Driving the Constitution Route to Charlottesville, VA

Monticello had long been on our Bucket List so, when we spotted a crazy-low fare to Baltimore, the thought of visiting Thomas Jefferson’s mountaintop estate sprang immediately to mind. Plus, it was Cherry Blossom season in the nation’s capital. Turns out, the journey between Washington and Charlottesville, Virginia, which Thomas Jefferson routinely made in four days, would be just a few hours today so we decided to take the car and drive. Within 90 minutes we turned off of the interstate, the roads began to dwindle, and soon we were on VA-20, the Constitution Route.

As we passed through idyllic villages and rolling hills on our way to the college town of Charlottesville, we found ourselves staring wide eyed at the passing scenery: dense forests, green pastures, flowering stands of Dogwood and Redbud. Behind the vistas in either direction, the broad Piedmont plateau and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Along this drive, somewhere around Opal and after a stop at the Moo Thru, I think I understood the word bucolic.

Driving the Constitution Route to Charlottesville via @TravelLatte.net

Nestled against the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Piedmont Plateau, this region of Virginia is home to beautiful landscapes. Here, the Southwest Mountains seen from the lawn at James Monroe’s Highland.

Of course, the many road signs reminded us that this area had also been a virtual hell on more than one occasion. Some of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars were fought here. Their scars have healed but the wounds are marked by national monuments and visitor’s centers. You cannot overstate the importance of this region in American history.

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We did this beautiful road trip in a rental car. (Not the one pictured, by the way.) If you do the same, be sure to give the car a thorough check before hitting the road.


Virginia, the Heart of Colonial America

Virginia was not just one of the original 13 colonies, it was the wealthiest and most successful. Its leading men were instrumental in forming the young America. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Constitution Route, a few dozen miles of National Scenic Byway that pass by the homes of three of America’s Founding Fathers and presidents.

Driving the Constitution Route to Charlottesville via @TravelLatte.net

Everywhere we looked, Dogwood and Redbud trees were showing off their spring colors!

Did we know that we were taking a road trip on the Constitution Route? No, we just wanted to go see Monticello. Since they are so close by, it seemed a shame not to stay an extra day and visit James Monroe’s Highland, and James Madison’s Montpelier. Along the way, we spotted the Constitution Route highway signs, and the light dawned on us. The men who built these plantation homes were not just friends and, in one case, literally neighbors, they were instrumental in the birth of the United States, drafting the Constitution, and getting it ratified.

We later learned that this stretch of Virginia Byway is part of the larger Journey through Hallowed Ground, as featured in National Geographic’s Drives of a Lifetime. That route starts in Charlottesville, home Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia. The first three stops, as were ours, are Monticello, Ash Lawn-Highland, and Montpelier. In 2008, Congress named the four-state Hallowed Ground region, which forms a crescent around Washington, DC, from Charlottesville north to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a National Heritage Area.

Driving the Constitution Route to Charlottesville via @TravelLatte.net

The Saunders-Monticello Trail offers a gentle walk, jog or ride through beautiful Virginia countryside near Charlottesville.

The Constitution Route, stretching from Charlottesville to Orange, is a gorgeous drive on good roads. The driving is moderately challenging in some sections, and there are plenty of places to pull over for photos or road trip supplies. It is sprinkled with battlefields and historic attractions, but also with wineries, working farms and the foodie restaurants that support them, antique markets, farmer’s markets, and stretches of achingly beautiful vistas. And, of course, a few very presidential estates.

Staying in Charlottesville

Our Stay at the Inn at Darden via @TravelLatte.net

We stayed in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia’s quaint Inn at Darden (due in equal parts to our interest in Thomas Jefferson, and a special offer which netted us 7,000 American Airlines miles through RocketMiles*), and were very happy with the decision. Charlottesville itself is beautiful and charming. Its mix of modern college town and gentrified rural atmosphere gives it a very comfortable feel, with ages old cafes alongside upscale strip malls. Besides the University, one can’t miss destination is the pedestrianized historic downtown where you can enjoy coffee shops and diners, entertainment, and unique boutiques. (Starting the day with Eggs Chesapeake at The Nook is highly recommended; we are now spoiled for life!) Our visit to Charlottesville was too brief, but we enjoyed it immensely and are already looking for reasons to return!

