Don’t let the calm waters fool you. Most visitors to central Virginia's 45-acre Walnut Creek Lake would think of it as the biggest draw to this recreation area just 25 minutes south of Charlottesville. But the 15 miles of trails surrounding the lake have become just as popular in recent years, especially with mountain bikers who love to test their skills on the technical terrain.
The stacked loop system traverses a 525-acre park managed by Albemarle County, twisting through a thick hardwood forest, which is the ancestral lands of the Monacan people. While there are no long climbs, the system is best suited for intermediate and advanced riders as you’ll encounter near-constant climbing and descending with elevation changes coming fast and frequent. Sections of the trail system are known for their slippery root gardens and loose rocks, but the challenges add character—plus there are enough flat stretches to give your legs a rest. And remember: What goes up, most go down, so every technical climb is rewarded with an, oftentimes, equally technical descent.
The local mountain bike club, CAMBC, works hard to keep the trails in shape and they’re generally rideable even after a light rain. There’s a disc golf course, too, if you’re looking for a multi-sport outing. And bring your swimsuit; there are two beaches if you want to take a dip after a toasty ride in the summer.
Experienced bikers can connect a larger, 9-mile loop that covers most of the trails on both sides of the lake. If it’s your first time in the park, Wilkin’s Way is a nice introduction to the riding offered. This 4-mile loop is full of short, technical climbs packed with slippery roots and loose rock gardens. But you’ll also get some flowy downhill stretches and views of the lake. There are no true beginner trails at Walnut Creek, but the 2-mile Blue Wheel is a more friendly loop with minimal climbing that delivers payoff views of the lake.
From Charlottesville, take Interstate 64 West to Old Lynchburg Road and drive south for 11 miles to Walnut Creek Park in North Garden.
You’re surrounded by wineries in this part of Virginia. Wisdom Oak is the closest to Walnut Creek, and has a six-acre vineyard on the property. The tasting room is open on weekends and they’ve partnered with a local farm to serve a seasonal menu of sandwiches, cheeses, and charcuterie.