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Hiking Near Charlottesville, Virginia

June 22, 2012

My husband and I went on a long-awaited trip to Virginia for 5 days last week. I’m working on separate posts to tell you about the cities, sights, and full story, but those started getting frighteningly long. I went ahead and broke this hiking information out into its own piece to spare your eyes, whet your appetite, and start to share the Old Dominion State with you.

While we were in Charlottesville, we drove about 30 minutes west to the southern tip of Shenandoah National Park one morning for a hike. You may want to investigate this further because obviously we are not locals, but it sounded to us like you could hike off the Blue Ridge Parkway for free, whereas you pay $15 per car to enter the SNP. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a long, scenic road running 469 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains through Virginia and North Carolina. It connects Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Essentially, it looks like at the junction of the mountain range and Interstate 64, you can turn right onto Skyline Drive and pay $15 to enter Shenandoah National Park, or you can turn left onto Blue Ridge Parkway, a continuation of the same road, for free. Both appear to offer scenic drives.

We went ahead and entered the national park, figuring we had less chance of a) getting lost or b) wasting precious time driving around an unfamiliar area looking for paths. Our $15 did net us several helpful maps with descriptions of trails and the personal recommendations of a quirky park ranger. Also, your pass is good for a week; if we had been in town longer, we could have taken more advantage of the admission price.

Once inside the park, we had to drive up Skyline Drive at least another 10-20 minutes to get to the first trailhead, the Turk Mountain Trail. Since our map said it was shady, of moderate difficulty, and included a view, we happily parked and hopped onto it.

The path was indeed shady, moderately difficult, and easy to follow. It was filled with soft moss, gray-green rocks, and little frogs. After about a mile it ends with the following view, then you reverse course and hike the same route back.

If you want to go more than a couple of miles, it is easy to turn off the Turk trail onto the Appalachian Trail for any distance you’d like, then turn around and retrace your steps when you’re ready.

The park was serene and we really enjoyed our time there, especially when we saw a sweet young woman hiking with her lively little dog, who wore his own pooch hiking pack with zipper pockets hanging on either side of his back!

The best part for me was that after missing out in Georgia, I finally got to hike on the Appalachian Trail! I don’t have many “bucket-list” items in my mind, but for some reason, I really wanted to be able to say that I’d put my feet on the AT at least once in my life.

Our only disappointments in the hiking experience was that there were not outhouses or restrooms at the park entrance- I was hoping our $15 would have bought us that kind of convenience! Also, I personally didn’t love having to drive 30 minutes to the park itself, then another 10-20 minutes to get to the first trailhead. Given the limited time of our short trip and that we’d already spent a few days of driving through Virginia, I wanted out of the car sooner than that!

If Charlottesville is your homebase and you also are tired of driving, we had great luck asking for hiking recommendations at the visitor center on the east end of Charlottesville’s downtown pedestrian mall, near the concert pavillion. The gentleman there had plenty of helpful maps, and he happily highlighted/explained various hiking options on them. He mentioned several other walking paths and trails in Charlottesville itself and surrounding Albemarle County, such as Ivy Creek Natural Area, the Rivanna Trail in Riverside Park, the Saunders-Monticello Trail, and others through the 89-acre Kemper Park along the Thomas Jefferson Parkway. There is also one called the Ragged Mountain Natural Area on the west side of Charlottesville, but it is temporarily closed until dam construction is completed.

Happy trails to you!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

drowqueen June 24, 2012 at 9:14 am

Glad you got to visit here! I think we have some beautiful mountain views and if you have time, visit a few of the VA wineries around Charlottesville next time:)

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Sharon June 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I’m glad too! I had been REALLY been looking forward to it. :) Yes, the mountain views were lovely, so green and rollingly hilly. I was definitely intrigued by all the wineries in the area too- maybe next visit we’ll have more time to check them out! Are there any particular ones you would recommend? Thank you for stopping by and for your feedback! Glad you made your way to Granola Meets Grits! :)

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drowqueen June 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm

I have lived in VA all my life and there is still so much to see. We recently started more road trips and I posted about our last winery trip around the time you were here it seems:) If you want, check out my last post because it explains the “feel” of the wineries.

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Sharon July 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Oh, thank you! I will definitely check out your post, so that I can vicariously experience this part of Charlottesville that we didn’t have time for! Thank you so much for visiting, and for all your Virginia advice. :) Maybe VA should put you on their tourism board! :)

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Gay K June 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm

what beautiful scenery! I’ve got to say that I’ve also always wanted to hike the AP, and will definitely try to figure out when I can do that.

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Sharon June 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm

It was beautiful! I know, you could hike all over other places, but there is just something about the draw of the AT. :) I bet you will get there sometime- even if you just do a little piece, you can still say you did it! Too bad it doesn’t run particularly close to Pittsburgh… :)

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Diana June 27, 2012 at 9:13 am

If you’re looking for awesome trail maps, be sure to check out http://www.Terrain360.com, interactive trail tours with amazing imagery.. check out the panoramic tours for the Rivanna River Trail and Monticello Trails you mentioned: http://www.terrain360.com/trails/virginia/monticello_1/monticello.html
http://www.terrain360.com/trails/virginia/rivanna_riverview_1/rivanna.html

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Sharon July 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Ooh, thank you Diana! Those look really cool! Thank you for sharing. Definitely helpful for out-of-towners to get an idea of what kind of hikes they’re considering before they arrive!

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