Visit the Park » Things to Do!
Within the James River Park, opportunities abound for on-your-own active or contemplative activities, or you can join a park sponsored JRPS Adventure Recreation Program or a commercial guided adventures. Of course, as a natural area with twisty trails, rugged rocks, a raging river, and more, the park has dangers within it. Use caution while in the park. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, that you engage in these (and other) activities at your own risk.
Viewing bald eagles, bufflehead ducks, barred owls, osprey and great blue heron are unexpected treats in an urban setting. Luckily, the Park’s environment supports a wide variety and number of birds making it easy to add to your life list. And Richmond is the only capital city in the lower 48 that has bald eagles nesting within its city limits. Here are some tips for birdwatching:
- Best time to see birds is at daybreak when they start to move around, or late afternoon when they are settling in for the night.
- Look for them on the verge between a wooded area and an open field.
- Another good viewing spot is the edge of the river, either swimming or flying/soaring over the water.
- The largest number of birds will be seen during spring migration, before the trees leaf out.
- Find them first by listening, then tracking down the calls you hear with binoculars.
Learn more about our avian friends through guided walks and other events from our friends at Richmond Audubon Society.
Canoeing/Kayaking/SUP (Stand Up Paddle Boarding)
The James River offers both restful flatwater as well as heart‐pumping class IV rapids to entice river users of all abilities. Experienced paddlers may put in at Pony Pasture and either take out at Reedy Creek, below the Boulevard Bridge, or, for advanced paddlers, continue on through the very dangerous Hollywood Rapids and take out at the Tredegar St. or through the Pipeline Rapids to the 14th St. take outs. If you’re a flatwater enthusiast paddle the water from the Huguenot Flatwater section of the park upstream to Bosher’s Dam or launch from from Ancarrow’s Landing to paddle the water below the fall line.
You can rent a canoe or kayak or schedule a guided trip from a local expedition outfit or take a trip with James River Park education staff.
Where to Put In/Take Out
South of the River
- Ancarrow’s Landing/Manchester Docks at the end of Brander St. has a concrete boat ramp suitable for motor boats.
- Huguenot Flatwater and Pony Pasture Rapids have wooden boat ramps for canoes and kayaks.
- Reedy Creek is a put-in for advanced paddlers capable of handling Class IV rapids. Otherwise it is the take-out for those paddling in from the west.
North of the River
- 14th St.Take-out is just north of the 14th St. (Mayo) Bridge. It is the take out for the serious paddlers who’ve run Hollywood and Pipeline rapids.
- Tredegar St. just east of the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge is a put-in and take-out for serious paddlers who can navigate Pipeline and other dangerous rapids.
Bicycles are allowed on trails throughout the Park. Trails vary in degree of difficulty from flat gravel trails within Pony Pasture, Belle Isle and The Wetlands to the rugged Buttermilk and Northbank Trails. And there is a Bicycle Skills Park on Belle Isle which will help improve the skills of any cyclist, from beginner to seasoned trails rider. Please be aware and watch for other users as you ride, pedestrians have the right of way on ALL trails in the Park, except those marked Bicycles Only. Stay on the trails and, to minimize environmental impact, do not ride when the trails are wet. To minimize environmental impact, use existing trails rather than creating new ones. For detailed trail information check with our friends at RVAMORE.
A mixture of roaring rapids, deep pools, and calm flat water create excellent fishing opportunities and beautiful scenery on the James River within the Richmond city limits. The water below the Floodwall is where the tidal James meets the falls and is where the fish tend to school, rest and feed before attempting to climb the falls to spawn up river. This is a citation fishery for small-mouth bass. In order to promote a population of large-sized fish, there is a prohibition on keeping any bass between the sizes of 11″ and 22″ and allowing only one longer than 22″ to be kept. A current Va. Fishing License is required and should be displayed at all times. To stay abreast of regulatory changes, see DGIF’s Creel Harvest and Length Limits PDF.
For safety purposes, boating on the James River within the city limits of Richmond is prohibited when water levels measure or exceed nine feet at Westham gauge, unless you have a special high water use permit. This is obtainable from the River Rescue section of the Richmond Fire Department (Station 13). You are required to wear personal flotation devices while boating, fishing or rock-hopping when water levels reach five feet or more.
Jogging/Trail Running/Hiking/Dog Walking
The Park trails are considered ideal by walkers and runners alike. A variety of terrain provide options for all skill levels from flat, wide graveled paths with sure footing, to gentle grades, to rugged steep sections — all feature beautiful scenery.
Suggested possible routes are:
- Easy (approximately .75-1.5 miles): Start in Pony Pasture parking lot and take the Louise Burke or R.B. Young trail east. You’ll come upon lovely river views and numerous side trails. When you reach Pleasant’s Creek, either keep the creek on your left and saunter back in a loop to the parking lot, or head across the bridge into the Wetlands for a longer walk.
- Intermediate (approximately 2 miles): Park at the end of Tredegar St. downtown and walk across the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge for a dramatic view of Hollywood Rapids and downtown. Once on the island, walk by the meadow that once was a notorious Civil War prison camp. Then take the trail that parallels the rapids. Stop at the quarry pond overlook on your left for a more tranquil experience. The trail loops around the island or you can do an out-and-back route.