Driving the Constitution Route via @TravelLatte.net

Our new favorite: Eggs Chesapeake served over a crab cake at The Nook. #yum!

Driving the Constitution Route via @TravelLatte.net

Charlottesville’s quaint Historic Downtown Mall is pedestrian only, with a variety of restaurants and shops.

Find lodging options and hotel deals in Charlottesville, VA on Hotels.com via @TravelLatte.net

Around Charlottesville

Another good reason to stay in the area for a few days is the abundance of things to see! While you could certainly have a look at all three president’s estates in one rushed day, it’s far better to take your time. We allotted a half day to each of the sites, but could easily have spent all day at each one. We recommend scheduling a tour at each of the homes, and taking advantage of your admission to freely explore the grounds and gardens. See the farm animals at Highland. Explore Jefferson’s gardens. Check out the ongoing excavations at Montpelier. The visitor centers are wonderful, with museums, galleries, and gift shops. Both Madison’s and Monroe’s estates have facilities for a picnic lunch, and there are cafes at both Monticello and Montpelier.

Staying longer gives you the option of planning a lunch between Monticello and Highland at the historic Michie Tavern, taking the self-guided tavern tour and seeing it’s collection of working shops. And you won’t regret adding a few more steps on the beautiful Saunders-Monticello Trail. Back in Charlottesville, any Thomas Jefferson fan would appreciate seeing the University of Virginia, which he founded and designed. Along with Monticello, it’s a World Heritage Site worth exploring.

Driving the Constitution Route to Charlottesville via @TravelLatte.net

Michie Tavern has been a tavern and “Ordinary” along the Constitution Route since 1784.

Did we mention the wineries? If you’re so inclined, and have the time, you can pair a Constitution Route drive with the Monticello Wine Trail. We didn’t, which is another reason we want to go back! In addition to being home to so much history, the region is also the self-proclaimed birthplace of American wine! More than two dozen vineyards and wineries inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s vision of winemaking are in the area. Which means you will probably need more than just a few days to explore and enjoy.

Driving the Constitution Route to Charlottesville via @TravelLatte.net

With views like this, it’s easy to see why the Virginia Colony’s rich and famous settled near Charlottesville!

Driving the Constitution Route to Charlottesville via @TravelLatte.net

Have we inspired you to wander down the Constitution Route?  Have you been there yourself? Let us know with a Comment.

Feel free to Pin this post for later, and share it with friends who might be interested. Thanks!

Other posts from the Charlottesville area:
Historic sites near Charlottesville VA - Thomas Jefferson's Monticello - via @TravelLatte.netThomas Jefferson’s Monticello Historic sites near Charlottesville VA - James Monroe's Highland - via @TravelLatte.netJames Monroe’s Highland Historic sites near Charlottesville VA - James Madison's Montpelier - via @TravelLatte.netJames Madison’s Montpelier
#Travel140: Travel Tips via @TravelLatte
Don’t forget to get a Road Trip Checkup taking off on this adventure!

*RocketMiles: When you join using our referral link, you will receive 1,000 miles instantly, and so will we. Thank you in advance!

The Inn at Darden, The Nook: Accommodations and meals were neither solicited nor compensated; all opinions are our own.

39 comments on “Driving the Constitution Route to Charlottesville, VA

  1. Pingback: #TheWeeklyPostcard – 18 August 2017 - TravelLatte

  2. What a great stretch of road! I love a good road trip, especially one that involves history. Pinned this for later!

    • It was a fun drive, with lots of great scenery and things to see! Hope you get a chance to take this drive before too long – and we know you’ll enjoy it! Thanks for reading!

