One of the truly beautiful things about the James River Park System is that it’s free. Anyone who cares to can stroll into the Park and enjoy the bounty of Richmond’s natural spaces and the glorious James River. Park users are free to walk the trails. They can enjoy the river. They can picnic. Bicycles are welcome. As we work to increase accessibility to ALL Richmonders and visitors, we welcome to the Park people of all ages, races, sexes, and abilities. We even welcome their dogs…

Within reason.

There is sometimes a question about what is and isn’t allowed in the James River Park System. Can you build a campfire? Is alcohol allowed? Can anyone kayak any time?

This is the first of what will be a series of posts exploring the little-known rules for the Park:


One such rule is less a Park rule than a Richmond City ordinance: City Code 4-243:

“It shall be unlawful for any dog to run at large. For purposes of this section, a dog shall be deemed to run at large while roaming, running, or self-hunting off the property of its owner or custodian and not under its owner’s or custodian’s immediate control. The term “immediate control,” for purposes of this section, means confinement of the dog by a fence, tether, or leash. Any person who permits such person’s dog to run at large shall be deemed in violation of this section, and upon conviction thereof, shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”

While we encourage everyone to enjoy the Park and welcome their four-legged friends, every dog in the Park should be leashed. In addition to being illegal, unleashed dogs create a nuisance. An out-of-control dog creates a hazard for cyclists and hikers using the trails. Not every person even likes dogs (strange but true) and dogs can be threatening to small children.

The James River Park System is also home to all sorts of animal wildlife. A loose dog can encounter racoons, foxes, coyotes, snakes, and more. Not only is this dangerous for the dog, it negatively impacts the animals that call the Park home.

Even a leashed dog can create a problem for Park users. Some dogs display something called “leash aggression”. A dog that doesn’t do a lot of leashed walking or gets anxious in unfamiliar places can feel threatened when on a leash, as if it can’t properly defend itself, and will lash out when frightened or startled. Imagine a cyclist appearing suddenly along a quiet trail. And some folks like to offer their dogs a taste of freedom by using a long leader or retractable leash. On a crowded Park day this is almost like letting your dog roam free.

If you read through the City ordinance, you may be surprised at some of the Park-adjacent spots that don’t allow dogs. Dogs are not allowed at Byrd Park, the Maymont Visitors Center, Dogwood Dell, and a few other popular spots. Much like in the Park itself, look for the signage.

The last issue with dogs in the Park is the smelliest – Poop. Dog poop eventually ends up in the James River if it’s not cleaned up. That’s addressed in City Ordinance as well:

Section 4-90: (a) The owner of an animal shall be responsible for the removal of any waste or excreta deposited by such owner’s animal on public and private property.

And that’s the scoop on dogs in the James River Park System.