After eight years serving as president of the United States, founding father Thomas Jefferson retired to Monticello, his mountaintop home in Charlottesville, Virginia. The house, which doubles as a World Heritage Site, is the ideal destination to get active and enjoy the fresh air as you make the trek to the top.
Brushing up on history
Although driving up to Monticello is an option, why not begin your morning with an invigorating hike along the two-mile Saunders-Monticello Trail? Even semi-experienced hikers will enjoy walking along the trail, which winds past a large pond, through Kemper Park and over the stone arch of Saunders Bridge to the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center. With an introductory film to familiarize your child with the history, ideas and accomplishments of Jefferson, this is the ideal place to start your visit.
The most exciting thing for kids will be the Griffin Discovery Room, where they can learn about life in the 1800s in a hands-on environment. Little ones will experiment with a polygraph machine, write with a quill, weave on a loom and get dressed up in 18th century clothing. Once you’ve explored the visitor center, it’s time to head to the house.
The house and gardens
Before your visit, stop by Monticello’s website to download and print the Exploring Monticello booklet, a fantastic guide for youth that reveals the inner workings of the house during Jefferson’s time. Pair that with a 40-minute guided tour for the perfect family-friendly Monticello experience. Encourage your children to answer the tour guides questions, and to ask some of their own. As you move through the ground floor of the house, look around for Jefferson’s gadgets, like his polygraph or pocket compass. The tour will also take you through the kitchen, the cellar and the slave quarters, as well as the hanging vegetable garden filled with healthy produce.
Take a separate garden tour to learn about the Jefferson’s love for agriculture and the history of the grounds as well as how to identify plants. In the flower garden, perennials and annuals in reds, oranges, purples and whites line the walkways. Oval-shaped flowerbeds are filled with tulips, poppies, larkspurs, zinnias and foxgloves. Enjoy the pretty floral scents as you soak up the sunlight and stretch your legs. The vegetable garden, filled with lettuce, asparagus, artichokes, squash and beans, resembles Jefferson’s own garden from the early 1800s.
In addition to the flower and vegetable gardens, the grounds contain The Grove, a wooded forest where Jefferson planted a wide variety of trees, complete with glades, shrubs and tree stumps throughout. The final stop on the garden tour is the south orchard. While living at Monticello, Jefferson planted over a thousand fruit trees. Peaches, apples, cherries, pears, plums, apricots, figs and even nut trees filled with almonds grew in the orchard—so why not ask children to identify the fruit growing on each of the trees? Visit in the summer months for a fruit tasting unlike any other. Your child will go crazy over the delicious and nutritious fruit of Monticello, sampling things like peaches, grapes, nectarines, blackberries, pears and even apple cider.
Satisfying your appetite
After your adventure, drop in to the store to grab some Jefferson-related books or educational games. You can also purchase seeds harvested directly from Monticello’s plants. When you get back home, continue the excitement of the trip by planting them with your child and watching them grow together.
Finish off your trip with a bite to eat at the café in the visitor center courtyard. There are plenty of kid-friendly options, like hot dogs or grilled cheese, and adults can choose from a variety of salads and sandwiches. Some dishes even make use of seasonal vegetables grown on the property. After a day of wandering and exploring, you will have all worked up an appetite so make sure you order enough to fill you up. Once you have your food, sit on the wooden deck overlooking the woods to enjoy the last bit of your Monticello experience.