When it comes to hiking around Charlottesville and Albemarle County, there is no shortage of options dotting the Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia. Fill your days with the sights and sounds of tumbling waterfalls, breathtaking overlooks, and urban trails close to the city. Here’s a local’s take on some of the best options while you’re in town.
A short and scenic 30-minute drive from Downtown Charlottesville will bring you to the entrance of the Shenandoah National Park. Venture along Skyline Drive where you can find dozens of trails to spend a few hours or a few days. Hop on the iconic Appalachian Trail, marked by the white blazes, as it winds more than 100 miles in the park. You can also take the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway heading south for numerous overlooks and challenging hikes, like the Humpback Rocks Trail. Located at milepost six, it’s a short but strenuous climb to the top. The 360-degree views at the rocky summit make it all worth the effort.
For a walk infused with history, check out the trails at the homes of three U.S. presidents in the area. The Saunders-Monticello Trail & Park System is made up of more than 9 miles of hikes with varying difficulties. The two-mile, ADA-accessible Saunders-Monticello Trail will take you to overlooks of the city, a pond, an arboretum of native flora, and eventually the visitor center at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. On the Highland Rustic Trails of James Monroe’s Highland, you can expect to see a rich ecosystem with moderate elevation gain along the way in addition to abundant wildlife. The trail system at James Madison’s Montpelier is made up of eight miles of trails that wind through horse pastures, wildflower meadows, and the impressive Old-Growth Landmark Forest. You can also follow the connection to the Grelen Trails for a longer hike.
Several local parks and preserves make it easy to get outside while staying close to town. A prime location for spotting wildlife, Ivy Creek Natural Area has seven miles of trails looping past the creek and through the woods with hikes of varying difficulties. For more rugged terrain, the seven miles of singletrack trails running through Ragged Mountain Natural Area will certainly keep you on your toes. The trail system at Boar’s Head Resort also connects to the Ragged Mountain trails. But wait, there’s more! Stop for a picnic and a hike along the water, plus some of the best mountain biking around, at either Preddy Creek Park or Patricia Ann Byrom Forest Preserve Park.
An additional 20 miles of linked trails and roadways encircle the city of Charlottesville to form the Rivanna River Trails. With this urban trail system, you’ll get to experience parts of the city you can only get to on foot or by bike. Whether it’s watching the kayakers float past at Riverview Park, getting up close to the river, or finding a quiet spot to yourself, you can take this one at your own pace.
During warmer months, there’s nothing better than a spot to cool off after a long hike. At the base of the Shenandoah National Park, Sugar Hollow Loop is an excellent choice for river crossings, swimming holes, and waterfalls galore. While you might not want to dip your toes in during the winter, you will find more solitude during a less-crowded time of year.
Trails are just the start of your outdoor adventure in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. After a full day of hiking, head out for a night on the town as you explore a wide range of cuisines, hopping craft breweries, a lively music scene, and more. Then settle in for a good night’s rest at one of the area’s many inns, bed and breakfasts, resorts, or hotels. Learn more and start planning your trip today at visitcharlottesville.org!