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 –
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.

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 to see location, length, and difficulty of the many side trails.

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:


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.

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:


Hiking while pregnant

Hiking while pregnant or 7 Tips for Hiking Mamas

Hiking in SNP during pregnancyAs I enter into the last two weeks of my first pregnancy (Yay – 38 weeks!), I really want to post about hiking while pregnant. If you were a hiker pre-pregnancy and want to continue hiking, follow these tips to make it an easier and more comfortable pregnancy experience. For all my East Coast friends, winter is still hanging around, but spring will be here before you know it and, hopefully, these tips will give all you mamas-to-be the tools to decide if hiking while pregnant is for you.

I could honestly go on forever about the joys and difficulty of hiking in various trimesters and seasons while pregnant, but for the sake of organization and readability, let’s go with a quick list of things to consider before hiking while pregnant.

All you non-preggo hikers, share this post with someone who may find it helpful!

1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
I can’t emphasize this one enough. As mamas-to-be we need to increase our water intake on a daily basis anyway…add strenuous activity and the need for extra H20 becomes extremely important. If carrying all that extra water-weight on your hike sounds exhausting, let someone else do the heavy lifting!

2. Bring a Hiking Buddy
I always recommend a hiking partner, pregnant or not. The need for a buddy becomes very important when you are expecting. Not only do you have someone there with you in case something goes wrong, but if it’s a super, awesome hiking friend, they will also help lighten your load. Don’t feel guilty asking a hiking partner to help carry your pack or water. Have you seen your adorable baby bump? That little boy or girl is adding some extra weight to your total body mass and if you want to drag that all up a mountain – well, don’t be afraid to ask for help!

3. Double your Snacks (or triple, no judging here)
Alright, this one may just be me, but I’ve been pretty hungry most of this pregnancy. Not only are we growing a human (which takes a lot of energy), but those intense hunger cravings in the 2nd trimester are no joke. I went from vegetarian to ‘give me that cheeseburger, now!’. Remember, if you go hiking, you are burning extra calories and babe is taking nutrients that it needs from you, so be sure to replenish with snacks that fuel your work and sound tasty.

4. Stretch
Loosen up before your hike with some quick warm ups and light stretching. Avoid those night-time leg cramps we often get during pregnancy by hydrating and doing some good stretching after the hike. I find that it’s best to focus on the calves and hamstrings after a good mountain climb.

5. Restrooms
Let’s be honest with ourselves…it’s just not that easy to squat anymore! Center of gravity shift, extra weight (mostly in the front), and general clumsiness are something most of us experience during pregnancy. Squatting in the woods behind a bush or tree for a quick pee is getting less and less feasible as our bellies grow. Plan hikes around open facilities in our State or National parks. Or be sure there is an open gas station or rest area near the trail you choose so you have a nearby option before and after the hike.

If you get stuck out on a trail and nature calls, be sure to use a tree trunk to help you balance as you squat. Find a smaller, sturdy tree, that you can wrap your hands around for balance and support as you lower your growing body to do your business. If your hiking partner is willing to help you back up after your tinkle, let them!

Additional Tip: East Coast mountain mamas – Hike on the Appalachian Trail (white blazes) and plan your route based on sections that pass an outhouse/shelter. This will be a lifesaver for those of you in your third trimester who are using the potty often.

Hiking during 2nd trimester

Hiking during 2nd trimester

6. Slow your pace
Don’t over do it; it’s okay to slow your typical hiking pace. Our lungs are being squished by our growing sprouts and we need to give ourselves a break. Please don’t judge yourself or others for needing to slow down. Hike at a pace that is comfortable for you and take breaks often. The last hike I went on was only a mile, yet I slowed myself down and allowed myself to take breaks when I felt out of breath or tired. Listen to your body. If it’s tired, stop and take a break. If you need to, turn around and head home. Now is NOT the time to push yourself and over do it.

7. Shorten your hike
It’s okay to choose shorter hikes as you progress in your pregnancy. I found that in the first and third trimester, the shorter the hike, the better! Nausea won the first trimester for me, especially in the heat and humidity of Virginia summers. My hikes were short and some planned longer hikes, were cut short when I just couldn’t go any further. And that is OKAY.  In the third trimester, especially as you draw nearer to your due date, I find it’s a good idea to stick to shorter trails so you can quickly and easily make it back to your car should something urgent come up. These babes decide when the want to show up, not us!

As always, be sure to check with your doctor before doing any physical activity (especially hiking). We are all different and each pregnancy is unique. Listen to your doctor and listen to your body. Don’t over do it. You and babe come first.