Ragged Mountain Natural Area: A Stunning Reservoir Hike in Charlottesville, Virginia
A couple of weeks ago, the length of Skyline Drive was closed. In winter months, this scenic byway seems to be closed more often than open.
I was meeting up with a friend from Richmond for a hike. Since there’s not much to love along I-95, Shenandoah National Park is a natural destination for us.
Stepping back, I do love Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, but we went there last time we met up for a hike. We wanted to go somewhere new, but where?
We settled on Ragged Mountain Natural Area in Charlottesville. Coming from Northern Virginia, I spent more time in the car, but it was worth the drive.
The centerpiece of Ragged Mountain Natural Area is Ragged Mountain Reservoir. The 7.0-mile Lake Front Trail circumnavigates the 170-acre reservoir.
I think our goal was to hike the Lake Front Trail, but there are so many different trails that jut off the main trail. Plus, there are fun wooden carvings along the way.
|Elevation Gain||1,217 feet|
|Terrain||Mostly dirt trails|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
Ragged Mountain Natural Area
There are two parking lots at Ragged Mountain Natural Area. There is Upper Parking and Lower Parking. We parked at Lower Parking, just off Reservoir Road.
Both lots are situated on Reservoir Road, but Lower Parking is the first one you will reach. Here, you’ll see a gravel lot that can fit maybe a couple dozen cars.
Upper Parking is the main lot at Reservoir Mountain Dam. Lower Parking is the overflow lot. Still, I thought Lower Lot was perfect and not out of the way.
There’s a trail kiosk at the back of the lot. There’s not a lot of information here, but the most important take-away is that dogs are not allowed on these trails.
Ragged Mountain Trail System
This hike begins just past the trail kiosk. It can be confusing since there are two unmarked trails. Fortunately, the two meet at the top of the hill.
We opted for the stairs. This path may be new since it’s not identified on the Ragged Mountain Reservoir trail map. PS, print out this map. You will thank me.
You’ll reach an intersection. The paved road is Reservoir Road, leading to Upper Parking. Cross over to a gravel path. Walk around an iron gate (to keep cars out).
Ragged Mountain Dam
Ragged Mountain Dam is on the right, but the start of our hike was so foggy that we couldn’t even see the reservoir, much less the dam. I trust it was there.
You’re now on the Lake Front Trail. This is also known as Main Loop or Lake Front Loop. From here, walk a forested (sometimes muddy) trail around the reservoir.
At the 1.2-mile mark, you will see a turn-off on the right for the Peninsula Trail. It’s a .4-mile walk to the end of the peninsula. I assure you, it’s worth the extra steps.
Savor the views at Rocky Peninsula, then re-trace your steps to the Lake Front Trail. Turn right to continue on this delightfully wooded path.
At the 2.2-mile mark, you will cross a floating bridge over the reservoir. The walk over the bridge is so peaceful and calming. On the other side, you’ll see a bench.
Continue on and prepare for your first surprise at the 4.1-mile mark. As in, a wood carving of two owls. It was very fun to see more than trees and trail on this hike.
From the owl carving, there is a short spur trail to Owl Peninsula. We did not walk out to this peninsula, but it’s a nice option to once more get close to the reservoir.
At the 5.0-mile mark, we ran into a bit of confusion. We sadly did not print out the trail map. Here you can follow the Upper Loop or stay on the Lake Front Loop.
It doesn’t matter which path you choose since both trails come together at the Eagle Statue. For us, this was at the 5.8-mile mark. We chose the Upper Loop.
The Upper Loop is slightly longer so if you stay on the Lake Front Loop, you will reach the Eagle Statue near the 5.3-mile mark.
However, head’s up. If you take the Upper Loop, you may miss the Eagle Statue. We did. I only read about it later in a post in a hiking group on Facebook. Boo.
At the 6.1-mile mark, we reached the wooden statue of the bears. Honestly, it’s super cute. You’ll want to snap a few photos.
You’ll reach a trail junction at the bear statue. Continue straight ahead for the Lake Front Loop. Unless, of course, you wan tot hike to Turtle Peninsula.
The Peninsula Trail to Turtle Peninsula will connect back with the Lake Front Trail. Honestly, if you haven’t yet, print out the trail map.
I mention this again because at Turtle Peninsula there’s a wooden turtle statue. It’s not marked on the map, but we learned of this cool statue post-hike too.
Lake Front Trail
Hop back on the Lake Front Trail and you will reach the Mountain Man statue. This is the last of the wooden statues on the Ragged Mountain hiking trails.
You have two options. You can stay on the Lake Front Trail to reach and continue past Upper Parking. Or, turn left at the dam for Lower Parking.
Alternatively, take Upper Loop to the Round Top Trail. There is no summit (or related views), but at the top, you will find a teepee-like structure made of sticks,
Follow the Round Top Trail around and it will connect with the trail and steps to return to Lower Parking. You’ll see the dam and know exactly where you are.
Apparently, the trail is the Heyward Trail, but I never saw any signage with this name. It was all good though since I made it back to Lower Parking. Easy-peasy.
Oh my goodness, there are so many options. If you’re looking for a shorter hike and don’t mind an out-and-back hike, I would hike out to one of the peninsulas.
An out-and-back hike to Rocky Peninsula should clock in at around 3.2-miles. Meanwhile, an out-and-back hike to Turtle Peninsula would be near 2.0-miles.
The downside to the Rocky Peninsula hike is that you won’t see any wooden statues. On the Turtle Peninsula hike, you should see at least two statues.
From the parking area, we hiked 7.7-miles in 3 hours, 15 minutes. However, this does include time spent going in the wrong direction at least once.
If you go in the wrong direction, it doesn’t much matter. This is such a nice hike that we welcomed extra steps across this natural area in Albemarle County.
For post-hike snacks and sips, consider Three Notch’d Brewing Company in Charlottesville. It’s less than 15 minutes from Ragged Mountain Natural Area.
As a bonus, Three Notch’d is open on Wednesdays. Apparently, that’s a tall order, at least in winter months. They have craft beers and a full lunch menu.
Three Notch’d is adjacent to IX Art Park. You’ll find a LOVE sign, as well as lots of quirky, colorful art works and sculptures. Wander the park before you leave.
Ready for another hike? Here are more of my favorite hikes in Charlottesville.
Erin Gifford is the editor of Go Hike Virginia. She has completed more than 300 hikes in Virginia. She is also the author of three hiking guidebooks from Falcon Guides. Need help finding a hike? Check out the Trail Finder feature or send Erin a message.