The Insider Guide to Fall Hiking Near Charlottesville

Beautiful fall mountain scene from Blackrock Summit along Skyline Drive outside Charlottesville, VA.
Fall view from Blackrock Summit captured by Meredith Coe.

Fall is one of our favorite times in Charlottesville. It just doesn’t get much more beautiful than Virginia in October. And while scenic drives down Skyline Drive or the Blue Ridge Parkway are a good way to take in the scenery, there is no better way to enjoy the breathtaking fall hues than by lacing up your hiking boots and hitting a local trail. We have rounded up six of our favorite area hikes across all levels of difficulty, within 5 to 60 minutes from downtown Charlottesville.

Saunders-Monticello Trail (Easy / 5 minutes from downtown): This well-maintained 4.3-mile out-and-back trail winds along Carter Mountain to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Along this stroller-friendly trail, visitors take in views of native plants and a small pond. Gently curving boardwalks guide hikers into the forest canopy where you can enjoy a cornucopia of fall colors. This is a great trail for the whole family to enjoy as it is open to hikers, bikers, strollers and wheelchairs.

Rivanna Trail (Easy / easily accessible from downtown): The 20-mile rustic Rivanna Trail encircles the City of Charlottesville, so if you are looking to enjoy the fall foliage without wandering too far away from Charlottesville this is the trail for you. While the Rivanna Trail doesn’t offer elevated views of the landscape, it offers an intimate interaction with the kaleidoscope of fiery hues under your feet as you tread the well-maintained paths as you stroll through forests, wetlands, fields, streams, and alongside the Rivanna River.

Blackrock Summit (Easy 1.6 mile loop / ~60 minutes from downtown): This trail is a great choice for families with younger kids or for those that want to take visitors for an easy hike with a big reward. A short hike to a viewpoint on top of a rocky talus slope provides incredible views of the Shenandoah Valley, Massanutten Mountain, and beyond. 

From the Blackrock Summit parking area, near mile 85 on Skyline Drive, follow the Appalachian Trail to the bouldery summit and gaze upon mountains to the north. You can either continue around the boulders for another set of views to the south, or—for a slightly longer hike—turn right to find the Blackrock Spur Trail, which leads through a boulder field and up 445 feet of elevation gain.

Humpback Rock (Moderate 3.7 mile loop / ~30 minutes from downtown): Humpback Rock is a staple for Charlottesville hikers as it boasts breathtaking views of fall foliage while still being an easy drive from downtown. The trailhead is located at milepost 8.5 near the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. You have the option of following the blue blazes for a strenuous 1 mile 700-foot climb to the top, or you can take a gentler 2.7 mile up. Either path will lead you to the jagged summit for a spectacular view of the Shenandoah valleys and the vibrant fall hues. You can also learn more about the area’s history in the Outdoor Farm Museum near the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center. Before railroads, settlers used the prominent rock outcrop to guide wagons along the Howardsville Turnpike.

Crabtree Falls (Moderate 3.4 mile up and back / ~60 minutes from downtown): Crabtree Falls, is the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River, featuring a series of five major cascades and a number of smaller ones that fall a total distance of 1,200 feet. Once you reach the top of the steep 1.7 mile trail – a good portion supported by wooden staircases & railings to ease the challenging ascent – a rocky summit provides lovely vistas of the Tye River Valley and all of its fall foliage glory. Located in Nelson County in the George Washington National Forest, just six miles off the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 27.

Three Ridges Wilderness (Difficult 13.2 mile loop / ~45 minutes from downtown): The Three Ridges Loop is a popular 13.2-mile hike located in the George Washington National Forest. Throughout this hike, expect several steep climbs and some rock scrambles for a total elevation gain of nearly 4,000 feet. Along the way, you will delight in cascading streams, mountain vistas, overnight shelters and many steps along the iconic Appalachian Trail. In the end, all your effort will be rewarded with many beautiful fall vistas offering views of the brilliant colors of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.

Looking for hiking boots or gear before hitting the trails this fall? Our favorite spots in Charlottesville for hiking shoes and other equipment are Ragged Mountain Running & Walking Shop, Great Outdoor Provision Co., and Public Lands.