Charlottesville, Va., has a vibrant past that dates back to the various tribes who once called the land home, from its first inhabitants (the forefathers of the Sioux and Cherokee peoples) to the Monocans, upon arrival of Europeans in the 1500s. While the settlers established homesteads, the mid-sized Virginia city gained its outsized historic stature as the United States was claiming its independence, with several of the Founding Fathers residing in Charlottesville. Today, you can visit the homes of three of our first Presidents. And while you can experience what life was like in their preserved homes, the real boon to active hikers and runners are the palatial estates of these properties. Featuring expansive grounds with well-established trails, these landmarks layer another reason to explore the area’s terrain, get a little exercise, and learn more about this pivotal time in American history. Here are three of the best hikes traversing the estates of our Founding Fathers.
Thomas Jefferson certainly left his fingerprint on the U.S., penning its Declaration of Independence before becoming the country’s third president. He also founded the University of Virginia, which helps define downtown Charlottesville today. He spent 40 years designing and overseeing the completion of his estate, Monticello, a 43-room, 11,000-square-foot, neoclassical-style architectural wonder that’s surrounded by botanical, fruit, and vegetable gardens. It’s the only home in America that’s designated by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site. There’s also more than 200 acres of forest and farmland to explore via 7 miles of developed trail.
The Saunders-Monticello Trail is the main thoroughfare, running for 2 miles adjacent to the Thomas Jefferson Parkway, connecting Kemper Park with the entrance gate to Monticello. The path is a mix of gravel, boardwalks and more primitive paths, passing by a 2-acre pond before gently climbing the side of Carter Mountain. Hiking the trails is free, but visiting the house and gardens requires a ticket ($32, adult). You can also tack on tours of the house ranging from family-friendly romps that explore the nuances of the architecture and Jefferson’s accomplishments to more in-depth looks at the role of slavery on the property. More info: monticello.org