The Park » About the James River Park System
A Popular RVA Spot
The infrared park counters have confirmed what most of us had suspected: Belle Isle is the park’s most popular site, attracting people of all ages to the wooded paths, mountain biking trails, bicycle skills area, historical sites, wheelchair-accessible fishing at the quarry pond, good sunbathing and the granite wall for rock climbing.
Unfortunately the water is rough around the rapids and not suitable for swimming although it’s possible to wade at the eastern tip. Back in the day, we could only get there by hopping rocks from the river’s south side. In 1988 a pedestrian suspension bridge under the Lee Bridge was added, providing greater access, although parking around Tredegar Street continues to be a problem.
The island is replete with interpretive signs because it has a rich history: Captain John Smith first explored it in the early 17th century, and since then has contained a fishery, nail factory, a notorious prison for Union soldiers, and a hydroelectric plant, among other buildings and activities.
Despite the water being unsuitable for swimming, pedestrians can watch expert kayakers navigate the most challenging rapid in the Fall Line from the north side of the Belle Isle footpath.
Other North of the River Locations
Parking: 1 Belle Isle, via the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge under the Lee Bridge. Parking in lot off Tredegar St., about 50 spaces
Bike racks: yes
Water fountain: Tredegar parking lot, and there is a potable water hose bib (for filling water bottles) on the side of the kiosk on Brown’s Island
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
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