One of my favorite places to sit and calm my mind is located on a grassy hill, looking out over a clean lake, listening to the insects buzz and the woodpeckers tapping on the trees. I do this at Walnut Creek Park, located just south of Charlottesville in beautiful Southern Albemarle County.
Consisting of 525 total acres, including 45 water acres and two beachfront acres, Walnut Creek Park is big enough to get away from the crowd, but not big enough to really get lost in (although some of the winding trails can get a little confusing, particularly the ones that veer off from the lake.) For a manmade lake, Walnut Creek can captivate the heart, surrounded by deciduous forest and grassy banks. What a marvel it is to behold during the autumn days when the trees reflect their red and gold leaves in the water.
There are fifteen miles of trails that provide the perfect opportunity for mountain biking and hiking. I’ve been told by bike-heads that Walnut Creek is one of the best places to ride in the Charlottesville area. Some of the uphill and rocky terrains can be quite challenging. If the full 15-mile loop around the lake is too much, you can cut it down by taking some of the smaller trails such as “Luke’s Loop” or “Wahoo Way.”
Biking and hiking are great, but when it comes to sports, what I think is most impressive about Walnut Creek Park is the amazing disc golf course. Designed and installed in 2002, the course includes 18 uphill, downhill, open and wooded holes. A little warning though, water is in play on some holes. Beginners may want to avoid shooting over the water on hole #2. Each tee has signs describing the hole and an indicator of where the next tee is located. The view of the lake from the 17th tee is spectacular.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, 11 am to 7 pm, the beach is open during the swimming season (although you might want to check for closures during the pandemic). For a small fee, or with a yearly pass, you can wade in the water and have your toes nipped by the curious minnows. Don’t worry, they are completely harmless. Can you blame them? After all, you’ve got some tasty salty toes. A lifeguard is stationed on the beach during the peak summer hours for your safety. I have good memories of teaching my daughter how to float in the warm, still water. On really hot days, the beach can get pretty crowded, but not as crowded as a public pool in the city or Virginia Beach in August. For a fee of $5.00/hour (through the summer swim season), you can rent a canoe or kayak, although there’s plenty of room to unload your own at one of the boat landings. Gasoline-powered motors are prohibited. State fishing licenses are required if you want to fish for largemouth bass.
Local bird-watchers will love Walnut Creek Park. Birds recently seen at Walnut Creek Park (as reported to eBird) include the great egret, the pileated woodpecker, and the Eastern wood-pewee. I’ve personally enjoyed watching the long-legged blue heron wading in the shallows by the 2nd tee. You just might spot an osprey flying over the lake with a fish in its beak.
For those that want to sit and dine in comfort, four picnic tables are scattered throughout the park. A large concrete shelter looks out over the beach, with plenty of space to eat your lunch and take in the scenery. For young children, a playground is located to the right of the parking lot by the main shelter area. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or just want to sit and take in the natural beauty of Central Virginia, there’s a little bit for everyone at Walnut Creek Park.
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