Photo: Rivanna Trails Foundation

How To Ride Charlottesville’s Classic Rivanna Trail

Admire Charlottesville from every angle on this 20-mile, must-do bike loop around the city.

Like any historic town, Charlottesville is a city with many facets. See them all on the 20-mile Rivanna Trail, which loops around the entire city and stitches together some of its best scenery. The full tour is intermediate in difficulty and requires only a mountain bike, a helmet and some basic navigational savvy. (You can do much of the trail on a gravel bike, but several sections, like the Quarry Park to Woolen Mills section, are pretty technical and rocky.)  

What is the Rivanna Trail?

If the Rivanna Trail isn’t already on your backyard bucket-list, it should be. This 20-mile loop is a gorgeous, motley patchwork of dirt singletrack and paved greenways, wooded stretches and city parks, public land and private parcels. On the way, you’ll roll past the University of Virginia’s historic campus, cross a handful of Charlottesville’s most beloved city parks, and skirt burbling streams and the fast-flowing Rivanna River. It’s a perfect way to get to know this scenic and historic city from a whole new perspective. 

About the Route 

Originally designed as an urban hiking route, most of the Rivanna Trail is gently rolling. Over 20 miles, you’ll tackle 900 feet of elevation gain, most of which is piled onto the east side of the loop, near the university campus. Keep in mind that most of the route is well-suited to intermediate-level bikers, but you may have to hop off your bike briefly to cross streams or other obstacles. Fortunately, there’s plentiful information available on this classic route (including an app) to help you find your way. 

Photo: Rivanna Trails Foundation

Riding the Trail

You can start the Rivanna Trail at any point along the loop, but the traditional route circles counterclockwise around the city starting from the Woolen Mills railroad trestle. Begin by heading north along the Rivanna River (through Riverview Park), then weave through neighborhood streets to regain the trail along Meadow Creek to McIntire Park. From there, you’ll duck under U.S. Highway 250, travel west to the university campus, and then trace the campus’s western border south along the 29 Bypass. There, you’ll regain the Rivanna Trail going south and ultimately follow Moores Creek eastward back to your car. 

Parking 

There’s parking available around the Woolen Mills businesses, as well as at the public parking area for Riverview Park, another great place to start the Rivanna Trail loop. If you’re hoping to start farther north, try the public parking areas for McIntire Park, or park at a trail-side business like Bodo’s Bagels (on Emmet Street) and start from there.

Pit Stops

Bodo’s Bagels is a popular starting point, and for good reason: The bakery turns out fresh, New-York style bagels and sandwiches all day long and opens as early as 7 a.m., on weekends.  

For a quick lunch, grab a tamale and some plantains from Al Carbon in the Fifth Street Station shopping mall, or check out Riverside Lunch, a classic local burger joint a little north of Riverside Park. 

If you start and finish on the south side of the loop, also be sure to stop by Selvedge Brewing (located in the Wool Factory) for a celebratory pint. 

More Info

rivannatrails.org; cambc.org 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.