  3. Pingback: #TheWeeklyPostcard - 9 June 2017 - TravelLatte

    • Hi Shona! We are so glad you feel inspired! The houses and the countryside really wowed us. We love those stately country manors, and all of the history in the area. All in such a scenic area. It was a fantastic trip! Thanks for reading.

  4. Love the spring colours 🙂 This is such a beautiful road trip! We would absolutely pair Constitution Route drive with the Monticello Wine Trail. Btw the Eggs Chesapeake look yum!

    • Hi guys! The Eggs Chesapeake were delicious! We were so impressed by all of the color and natural beauty on this trip! Everywhere we looked, it was just gorgeous. Also, really friendly people who were justifiably proud of the area’s beauty and history. We hope you get to enjoy the area soon!

  5. It looks beautiful! I visited some of the presidential homes when I was in high school and spent a day at the lovely University of Virginia when I was in college – but I’d love to return on my own timeline and especially now that I can try out those wineries! Great post!

    • Hehehe…being “grown up” has its advantages! Just like we discovered we were on the Constitution Route only when we saw the signs, same with the Monticello Wine Trail. Didn’t realize there was one until we were there! We’re thinking we need to back to explore the wineries and brew pubs more. 🙂

  6. Beautiful 🌸 I am very inclined to take a drive along constitution route to Charlottesville. The land is so green and lush along with the cherry blossoms all wonderfully captured in your stunning photos. I definitely want to try a tasty meal at the Nook. Great article and one I have pinned for later. This is going on my US bucket list 🙂 #feetdotravel

    • Glad to hear that, Stephanie! We were really struck by how beautiful the countryside was, everywhere we looked! Definitely one of our favorite drives. Thanks for reading!

  7. This looks a great road trip, with incredible views and we would love to visit the Blue Ridged Mountains. We hope to explore the USA in future and have pinned this for future reference. Thanks for the information. #feetdotravel

    • Hi Paul & Carole! The Blue Ridge Parkway is another famous road trip in the area that is stunningly pretty. Pretty much anywhere in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge, the views are just beautiful. We hope you get to come see soon! 🙂 In the meantime, thanks for reading & Pinning!

  8. Such a lovely drive. I would love to explore that area, it seems like it kind of feels like you went back in time. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Hi Anisa – It was very much like going back in time! Charlottesville itself has areas that are very much like a few decades past, while the historic areas take you back hundreds of years! Michie Tavern was really neat – inside you can imagine Jefferson and his co-horts having dinner, and there are working shops on the grounds (smitty, weaver, artist, etc). Plus, it’s just gorgeous! We hope you get a chance to go explore. 🙂

  9. iI also visited all these places which your have mention in your blog in my these tours. Now I am going to take east coast tours from toronto with my few family members at the end of this week for fun. I am so happy for it and I am so sure that it will be a really great time for us. I hope we will came back with pleasant memories.

    • Hi Albert – thanks for stopping by! Have fun on the tours! That page came back with places like Niagara Falls and Philadelphia. We have yet to get to Niagara, but love Philadelphia! (Which reminds us we need to write about that trip!) Enjoy the trip!

  10. Pingback: Monday Escapes #34 - My Travel Monkey

  11. America is so huge and so sprawling – you think you know the main things to see and then you read fab travel blogs like yours and realise there is so much more to really see and do… I think you could spend 3 years travelling. I’ve never heard of the Constitution Route but judging by your trip, I think I would like it a lot. Fantastic scenery, history and wine! What’s not to like!! Yikes another to add to my growing US bucket list! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

    • It does seem like we are always discovering new places to see and things to do thanks to awesome travel bloggers and link ups like #MondayEscapes. One thing I really like about the Constitution Route – especially for families with little ones who don’t like being stuck in a car for hours – is that there are many places to see so you can take time and stop frequently. Plus, being just a few hours from Washington or Norfolk, it’s easy to include as a day trip from one of those or other cities in the region. I hope you get there! And thanks again for your comments – much appreciated!

