Ivy Creek Natural Area

Ivy Creek Natural Area – various trails
Charlottesville, VA
Distance: 6 miles of trails to choose from; trails range from 0.2 mi to 1.7 mi
Views: Views of meadows and the reservoir
Trailhead: Ivy Creek Natural Area Parking Lot
Type: Loops, connectors, and circuits
Dogs: No dogs allowed
Notes: Great place for a quiet walk, close to town. Great options for toddler walks. Closes at sunset.
Map: Map from Ivy Creek Foundation

Getting there: From Hydraulic Road turn onto Earlysville Road (743). Turn left into the park when you see the large Ivy Creek Natural Area sign. If you get to the bridge going over the reservoir, you’ve gone too far. Use this address for GPS: 1780 Earlysville Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903.

Rules: There are a few rules to follow when using these trails…no pets and no jogging are probably the ones most of you need to know about. More details and more regulations on the Ivy Creek Foundation’s website: http://ivycreekfoundation.org/rules.

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Field Trail (0.6 mi):
Trail Color: Light Purple
Details: From the parking area, walk on the paved path, past the information kiosk, towards the barn and veer right. Cross the grassy field until you see the light purple post for the Field Trail. This path meanders around a large field, with a wide, mowed grassy trail; this is a great walk for toddlers. Follow the light purple trail marker posts to stay on track. Option to add a small loop and a little reservoir overlook.

Note: The Hydraulic Overlook add-on portion of the Field Trail is a little more difficult to navigate due to a more narrow trail and tree roots (especially for little feet).

Pictures from the Field Trail:

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Red Trail (1.7 mi):
Trail Color: Red
Details: Once you park, scan the parking lot until you see the wooden post with red paint. That’s the Trailhead for the Red Trail. The trail starts out very open, wide, and grassy, but will soon head into the woods with a more narrow, root-filled path. This is a diverse trail with something for everyone; you’ll experience crossing bridges and creeks, strolling next to the Rivanna River Reservoir, and meandering through meadows. To stay on the trail, make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the red wooden posts and look for trail markers along the way. As you get closer to the barn follow the trail markers that say ‘Parking’ to get back to you car. My friend and I completed this hike in about 45 minutes with our little ones in baby carriers (time includes stopping to feed Miss Sunshine snacks a few times). I imagine with toddlers walking, it could take at least two hours to complete…I’ll let you know for sure when I feel brave enough to try the trail with Sunshine walking the entire time.

TIP: You can choose to do this trail in the reverse of what I’ve described here, or add other trails to your hike to make it longer; the options are almost endless. Take a look at the Ivy Creek Foundation’s Map to plan ahead if you want to add different routes and loops to the Red Trail.

Pictures from the Red Trail:


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Saunders-Monticello Trail

The Saunders-Monticello Trail
Charlottesville, VA
Distance: 4 miles
Views: Meadows, a pond, and great views of Cville
Trailhead: At the end of the large lot off of Route 20, smaller lot off of Route 53, or access from the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center parking lot.
Type: Out and back (side trails offer round trip and circuit hikes)
Dogs: Yes! Dogs are allowed on a portion of the main trail and on all side trails.
Notes: Gravel trail with bridges/boardwalks that allows easy access for bikes, strollers, wheelchairs, and toddlers. No restrooms at bottom of trail, but there are restrooms and a cafe at the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center at the top of the trail. Trail is typically open from sunrise to sunset.

Difficulty and length:
The Saunders-Monticello Trail is 4 miles – two miles up to the top and two miles back down. The path is mostly crushed gravel with a few wooden bridges and a gentle grade for an easy hike. Personally, I’d rate this trail as easy. Don’t get me wrong, on a hot July day it can be tough, but the wide, well-maintained trail is very accessible to all. This trail is for everyone!
This trail map lists side trails with the length and difficulty of each – https://www.monticello.org/sites/default/files/inline-pdfs/TrailMap.pdf
Getting there:
Coming from Charlottesville, head south down Route 20 (towards Scottsville) and take a left at the light onto Route 53 (see signs for Carter’s Mountain Orchard and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello). Once on Route 53, your next right is a small parking area with a sign for the trail. You can park here and start your walk, but there are limited spaces (about 10 or so). If this lot is full, turn around and take a left back onto 53. Head down to the light again and take a right on Route 20 heading back towards Charlottesville. Your next right will be a larger parking lot for the trail, it’s called Dairy Barn Road (Private). You will also see the large ‘The Monticello Trail’ sign. Another option is to park up at the Monticello Visitor Center’s parking lot. They have restrooms and a cafe up there; it can be nice to start your walk from the top of the mountain after a refreshing drink and a bathroom break.

Details:
Once you park (See ‘Getting there’ section above), simply look for the wide, crushed gravel trail. It’s really hard to lose the trail as it’s so clearly marked and well-maintained. Keep on the path until you get to the Visitor Center at the top and then turn around and head back down. Two miles up and two miles down. Please note that dogs are allowed on side trails and on the main gravel trail until you reach the pond. Dogs are not allowed on the boardwalks.