- Advanced (approximately 9 miles): Begin in the Reedy Creek parking lot and pick up the Buttermilk trail and head west toward the Boulevard Bridge. Walk across the bridge and pick up the North Bank trail and head east past Maymont. You’ll have to walk a few blocks on Kansas St. here to pick up the trail again at Texas Beach parking lot. Again head east until the trail ends near the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge. Take the bridge across to Belle Isle. Explore as much as you’d like there and, keeping the Lee Bridge above you on your left, walk toward the service vehicle bridge on the south side of the island. Take it across where you can either pick up the Buttermilk Trail on the other side of the train tracks or walk toward park headquarters on
For everyone’s safety, it is important to be aware of others and when approaching from behind, to alert them to your presence with a simple “on your left (or right)” to allow them to move out of your path.
There are many beautiful places for visitors to walk their dogs within the Park. Remember state law requires that dogs be leashed at all times. For the consideration of other visitors, please ensure trails are kept clear of pet waste. For your convenience, a dog refuse bags are located on many of the trash receptacles throughout the Park. Finally, be considerate of others and don’t allow your dog to run and jump on other people or other dogs.
The unique wilderness-within-an-urban-environment that exists in the JRPS offers photogs amazing opportunities to connect with the world through their camera lens:
- micro-vistas of wildflowers at easternmost park area, Ancarrow’s Landing
- picture the historical structures at the Pump House
- glimpse the Atlantic Coast Line Bridge through the trees at Reedy Creek
- view downtown through river rapids on the north or the rocks and Manchester to the south on Belle Isle
- panoramic river rapids, boulders, islands and Shockoe Bottom on the Pipeline
- track the home range of the wildlife at the Wetlands
With such scenery, there are many beautiful moments to ready to be captured in just about any area of the park!
There are no concessions in the park, so it’s a bring your own picnic kind of place. If you do bring food and drink with you, remember that glass containers and alcohol are prohibited within the Park, and please use the trash and recycling containers provided or pack out your trash.
Richmond is one of the few cities that allows rock climbing inside its corporate limits and the JRPS offers a number of challenging opportunities for climbers:
- The Manchester Climbing Wall is one of central Virginia’s premier rock climbing areas, offering multiple routes for trad climbing, sport climbing, and top roping. The sixty-foot main wall, and its three pillars (30-35ft), are the trestles that remain from a nineteenth century granite block railroad bridge and have been equipped with bolts and shutts. The routes offered are superb for recreational and experienced climbers alike. Climbers and non-climbers alike will enjoy a visit to this uncommon section of the JRPS.
- One of the granite quarries used in 1800’s to build many of Richmond’s buildings now offers a granite face for climbers. The quarry wall at Belle Isle reaches 30 and 40 ft high with multiple routes, one or two are bolted, and most are considered easy-moderate. To find the wall, get on the island and walk upstream until you reach a pond on your left with the north facing cliffs on the far side.
- There are several areas of boulders in the park near the Buttermilk Trail in the Main Area. The Buttermilk Trail is accessed from several parking areas along Riverside Drive. The notable boulders off this multi-use trail are: Shark Boulder, Whale Boulder, Biker Boulders, Egg Boulder and Fence Boulder. See the Buttermilk Trail Bouldering Guide which has maps to boulder locations and difficulty ratings.
The James River is a fun place to play and the park provides access to a variety of water conditions. However, each year, swimming accidents occur because someone misjudges the water. Wear old tennis shoes and life jackets depending on river level. Make sure to bring a friend along since its not a good idea to swim alone. Please take a minute to review the Park Rules and Safety Tips before enjoying the recreation opportunities this access provides. Also, Pony Pasture is very crowded from late May to early September, making parking exceedingly difficult after 11 a.m. on weekends. If planning a summer swim at Pony Pasture, go early.
- Go wading with children in the shallow pools and rapids of the Pony Pasture Rapids or 42nd Street Rocks
- Do not swim in the rapids at Belle Isle instead consider using the sandy beach on the east end.
- Texas Beach offers a sandy beach with calm water and sunbathing rocks.
- Huguenot Flatwater has calm but deep water access using the canoe launch.
Use your own tube or get in touch with one of the local suppliers in the area to float with a guide. Check the global calendar for JRPS Adventure Recreation Program for scheduled floats during the summer months. DIYs — read the RTD Guide to Tubing on the James (summer 2015).
- Grab an inner tube and float down the river from the Pony Pasture to Reedy Creek. This is a 3.5 mile trip through mostly relaxed water with several sets of rocks with small rapids towards the end.
- For a longer ride you can start at Huguenot Flatwater adding about 1.5 miles to the trip.
Animals are shy. It’s easier to see the signs left by common inhabitants of the park than it is to see the animal. Look for paw prints in the mud, stumps cut by beavers, den holes for woodchucks and foxes. Muskrats are sometimes seen swimming in the shallow channels between islands. Beavers swim at night and deer can sometimes be seen in the early morning.
Butterflies, dragon and damselflies are seen in the summer fluttering throughout the park. These beautiful and fascinating insects pass through multiple life stages before the transforming into the winged adults we recognize. Less welcome are the mosquito and tick pests that can be annoying and can carry disease. When visiting during warm weather be sure to apply repellent frequently to avoid being bitten.
Spring and summer are the times to look for snakes, turtles and lizards. They are plentiful. River Cooters bask on the rocks and Brown Water snakes are common along the shoreline in late spring and summer. Listen to the Peepers and Chorus Frogs sing at the Wetlands in early spring or hear the toads sing during the warm rains of summer. Lizards bask on the stone steps around Park Headquarters in the summer. And Riverside Drive near the Pony Pasture is closed to automobiles on rainy nights in late winter for the protection of mating Spotted Salamanders.
JRPS Outdoor Education Programs
The park offers year-round, staff-lead, recreational and educational opportunities to individuals of all ages. For more information see Adventures & Skills Instruction and Environmental Science & History Tours.
For dates, times and locations or direct links to registration by date, see the James River Park Global Calendar.
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