  12. One of the things I enjoy about reading travel blogs is discovering places I’d never thought of visiting before – such as the Constitution Route! Sounds like a great journey and yet another one that I’ll have to add to my list to do one day. #Mondayescapes

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head for us, too! I remember reading about the Caledonian Sleeper experience on your blog (in case anyone missed it: http://afamilydayout.co.uk/mallaig/) and I still want to do that! (Especially the Harry Potter bit.) This route doesn’t have a steam engine, but there is a lot of real history and great scenery! I hope you get to do it one day. Meanwhile, thanks for your comment!

  13. What a beautiful, lush green area! This post is so informative – sounds as though your trip was packed with history.

    • Hi Nell! Welcome, and thanks for your comment. It was both a very historical and beautiful area. We’ve been on something of an American/Colonial history kick lately (though I still have to write about the trips to Philadelphia and Washington). This trip was really meant to visit the Presidents, all that Virginia scenery was an unexpected bonus! Thanks again for stopping by!

  14. Visiting Monticello has been on my travel wish list for awhile too. I didn’t know that there was a Constitution Route. What a beautiful and scenic drive. You’ve inspired me to look into this area more. I didn’t know it offers so much for tourists including that wine trail and all the history.

    • That’s one of the cool things about travelling – you discover so many things! Like the wine trail and the Constitution Route! If you like the colonial history part of it, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia is not too far away, too. We had to save that for another trip, and we’re looking forward to going back. Thanks for your comment, Mary!

  15. I’ve been to Monticello twice and enjoyed it both times. I must say, I’m inspired to actually DO the drive and visit all three homes. You went at the best time, when the dogwoods and redbuds were in flower. They sure add a lot of color to the landscape.

    • Yay! It was a great drive and you’re right – the color was just gorgeous. Not just the flowering trees; there was a yellow-flowered shrub that we saw A LOT (no idea what it was) and lots of spring bulbs were up. There were tulips all over Monticello! I am just so taken with the area after that visit. One of the dangers of travel, I suppose. 😉 Thanks for the comment, Linda!

      • Rob, the yellow-flowered shrub you saw is forsythia. It’s one of my favorites because you can cut a few of the branches mid-winter, bring them inside and place them in water … voilá! You’ll have a vase full of beautiful yellow flowers in a week or two.

        • Bonus! Thanks for the tip, Linda. Looked it up and you’re spot on! Apparently, it grows in my area, too. Just may find a few in my yard before too long. 😉

  16. I’ve always wanted to visit Monticello, too. I didn’t know that there was this much to do and see in the area. Looks like a really gorgeous drive in the springtime. I’ll have to keep this in mind for the future.

    • We had no idea until we started researching the trip. I vaguely remember the Virginia Dynasty from high school history but, ah…that was a loooong time ago! Seeing it now was really impressive. And yes, so pretty!! I still can’t get over how beautiful the countryside was. I’m sure you’d love it! Thanks for your comment!

    • Hi Brooke! Michie Tavern was interesting. I misunderstood and thought you could eat at the original tavern, but it’s a museum. There is a new section, which is The Ordinary – named after the places where travelers would have stopped in colonial times – and that’s the restaurant. You should go back to Monticello – many major renovations have been completed over the past few years. Thanks for the comment!

  17. There’s nothing more cool than stumbling across a #WeekendWanderlust post about my own backyard! Literally! I went to UVA, work in Charlottesville, am a frequent haunt at the wineries in the area, and absolutely loved this write-up of yours. Thanks for such a glowing endorsement of our area.

    • Hi Katrina – thanks for your comment and kind words! I know that feeling. I get excited whenever I read a post about my hometown, even though I haven’t lived there in ages! It’s nice when someone else enjoys the places you love. And we really enjoyed C’ville!! Seriously…we’re coming back, even if it’s just for those Eggs Chesapeake. 😉 And really? Is it always THAT dang gorgeous there?

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