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!