Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Hiking in and Near Charlottesville

May 22-31, 2016                                                                                      Most Recent Posts:
Charlottesville, Virginia                                                     Three Weeks in May: Memories, Maintenance and Festivals
                                                                                           Abracadabera, We’re Back in Virginia Again



In addition to seeing the Gardens at UVA, the Saturday morning City Market, the interesting downtown Mall and Charlottesville’s festivals, there are several nice hikes nearby.  These are not the only ones I did during our stay but here are two in the city and one in the nearby Shenandoah National Park.





Accessible from Route 20 South, at the bottom of the Mountain below Monticello is a parking lot from which you can walk 2 miles up the mountain to Thomas Jefferson’s home.  The trail starts out in a park like setting and goes under the road to Monticello through a tunnel before starting up the mountain.

Comprised partly of on-grade sections made of finely crushed, packed stone and partly of raised boardwalk the trail winds through native hardwood forest with deep ravines on its way toward Monticello and back in a very manageable four miles. A maximum grade of 5% keeps it completely accessible to walkers, cyclists and those in wheelchairs. 



Every half mile is marked.





The trails map is below. I have had to lighten it significantly so you could even see the teal blue main trail against the green background. Bad design on someone’s part.  The main trail hugs the perimeter of the green space.  There are many more dirt trails into the forest so it’s possible to turn your hike into one much longer than the 4 miles round trip of the main trail

The map also does not show all of the main trail all the way to the visitor’s center.



Map 3





One of the really great things about the trail is that many of its mostly native trees and bushes are labeled.  Jefferson was not a purist.  His was the age of arboretums bringing in interesting plants from all over the world.  Here though the forest is mostly native hardwoods.  Virginia is one of the most diverse states in the country with 78 different trees including 14 native oaks.  I’m pretty sure they are all labeled on this walk.  Take a look at how different the leaves of just a few of them are.




















Really lovely boardwalks take you over the deep ravines if you haven’t chosen to hike the woodland trails down in to them.


You can see the lake off to the left of the trail on the map.  Looks lovely blue there but with all the rain, it’s pretty muddy now.



Along the way are views of the mountains in the distance and the city closer by.



The trail reaches the road up to the home and crosses the beautiful stone bridge.




From the official entrance, the trail follows a boardwalk to the right of the road. 



It can be quite slick after it has rained when it is wet.



When I reached the parking lot this little number caught my eye.  Don’t think I’ve seen a truck camper like this before.



I guess I should clarify that this trail doesn’t go all the way to the house.  It goes all the way to the ticket center, parking lot, visitor’s center, gift shop and theater.   You can do these last four for free.  There is a sign that points to a trail to the graveyard which I it appears you can also take though I didn’t.  Whether from there you can walk on up to the grounds around the house and gardens I don’t know.  It was later in the afternoon on this week day when I was there and the tours were finished for the day so there was no one to ask.   This building is the gift shop which among other things sells plants grown at Monticello.




I do know that when you buy tickets for the house and grounds tours, the bus which takes you up to the house boards right up these steps on the left.  The tall building is the museum.



The 20 minute film runs continuously.  Having lived here most of my life, there wasn’t much in it that I didn’t already know but it was well done.


Time to head back down the trail.



This time a little family is hanging out near the lake.


You could spend a lot more time and hike more miles than I did by taking the side trails here. 





Over the past few years there has been quite a tadoo including lawsuits over how to increase the city of Charlottesville’s water supply as they, like many other former sweet lilttle towns in the south, become overgrown with people moving in after seeing them on Best Places to live, to retire, to this and to that.

The area around the reservoir of course is a restricted building natural area and the Ivy Creek Foundation which owns and runs the wonderful Nature Area in town had responsibility for the trails.  Some were strenuous and good exercise for serious hikers.  My friend Lynda and I have hiked here many times and taken birding walks and birding classes. 

The final decision on the need for more water to handle the city’s growth was to build a new and taller dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir which increased the size of the Reservoir and resulted in the loss of thousands of hardwood trees.  The work has been completed and according to the city who now manages the area the trails are again open for hiking. 

So today we come out to take a look at how different it is.

There is a posted map but no hand copies to take with you on the trail.  I took this picture which shows that you can walk a good way around the lake but you cannot yet apparently walk all the way around judging by the tiny dashes in some places.

At the new trail head, we recognize nothing.  But we have a copy of the map and surely they have trail markers.




This is a very nice trail marker although it doesn’t tell you what is to your right or what is to your left on the connecting trail.  We can see the reservoir to the left so that’s the way we go.



I’m not sure who has done the wonderful woodworking here but I imagine it was done with some of the acres of trees that were removed to increase the size of the reservoir.






We have seen no trail signs only very nice carvings.  I’m afraid I don’t consider trails to be finished if they have no numbered or lettered signs that correspond to a map and indicate to hikers where they are and how to get where they want to go.





After discussing which way to go at yet another unmarked crossroad, Lynda heads out into who knows where.




We’re still by the reservoir but way above it.  We had hoped to find the swinging bridge that was installed and has been bragged about in the media but so far we don’t see it.  And there are no signs.  It’s not even on labeled the map.



We do walk through lovely patches of ferns on our way to wherever we are on our way to.



And I am really exciteed to notice this guy who would fit easily into the palm of my hand and really blends in.





Wish the lighting on this carving had been better.  I tried with both flash and none but the fantastic detail of his feathers just doesn’t translate.





Finally we give up, turn around and try to trace our steps back to where we began.  It was a very nice hike and good exercise but I certainly can’t recommend it until the city who owns it now takes serious responsibility for the trails and marking them as completelly as the Ivy Creek Foundation did the former trails.





