Monticello, the former home of Thomas Jefferson, is a a popular destination to visit in Charlottesville, VA, both for tourists and locals. There are multi-use trails located near Monticello that are really fun to go for a bike ride on!
The main trail is the Saunders-Monticello trail with additional trails connecting to it. This part of the trail is great for those who just want to go on an easy bike ride, whether you’re new to mountain biking or are an experienced mountain biker who just wants an easy day or who wants to bring family or friends who are not familiar with or interested in more diffiuclt mountain biking on a bike ride with you!
The trail can be accessed either from the trailhead in Kemplar park or by the Monticello Visitor’ Center.
Here are some tips on how to enjoy an easy bicycle ride on the trails by Monticello.
Note that this post is not sponsored by or affiliated with Monticello, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, or the official Trail at Monticello organization. It is simply advice coming from personal experience enjoying the trails at Monticello, as a bicyclist as well as a pedestrian, runner, hiker, and photographer.
Rent a bicycle and have it delivered to you at the trailhead
This can be a great way to save yourself the time and hassle of transporting your own bicycle(s) to the trails!
Jill + Ian Bicycle Rentals, based in Charlottesville, VA provides a bicycle rental as well as delivery service. To see what bicycles and bicycling gear are available, take a look at the current listings. For more details check out the online brochure or the details on the registration page.
Choose which trailhead to start at
If you start from the parking lot in Kemper park you will be going mainly uphill to start with and then downhill on your way back.
If you start from the parking lot by the Monticello Visitor’s Center you will be going mainly downhill first to start with and then uphill on the way back.
How to get there (Directions)
Put in the address in your GPS / phone for 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA.
This is the address for Monticello itself but it will get you close enough to follow the signs.
For Kemper park look for the signs/ parking lot for Kemper park to the right after you turn from Route 20 (Scottsville Rd) to Route 53 (Thomas Jefferson Parkway). Or to the left if coming from Route 53 (Thomas Jefferson Parkway) towards Route 20 (Scottsville Rd) it will be just before you get to the intersection of Routes 53 and 20.
For starting by the Monticello Visitors Center, follow the directions all the way up the mountain (Route 53-Thomas Jefferson Parkway) until you see a really cool looking bridge. Follow the a signs for Monticello, which take you up and over that cool looking bridge to the large parking lot for Monticello.
Park your vehicle
(if driving a vehicle; if riding a bicycle there, just ignore this part)
Kemper Park has a small parking lot which is often full because the trails are so popular.
If it is full, but you know you want to start close to this part of the trailhead, there is an additional parking in a lot off of Route 20 (Scottsville Rd)
However this is hard / impossible to access if coming from Charlottesville City towards Monticello, so you will have to get yourself turned around, such as by turning around in the Kemper Park parking lot, getting back on Route 53 (Thomas Jefferson Parkway) towards Route 20 (Scottsville Rd), then right on the right just after you turn right from Route 53 (Thomas Jefferson Parkway) onto Route 20 (Scottsville Rd) towards Charlottesville, is the entrance to this extra parking lot This lot is not usually full because not many people know about it or how to get to it.
If you want to start at the trailhead by Monticello, park in the parking lot for Monticello, which is very large and hardly ever completely fills up.
Know the hours when the trails are open
When planning your bicycle ride be sure to give yourself enough time to enjoy the trails by knowing the hours that the trails are open. Keep in mind that these hours change seasonally.
The hours for May through September are 6 am – 8 pm.
The hours for the winter months are 7 am – 6 pm.
Take a look at a map before you go
Looking at a map is a quick and easy way to get an overview and sense of direction, especially if riding on this trail for the first time.
This online map provides a great overview of the trails connecting to the main Saunders Monticello trail. You can download it to your phone or print it out if you want to take it with you.
Keep in mind that many of the trails going off of the main trail can be quite difficult and steep and may be best for someone with more experience mountain biking than for someone just out for an easy bike ride.
You can also pick up a hard copy of the map at the Monticello Visitor’s Center.
Know the rules for bicyclists on the trails
Know and following the rules helps all users of the trails (walkers, joggers, parents with little kids in strollers, etc.) to have an enjoyable and safe time!
Boardwalk sections of the Saunders-Monticello trail will be closed to bicycles in wet conditions.
- You really don’t want to be riding a bicycle on a wet wooden surface that goes up and downhill around curves and that is only a few feet wide with railings on both sides….it would be like a giant slip and slide, losing control of the bike and crashing would be highly likely….not a pleasant experience. Don’t do it.
