Trail runners don’t have to leave city limits to find adventure. The 20-mile Rivanna Trail circles around downtown Charlottesville, Va., connecting neighborhoods with parks and pocket trail systems. Aside from a few miles of paved trail and the occasional road connector, the multi-use Rivanna is mostly singletrack, making it popular with hikers, dog walkers and bikers. The scenery along the trail varies from developed neighborhoods to rhododendron tunnels to open fields that are full of wildflowers in the summer. If you attempt to run the entire loop, expect the occasional creek crossing and rock scramble as well as interesting waypoints, like historic mills and livestock markets that hint at the city’s rich human history, which begins with the Monacan Nation, the original Indigenous inhabitants along the Rivanna River. The trail has been mostly complete since 2005, and is widely considered one of the finest examples of urban trail planning in the country. It’s certainly a resource for local runners who lean on the Rivanna’s easy access for training runs, and celebrate the trail in droves during the annual Loop de Ville, a full weekend of events that includes a group hike, mountain bike ride and trail running race.
Running the entire 20-mile Rivanna is definitely a thing, and the fastest trail runners get it done in under three hours. But if you’re looking to tackle something more bite-sized, head to the University of Virginia’s Observatory Hill, known locally as O-Hill. Here, the Rivanna runs for 1.9 miles between Fontaine Avenue and Ivy Road, tracing the base of O-Hill, where several miles of singletrack and doubletrack branch off of the Rivanna and traverse the lush, hardwood forested slope. While the Rivanna itself is relatively flat, most of these connector trails boast steep inclines that are full of rocks and roots. You can choose your mileage at O-Hill depending on how creative you get with your loops, as the trails crisscross each other in multiple locations. The Lower Perimeter Trail and Rivanna Trail form a roughly 3.5-mile loop with minimal elevation change as both trails traverse the bottom of the hill. Use the Upper Perimeter Trail to climb higher into O-Hill for more technical options.
How To Get There
The O-Hill section of the Rivanna Trail is located on the University of Virginia’s campus, near the school’s observatory. Look for public parking on campus off of Ivy Road east of its intersection with Highway 250.
Visit the Rivanna Trails Foundation for maps, regulations and up-to-date info on trail section closures: rivannatrails.org
You’re on the edge of downtown Charlottesville at any point along the Rivanna, so the sheer volume of beer and food options might be overwhelming. Kick it old-school by visiting Starr Hill’s downtown taproom, which usually has a few small-batch, pilot beers on tap in addition to their signature brews, like Northern Lights, a well-balanced IPA.