There are several side trails off the main Saunders-Monticello trail with varying difficulty and accessibility. Check out this map from www.monticello.org/trail to see location, length, and difficulty of the many side trails.

Tip:
In the winter and early spring you will get a lot more sun on this hike since the leaves haven’t come back yet; be sure to bring sunscreen. Luckily, in the summer the trail is mostly shaded since the leaves are covering the trees making almost a full canopy overhead. This helps a lot with those 90-degree hot, summer days we get here in Virginia.

My Experience:
I love this trail! It’s close to town, easy to access, and stroller friendly. Yay for not always having to carry Miss Sunshine on my back! At the foot of the trail is a section of an old Tulip Poplar where you will usually see a swarm of children. My daughter loves to stop here and it’s a great photo opportunity.

Despite being so popular and so close to town, I still see a lot of wildlife on this trail. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, foxes, snakes, birds, lizards, and turtles (all of which I’ve seen on my walks here).

 

Summer views:

Fall views:


Spring views:

 

Blackrock

Blackrock Summit
Shenandoah National Park (Southern)
Skyline Drive milepost 85
Distance: 1 mile
Type: Loop or make it an ‘out and back’
Views: Beautiful view of mountains and valleys
Dogs: Bring your leashed furry friend along for the walk
Trailhead: At the end of the Blackrock Summit Parking area at milepost 85
Notes: A quick, easy trek to the summit for great views. Great hike for younger kiddos.
Blackrock summit1
Getting there:
From Charlottesville, VA the quickest way to Blackrock summit is using the South Entrance of the Shenandoah National Park (SNP) via 64 west. After heading towards the mountains on 64 west, take exit 99 towards Afton. Pay attention to the brown National Park signs to navigate your way to the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station of SNP. Drive North on the Skyline Drive for about 15-20 minutes to the Blackrock Summit Parking area at milepost 85. Do NOT park near Blackrock Gap (you will pass this first). Blackrock Gap is not the hike/trail described here. To find the trailhead, look to the end of the parking lot and find the trail Information board (pictured below).
IMG_7058Difficulty and length:
Only half a mile to get to some incredible views in Shenandoah National Park. Round trip, this hike is one mile and will likely take about 30 minutes. If hiking with smaller children or extremely pregnant ladies, allow for an hour.

Details:
As described above, this is a short hike to amazing views in the Southern part of SNP. Find the trail head at the trail information board once you park in the Blackrock Summit Parking area at milepost 85 along the Skyline Drive. Walk a few feet past the information board and then take a left and head south on the Appalachian Trail (white blaze).

You’ll notice it’s only a half a mile to the summit if you check out the trail marker (pictured above). After about 5-10 minutes on the trail, you will see another trail marker and a tree marked with a double white blaze. Turn right to stay on the trail and head to the summit. At this point the summit will be about .03 from where you are standing.

During this first half a mile, you will experience a little bit of an incline, but nothing unmanageable. It’s a short trek, so as soon as you start to get out of breath you will find yourself at the top. At the top, great views and a fun pile of rocks await.

After spending time at the summit enjoying the views, continue around the rocky pile to make your way back to your car. You are more than welcome to come back the way you came, but if you continue to follow the trail around the rocks, you will come to a trail marker after a few minutes. When you see this trail marker be sure to take a left to head back to the parking area.

Notes:
Not a lot to add to this hike, other than to reiterate that I think it’s a great one for families with small children or people who move at a slower pace. Not a lot of effort needed for the great views.

 

My experience:
Happy New Year and Happy First Day Hikes! Hoping to start a new tradition of hiking on New Year’s Day, I head out for Shenandoah National Park with my mom and my husband. It was a cold, but clear day and after all the holiday gatherings, it was time to get outside regardless of the temperatures.

At 34 weeks pregnant, it was difficult to get dressed for a cold hike…I haven’t invested in hiking maternity clothes for freezing temperatures (side note: after this hike, I did some digging and found this rockin’ site – http://www.mountain-mama.com/). I found my warmest, stretchiest, pre-pregnancy hiking wear and packed a ton of snacks (yes, for a 1 mile hike).

I cannot understate the importance of hitting the trails with patient hikers when you are in your third trimester. It took our small group about an hour to do the round trip, one mile hike. Typically this hike would take me about 20-30 minutes with a break at the top for pictures and exploring the rocks, but this pregnant waddle I’ve got going on slowed us down. Not to mention water, snack, and breathing breaks. My family was patient and stayed at my pace, making our day trip to the mountains perfect.

I mentioned this is a great hike for younger children above. We saw quite a few families with little kiddos. Not to mention a few hikers with small dogs on this trail. It was great to see so many people being active outside on New Year’s day. This is a great trail for a quick, family hike in the mountains.

Winter View:
Blackrock