Bicyclists must observe a 10 mph speed limit and yield to pedestrians at all times on the Saunders-Monticello trail.
- Go slow, enjoy the views of nature and the feeling of riding a bicycle, and don’t run over anyone.
Cyclists should pass pedestrians on the left and proceed with caution.
- Let pedestrians know you’re passing them in a nice and pleasant way (see below section about using a bell on your bicycle or your voice to alert walkers / joggers/ people not on a bicycle, etc. of your presence)
- Although some pedestrians may go to the left and then you would have to pass them on the right as to not run them over
Use a bell on your bicycle or your voice to alert other trail users that you are passing them on the trail a bicycle
Let people know you are passing them on a bicycle so that they are aware of you presence and can move out of your way or not accidentally step into the path of your bicycle.
This is why having a bell on the handlebars of your bicycles is a great idea! If you don’t have one, you can rent a bell or a bicycle that has a bell, like Jillian’s own bicycle, which is available for rent. Ding the bell as you approach people. You both ding the bell and use your voice in a pleasant way.
For using your voice, you can say something like “Hey, coming up behind you on your left on a bicycle, have a lovely day!”
Keep in mind that runners and walkers may have headphones in so you may have to ding your bicycle bell loudly or raise your voice enough that they can hear you over the music / podcast they’re listening to with their headphones.
Also always slow down when passing, it’s the polite thing to do as well as safer.
Bring a water bottle
Drinking water when you exercise, such as riding a bicycle, is important; getting de-hydrated can ruin the fun as well as make you sick! Avoid this by drinking plenty of water.
Having a water bottle holder (or two) on your bicycle or renting a bicycle that has a water bottle holder is an easy way to carry your water bottle with you.
You can also opt for a water hydration pack (these look like backpacks but have a pouch for water and a tube that comes around the front for you to drink from).
Don’t forget your sunscreen!
Protecting your skin from sun damage is important for everyone. Sun damage can increase your risk for developing skin cancer as well as prematurely age your skin, not to mention cause painful, unpleasant sunburns!
Sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes prior to going outdoors and reapplied often throughout the day, especially if you’re sweating a lot.
Don’t forget to bring your sunscreen with you on your bike ride so that you can reapply it!
My favorite sunscreen is Rodan + Fields SPF 30 Broad Spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays) Water Resistant (for up to 40 minutes in the water) sunscreen. I love it for many reasons, including how it feels lightweight and not greasy. Pretty much every sunscreen I had tried before using it made my skin feel greasy after using it. I also love that the Rodan + Fields sunscreen comes in a tube that’s easy to fit in the side pocket of my photography backpack as well as inside most of the bags I might carry on a bike ride. And that the tube of sunscreen color coordinates so well with my bicycle!
Using a moisturizer that has sunscreen in it is a great way to not forget about apply sunscreen to your face–just moisturize + then you’ve already applied sunscreen! It is important to remember to reapply throughout the day either with the moisturizer or with sunscreen. I use Rodan + Fields Unblemish Oil Control Lotion SPF 20 which is great for people with oily prone skin, like me, as it moisturizes and protects the skin at the same time without making it feel greasy.
Be aware that the main trail is popular (because it’s so awesome) and at times can be crowded
If you’re not comfortable riding a bicycle when their may be a lot of people on the trail, I would recommend avoiding peak times or go early in the morning before most people are awake and wanting to go enjoy the trails (before 8 am).
You can also practice navigating around people at home or in the parking lot before going on the trails, such as by placing objects around or having friends stand or walk around and you practice riding a bicycle around them (without running them over). Once you’ve gained confidence and some practice doing this you should be prepared to ride on a crowded trail if you chose to.
Public restrooms + water fountains + food
There are public restrooms as well as water fountains and food from a cafe are all available at the Monticello Visitors Center.
When stopping to use any of these, be sure to you secure your bicycle to a bicycle rack or other stationary object with a bicycle lock. Especially important if renting someone else’s bicycle. Even though the trails by Monticello are a relatively safe place, you just never know when someone might be in the mood to steal an unsecured bicycle.
Enjoy the moment, make some memories, take some photos, write about it in your journal or blog or social media post. Tag Jill + Ian so I can see your bicycling adventure!(@jill_y_ian on Instagram and Twitter; on Facebook it’s facebook.com/jillyian2017)
Have a great time!
Do you have any additional tips that would be great to add for anyone wanting to go on an easy bicycle ride on the trails at Monticello?
If so, share them in the comments below!
Questions, suggestions, ideas, or other comments? Email Jillian at firstname.lastname@example.org