It’s no secret: I’m a sucker for American history! It’s part of why I moved to Virginia over a decade ago. The Old Dominion State is the birthplace of eight U.S. Presidents (more than any other state!), and the Charlottesville area alone boasts three historic presidential homes. That includes the historic home location of our fifth president, James Monroe. Here’s what you need to plan your visit!
Know Before You Go
The address you’ll want to put into your GPS is 2050 James Monroe Parkway; Charlottesville, VA 22902. That’s about 2 hours and 45 minutes from D.C. (traffic dependent, of course!), about 1 hours and 15 minutes from Richmond, about 2 hours from Colonial Williamsburg, and just 20 minutes from downtown Charlottesville. It’s located within 45 minutes of James Madison’s Montpelier and just 10 minutes from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, which is why people often visit all three while in the area.
Also helpful: The Guide to the Great American Road Trip
Hours and Admission
The house and estate are open from 9:30am-4:30pm, and admission is $16 per adult ($15 if you purchase online in advance). Admission for children ages 7-12 is $12; ages 6 and under are free. Tickets are timed, but that is primarily to make sure people are spread out relatively evenly throughout the day, so popular times are not so crowded. You can visit outside of your specified time as long as it’s not crowded.
More here: The Best Weekend Trips in the U.S.A.
There are six miles of hiking trails on the property, which are FREE and open to the public! Stop into the gift shop to check in before hiking so they will know how many people are on the trails, and check back in when you finish for the day. The trails are very well-marked and easy to follow, so you won’t have to worry about getting lost!
Note: Pets are not allowed, however, due to the estate functioning as a working farm. Bring water and sturdy shoes for the trail!
Read also: The Best Day Trips from D.C.
About the House
Your ticket gives you admission to the house, out buildings, and the estate grounds. But here’s the interesting part: The house you see on the property was built after the Monroes had sold their home and moved away! The original house burned down, likely in the late 1820s.
Even more interesting? All this came to light as recently as 2016! Archaeological research revealed the outline of the original house, which was oriented differently than the house that stands on the property now. The Monroes purchased the property from the nearby Carter family in 1799 and built the original buildings, but none of them remain, and there are no paintings from the time, so we don’t even really know what they looked like!
Also great: Presidents’ Homes within Driving Distance of D.C.
Highlights of the Tour
Learning New Things
The last time I toured this house was way back in 2014, so there was a LOT of new information to take in on my most recent visit! I’m glad the docent inside the house was so knowledgeable and eager to answer my questions. She made sure I saw the stone outline in front of the existing house, which shows where the original home was located–the one the Monroes actually lived in!
Read on: A History Lover’s Guide to D.C.
Mrs. Monroe’s Dress
When they weren’t living in Virginia or the White House, the Monroes were twice ambassadors to France! In fact, it was on their second ambassadorship there that Napoleon self-coronated. The Monroes were in attendance at the coronation, and in fact, they were apparently given bad seats, as they complained about it in one of their letters home!
Inside one of the rooms in the existing house, you’ll find jewelry and a replica of one of the dresses Mrs. Monroe had with her in France. It may have been like the one she wore to the coronation.
Related: What Every Woman Should Pack for Every Trip
The Silent Witness
So, the house is gone, but there’s one thing on the property that saw everything, and you know everyone wishes it could talk! There is a white oak tree that’s over 300 years old, meaning it was there before the Monroes even purchased the property. It’s in the photograph below, and while I know it looks dead, it’s still very much alive–we visited during a particularly cold spring!
While you’re in town: What It’s Like to Go Hot Air Ballooning in Charlottesville
This was really a highlight. Virginia has so many beautiful hikes, but the ones on the Highland property are exceptionally well-marked, and there are even maps posted along the way to make sure you don’t get lost! Some of the trees were just beginning to bud when we visited, giving us some hope for spring coming soon. We took the Access Trail to the Mountain Trail, totaling about 3.25 miles round-trip, but there are other hikes on the property as well.
More here: The Ultimate List of Hiking Tips
Want more? Check out all my resources about Virginia on my dedicated United States Page!
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