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Va. Explore dozens of trails that crisscross the city and county, discover new restaurants and craft beverages, and unwind with the Blue Ridge Mountains rising in the distance. Start planning your winter getaway today at VisitCharlottesville.org.
All photos courtesy of Charlottesville Albemarle CVB