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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Little Calf Mountain

Little Calf Mountain
Shenandoah National Park (Southern)
Skyline Drive mile 99.5
Distance: 1 mile
Views: Grassy meadows and valley views
Trailhead: Parking area at milepost 99.5 on the Skyline Drive
Type: Out and back
Dogs: Dogs are welcome with a leash
Notes: Entrance fees apply at Shenandoah National Park (SNP); short, uphill trail through grassy meadows and trees; nice view at the top.

Difficulty and length:
The distance to the Little Calf Mountain summit from the parking area is about a half a mile. Round trip, this hike is around 1 mile. It’s an uphill hike, but I find the gentle grade makes the hike very pleasant. Easy to moderate rating on this one. Most recently, it took me about 35 minutes to get from the parking area to the summit of Little Calf Mountain. It was my first hike with Baby Comfort, so I had some extra weight and kept stopping to check on her, since she was only 3 months old. This is a great hike for families and children. Just the right driving distance from Charlottesville and just the right length for most. I would allow an hour and a half for this hike, which would include some time for frolicking and eating lunch in the grassy meadow at the top.

Chilly day on top of Little Calf MountainGetting there:
Little Calf Mountain is about a 40 minute drive from Charlottesville, Virginia. From Charlottesville, take 64 West to exit 99 towards Afton. Follow signs to enter the Shenandoah National Park at the South entrance (Rockfish Gap Entrance Station). Drive for about 5 miles north on the Skyline Drive to the Beagle Gap Parking Area at mile 99.5.

Details:
This is a short hike with nice views and a grassy meadow in the southern part of Shenandoah National Park (SNP). Park at Beagle Gap Parking Area at mile 99.5 on the Skyline Drive (see ‘Getting there’ above). Look for the opening in the fence marked with a white blaze and you’ve found the trail head. The hike begins with an uphill walk through a grassy field.

After about 5 minutes or so of walking, you will enter the woods and continue following the white blazes. After about 20-25 minutes, you’ll find the trail opens back up to a grassy meadow, this is the Little Calf Mountain summit.

This is the perfect spot for eating lunch and daydreaming. The views are pretty amazing, but your panorama may be interrupted by some towers on a mountain across the way. Bear Den Mountain has towers on top that you may want to keep out of your photos. Once you are finished with the views and your lunch, turn around and retrace your steps back to your car (image below shows Beagle Gap Parking area from your descent).

Little Calf - Beagle Gap parking areaTip: For a longer hike, continue on the Appalachian Trail (follow the white blazes) to the summit of Calf Mountain. There aren’t the same great views at this summit, but you will get a little extra distance in.

My Experience:
This is my go-to hike when I don’t have a lot of time, but I still want a quick trip to Shenandoah National Park. Since the trail is so close to the Southern Entrance into SNP, it’s perfect for those who don’t have all day for a hike. I’ve done this hike countless times with many friends and family and it always seems to be a good fit for folks who don’t hike often.

Most recently, I hiked this trail on Mother’s Day as my first hike with my 3 month old baby girl (her middle name is Sunshine, so we’ll call her that on my blog). It was my first time using her Tula baby carrier, so I took awhile adjusting and checking on Baby Comfort here and there. Miss Sunshine is a great hiking partner and she spent most of the time sleeping. I have to admit, I got a little out of breath this last hike, but hey, I was carrying my baby up a mountain and had just delivered about 12 weeks before that, so I’m cutting myself some slack! Spending the day in Shenandoah National Park and then stopping at Pollak Vineyards afterwards, was my perfect Mother’s Day.

Little Calf - relaxingBonus Tip: Take 250 back to Charlottesville, VA rather than 64 and stop at one of Virginia’s vineyards. A few of my favorites on the way back to Charlottesville are: Veritas Vineyard and Winery, Afton Mountain Vineyards, King Family Vineyards, and Pollak Vineyards.

Warning: Lots of poison ivy along this trail in the summer – watch out!


Spring views:

Summer views:

Fall views:

Winter views: