1. Ragged Mountain Natural Area
Looking for a hike that is one with nature but also close enough to be the University’s backyard? Well look no further than the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. The trail network consists of upper trails and lakefront trails that circumnavigate the Charlottesville reservoir — which forms a picturesque backdrop for an afternoon stroll or an early-morning exercise routine. This trail network is rather popular, so there are multiple levels of parking. I recommend getting to the trailhead early for a spot in the upper lot, and be prepared for narrow roads!
2. Blue Hole at Sugar Hollow
Do you like hiking? Do you like swimming? Why not do both at the Blue Hole at Sugar Hollow! This hike interacts with nature in a way that most hikes do not — you will get wet. This hike is understandably popular in the summer as a perfect way to be refreshed by cool mountain water under the hot Virginia sun, but spring and autumn visits to the Blue Hole provide a more intimate hiking experience with nature. Don’t forget your water shoes as this hike has a couple of stream crossings.
3. Humpback Rocks
In my personal opinion, this hike has one of the most spectacular views in the Charlottesville area, making it really popular with locals and students alike. The trail starts out as a pretty tame walk in the woods, but it quickly becomes a steep and rocky ascent. I recommend against going to the Humpback Rocks when it is raining or shortly after, as the trail can become rather slick and — dare I say — treacherous to unprepared or inexperienced hikers. A quick drive over to the Shenandoah area, a cruise down Skyline Drive brings you to the trailhead. This trail is absolutely beautiful in the fall but is a perfect hike at any time of year.
4. Rivanna Trail
Your exploration of Charlottesville does not have to be confined to the plazas and pathways of the Downtown Mall and the Corner — the Rivanna Trail delivers a natural experience in the urban environment and is so close to Grounds. With multiple trailheads and places to park, this 20-mile hike that follows Charlottesville’s own Rivanna River is perfect for both trail running and mountain biking. A good place to start on the trail is either at the trailhead entrance near Fontaine Research park — that one pull-out off of Fontaine avenue where cars are always parked — or at the Rivanna Trail Sunset Drive Trailhead.
5. Old Rag
This hike is a staple of Shenandoah National Park and provides incredible vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a ways away from Charlottesville but is perfect for a day trip. Be prepared for a workout as this hike is over five miles long with over 2,000 vertical feet of ascent. It involves some rock scrambling — — climbing up really rocky trails — and some more strenuous hiking, but the extra effort needed is graciously returned by mother nature herself with spectacular views — and a perfect lunch spot. This hike can be very difficult in the rain, so use extra caution in wet weather. Old Rag is a fan favorite, so be ready to expect some crowds in peak season and on warm-weather days.
6. Crabtree Falls
The Crabtree Falls trail is a workout. Despite being much more difficult than most, it provides an intimate experience with many different waterfalls over two miles of trails and 1,200 vertical feet. It has become well known because the Crabtree Falls is one of the largest sets of waterfalls east of the Mississippi river. It includes some really steep inclines that are supported by wooden staircases and railings that make the ascent a little more moderate to those that require rock scrambling. This trail is not for the faint of heart, but it provides an amazing up-close-and-personal experience with a waterfall. It can be extremely popular on good weather days so be prepared to hunt for parking and ready to pay a small fee of $3.
7. Ivy Creek Natural Area
Looking for something a bit more accessible to all? The Ivy Creek Natural Area provides a trail network that is perfect for everyone in your group. From self-guided educational hikes to tranquil walks in the woods, this area has something for everyone. Ivy Creek is well-known for bird-watching, as many local species have taken refuge in the area. So grab some friends and head to the creek, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
8. Saunders-Monticello Trails
The Saunders-Monticello Trails are great for those who prefer flatter ground, and they’re also both wheelchair accessible and perfect for strollers and pets. The network consists of a few paths that are either paved or on boardwalks and end at Monticello. These trails are a special landmark in the Charlottesville community as they are loaded with history and natural beauty with amazing accessibility.
9. Turk Mountain
This trail is nestled comfortably into the Appalachian Trail and takes advantage of the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This hike requires a bit of effort as there are some points that can become quite steep and can be quite difficult if it is wet or raining outside. However, the viewpoint at the top of the hike is perfect for sitting down and unwinding after the ascent. This hike is not as popular as some of the other ones on this list, but I believe that it provides a view that does not disappoint.
10. Highland Rustic Trails
This trail network is relatively unknown, but the area is perfect for hikers of any skill level. There are multiple loops of trails here that either ondulate with the surrounding terrain or ascend into the mountains. The mountain trail is my personal favorite as it has some strenuous points and feels like a woodsy trek into the unknown. The trails are located on private land, so you have to check into their gift shop before hiking. They’re also closed during the week — check here for more information before visiting.
Whichever trail you decide to explore, please hike responsibly and understand your limits.