Heading up Interstate 64 to the top of Afton Mountain is a really lovely drive.  From the summit you can go south along the Blue Ridge Parkway or North along the Skyline Drive.  The Southern Terminus of the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park is just beyond Drive Mile Post 105.




About a mile beyond the Beagle Gap Overlook which is at Mile Post 100 on the Skyline Drive, I see the small parking area on the right and this style gate up into the field with a trail leading to the AT.  The white blaze on the gate lets me know this is the Appalachian Trail.



Good thing there is a trail.  The grass is mighty tall.  Makes me think of ticks and chiggers.  I get neither of them today.



As I reach the end of the grasses and just before the woods begins are the remnents of an old apple orchard.  It must have belonged to the people who lived here before the advent of the park in the 30’s and even without pruning or care these trees contijnue to produce apples.





Up, up I go in the peaceful woodland with only the song of the Eastern Towhee in the air.


I’m walking pensively along thinking about the rocky land these people mde their home when I hear a scuffle in the leaves and sticks that is larger than a squirrel.  I don’t take another step and look around into the trees.


I don’t see anything but there is a black spot.  I didn’t bring my binoculars so I get out my camera and zoom in.  This is what I see.


She’s looking at me, I’m looking at her.  I don’t move.  She doesn’t move.  If you look closely you can see her eyes and brown muzzle.


And then I hear another noise in the tree just off the trail.  You can see the little cub right beside the tree.  He scrambled down so quickly this is the only picture I could get.  You can see the black shape of his mom in the distance.  He ran over to her and off they went in the opposite direction.    They made my day!



After that fun I continue on up and reach the summit of Little Calf Mountain where I can see the Blue Ridge rolling in the distance.   The name suggests that this was once grazing land for cattle.





I continue on back into the woods.


Finally after many sightings of my singer I get this one shot that isn’t blurred.  The Eastern Towhee is one of my favorite birds.


It’s rocks, rocks and more rocks but the trail isn’t difficult.  It’s a wonderful hike.






Another one of nature’s camouflage jobs that I almost missed he was so still.   If you can identify him, let me know.



This is a serious cairn which may have started out as a pile of rocks toss by a farmer clearing ground for a field.



The trail has been lined with this wild columbine and the white flowers of the wild rose behind it.  With the never ending rain, everything is green and greener.  The red and yellow columbine really stands out.


At about 3 miles I turn around and head back toward Little Calf Mountain.  I haven’t really met anyone on the trail up to this point.  These are the first two backpackers I meet.  After them there are several more before I reach Ruby in the parking area.




I’ll admit I do love all the rocks of all sizes and shapes along and on the trail.


This one looks like layers were set down.








And here I am, back at the field.  Ruby is down there at the bottom patiently waiting for me.  There just isn’t a bad morning on the Appalachian Trail. Today, up here, the temperature is perfect, and no ticks on me even in shorts walking the trail through the grass.

When we’re in Charlottesville I love to spend as many days as I can hiking in Shenandoah National Park.  Even after camping here all last summer, I never tire of it or of the A.T.   I can always recommend the A.T. as well marked.



  1. Lovely hikes all three...sounds like the city definitely needs better markers...but those wood carvings are beautiful! How wonderful to see the bear and cub in Shenandoah!

  2. Weird that they put all that effort in to putting those carved statues out there but did not carve any simple signs for the trail! It would be fun to seek them all out though.

  3. Great hikes. Nice that you have access to such lovely trails close to home. Funny. I can't tell from the photos if it is hot and humid or damp and chilly. And I didn't get any ticks looking at the grass.

  4. Three very nice hikes! I really like when there are signs on the trees. I enjoy knowing what I am seeing, but I'm not good at researching the names:) Too bad there weren't signs along the reservoir trail. It would be interesting to see if there were carvings all the way. Someone did a wonderful job. How cool to come across a momma bear and her cub. Thank goodness they went the opposite way. We are in bear country again and carry our bear spray. Better safe than sorry is my motto:) Be careful out there!

  5. Sure enjoyed your hike, great photos.

  6. What a great moment with the bears! I'm sure your heart was beating fast. I love that picture of the moth, or butterfly. Looks just like some sort of leaf. Blends in very well! I like rocky trails too. They are so much more interesting to hike on than anything else.

  7. What a delight to see the bears! I've only ever come across lone bears.

    I do like those wood carvings!

  8. Too bad the city who owns the trail hasn't done markers. Loved all of your hikes, great bear photos.

  9. It's been so many years since I've been to Monticello that I have forgotten most of it. Glad for the refresher!

  10. Does seem very strange that with all the work done at the reservoir including the awesome carvings that there's no trail markers. Hope they solve that problem. You live near some absolutely gorgeous country to hike in. And how exciting to see the bears. What kind of rock is found there?

  11. Such beautiful hikes! I love the turtle bench along the trail. But I agree—markers would be helpful! We were just talking about the lack of signage a few days ago when we were hiking in the North Cascades. It's amazing to me how often you see bears you see when you're hiking! So cute to see a cub, but also a bit scary if you inadvertently get between mama and cub (I speak from experience).

  12. Good for you, your trails are just a few miles away. I always appreciate it when trees are being identified. Perhaps those wood sculptures are markers and the completing it is still in progress. But those carvings are really somebody work of art.
    It seems you are always in luck when it comes to bear sightings. We are now in Bear Country and still has to see one.

  13. Bummer, you're making me miss our Virginia home. We've many happy memories of the Skyline Drive, many a day well spent there.

  14. Just so much beauty in this wilderness - each trail has something lovely to offer. That butterfly/moth is incredible!! Your bear encounter was so special, gave me a little chill :-)

  15. OK, you've convinced me to put Charlotte on my "to do" places list. Love the bears; is it common to see them, and do you carry bear spray? We don't hike anywhere here in WY without it.


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