Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail
- Site Contact: (434) 977-7757 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Site Access: Trail & parkway are free and open daily, Monticello grounds and house are fee areas
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Site PMR01: Monticello - Saunders Trail – Thomas Jefferson Parkway
The Saunders Trail at Monticello is truly a beautiful trail achievement as it winds its way two miles up Carter Mountain to the entrance to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. The entire trail never exceeds a five percent incline making it one of the few wheelchair accessible mountain climbs on the planet. The trail starts at the base of Carter Mountain at the Kemper Park and Arboretum. From here the trail winds through native plantings and gradually begins its ascent, passing by a small manmade pond edged with bull rushes that is well worth a closer look. Green herons can be seen stalking small fish along its banks and the rushes usually hold some skulking song and occasional swamp sparrows. The trail was designed to reflect how Thomas Jefferson wanted his home to be approached as he wrote: Of prospect I have a rich profusion – it may be successfully offered, & in different portions through vistas…with the advantage of shifting scenes as you advance on your way. These shifting scenes are almost continuous, each changing with the gaps in the canopy. The trail continues to ascend up the mountainside through patches of deciduous forest crawling with gray squirrels, Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice. Continue your journey upward as the trail becomes a series of boardwalks that take you high into the forest canopy. This is perhaps the best portion of the trail for birdwatchers since it leads to eye-to-eye contact with many species more usually seen from below. Here American redstarts and white-breasted nuthatches can be watched for hours without straining your neck. Migration is sure to bring in some pleasant surprises with black-throated green, black-throated blue, Cape May warblers and red-eyed vireos all likely to be around. Once you reach Monticello, the older growth forests of Jefferson's era have persevered and host raucous pileated woodpeckers. The forest floor should be checked carefully for wood thrush hopping about in search of worms and other tasty treats. Monticello's mountain top location also provides an ideal opportunity to watch for raptors migrating along the ridgelines. The rising warm air from the valley below makes black and turkey vultures ubiquitous overhead. This sometimes attracts kettles of broad-winged hawks and the occasional osprey, or bald eagle as well.
From I-64 in Charlottesville, take Exit #121 and head south on SR 20 for 0.6 miles to SR 53/Thomas Jefferson Parkway. Turn left on SR 53/Thomas Jefferson Parkway. Go about 300 yards, turn right into trail head parking lot. The entrance to Monticello is approximately 1.5 miles further along SR 53.