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The Saunders-Monticello Trail

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A wide path of crushed gravel leads up from Kemper Park. Photo by FitzFoto

When in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is your patriotic duty to visit Jefferson’s Monticello. One of the more fascinating of our country’s founding fathers, Jefferson tried his hand at everything. The surrounding grounds and actual tour of Monticello are well worth the price of admission.

Much less known (and free) is the Saunders-Monticello Trail that rises 2.4 miles over finely crushed gravel and raised boardwalk to the Monticello Visitor’s Center. The trail is located in Kemper Park, right outside of Charlottesville on the way to Monticello via the Thomas Jefferson Parkway (Rt. 53).

Opened in 2002, it is co-named after Thomas Saunders, the president of the Thomas Jefferson Board of Trustees.

scenic stridingsAfter a level approach past Virginia and Pitch Pine and Black Oak, the trail goes up•and up, hugging the side of Carter Mountain for an elevation gain of 250 feet, but never at more than a 5% grade. The raised boardwalk is necessary to travel over ravines as the path meanders through hardwood forest.

(above left) While the Saunders-Monticello Trail never exceeds a 5% grade, there is opportunity at a cross-over to turn onto Carter Mountain Road for a 1.5-mile uphill trek where 5% grade seems flat. Photo by FitzFoto

It seems you’re in an aviary as multitudes of birds sound off while you take in vistas of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountains. Coming off the trail, it’s a quick jaunt over the Saunders Bridge and up the road to the Visitor’s Center.

A sign estimates an up-and-down walking tour of the trail to take 2.5 hours—that’s 31:15 a mile and no doubt based on an uphill slog. For runners, if you’re looking for a very scenic hill workout and a continuous downhill plunge over forgiving surfaces, Saunders-Monticello more than fills the bill…and after a cool down, there’s food, beverage and a great slice of Americana right up the road.

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