For American history junkies, it doesn't get much better than the Saunders-Monticello Trail. One of several trails along the Thomas Jefferson Parkway—the road which leads to the famous Monticello plantation once belonging to the nation's third president—the Saunders-Monticello Trail is the star of this compact trail system. Only 2-miles long, yet jam-packed with quite evident history and charming characteristics, this trail gradually winds from an overflow parking lot up to Monticello itself.
Along the way, the trail travels through a charming hardwood forest as it skirts the slopes of Carter Mountain before arriving right at the visitors center at Monticello.
While it's certainly a pleasant hiking trail, visiting here isn't merely about going for a walk in the woods. It's about exploring some of this country's fascinating roots and going back to 1772 when Monticello was first constructed. It's about soaking in a rich and intriguing history, and gaining insights into of America's most interesting time periods, as well as into one of its most prolific and controversial men.
There's a host of things to do and see on the grounds of Monticello, and taking a relaxing, two-mile walk on this well-maintained and manageable trail is a great place to start. The elevation change from the parking lot to the Monticello visitors center is a modest 240 feet, and the trail has a maximum gradient of 5 percent.
If you plan to stay overnight, book a room at the Inn at Monticello, located near the eastern end of the trail. And if you have time, check out the other trails in this small system owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which range from a quarter mile to just over a mile in length.
Any kind of hiker will appreciate the Saunders-Monticello Trail's beauty and serene atmosphere. Even people not used to hiking can navigate the trail from start to finish without too much trouble, thanks to its short distance and mild gradient, and experienced hikers can appreciate the relaxed way in which time seems to amble along, becoming lost in a sort of timeless swirl among ancient ravines, rolling hillsides, and quiet forests. And of course history buffs won't be able to control their giddiness as they meander along through it all.
A mere nine minutes from downtown Charlottesville, this hike seems a world away. There are several roads that lead to the trailhead from Charlottesville, but try taking Rt. 20 and drive south. The parking lot is a few miles down that road on the left—you'll have to make a U-turn just after the lot in order to pull your car in. Pets are also allowed, but it's tough to say who will enjoy exploring this trail more: ever-curious canines or history-loving humans.