Visit the Park » Trails Overview
Whether you’re looking for an easy walking path or a challenging bike trail, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the James River Park. With over 22 miles of trails that are open to both bikes and to foot traffic, diverse trail types range in difficulty from easy to advanced.
The main loop – which features Buttermilk and North Bank trails – is very popular and technically challenging. Beginner-friendly trails can be found in the Pony Pasture area and at Ancarrow’s Landing. In addition, there is a Bike Skills Park on Belle Isle where cyclists can work on skill-building before tackling more advanced trails.
Enjoy the trails of the James River Park!
Trails of the James River Park
Ancarrow's Landing (Poop Loop)
The twisty singletrack trails start an Ancarrow’s landing and heads south to form a 2.5 mile loop. This is a very flat area and suitable for beginner riders, but it also one of the last trails to dry after a rain. A connector trail starts under I-95 and travels east to the main loop. Ancarrow’s Poop Loop Trail came about due to an agreement between the Parks Department and the Department of Public Works.
This popular island in the middle of the James River is accessible by two bridges (a pedestrian footbridge from the North bank and a service bridge for emergency and park vehicles from the South bank). Generally speaking, the easier trails are at the bottom of the island and the more moderate trails climb to the top of the island. The “Lost Trail” is located on the eastern edge of the island, and is a flat, flowing trail with a few bermed turns. The other section is located on top of the hill in the middle of the island. Connecting these two trail sections is the “Lost Garden,” a long rock garden under the service bridge. The trails on the top of the island’s hill are moderately more difficult, with tight singletrack riddled with lots of roots and tight turns, with great views of the river near the western side of the island. Belle Isle is home to the Belle Island Bicycle Skills Area where you can learn new skills that will help you navigate the rest of the trail system.
Buttermilk trail was aptly named because when milk was still delivered to people’s homes, the milkman would store the buttermilk in a cool well that is still located on the side of the trail.
The trail parallels the southside of the river and is a real challenge and considered the most difficult of the different sections of the James River Park System. Buttermilk combines tight, twisty, fast descents and steep climbs with lots of rocks and roots. Several creek crossings and some bridges and rock gardens add character to one of the most beloved trail systems in the Richmond area.
Buttermilk consists of three trails. Buttermilk East runs from the Manchester Bridge to 22nd street; Buttermilk Proper Trail runs from 22nd Street to 43rd Street; and Buttermilk Heights extends to the Boulevard Bridge from 43rd Street. In general Buttermilk Heights has the most climbing and rocks.
Buttermilk Heights and Proper is part of the very popular JRPS trail loop which includes the North Bank Trail. Buttermilk East connects with the Floodwall Trail and the Potterfield Bridge, adding an extra section to the loop.
Historic Slave Trail
The historic Slave Trail extends 2.5 miles from Ancarrow’s Landing on the south side of the river to Lumpkin’s Jail on the north side. The portion on the south side follows the bank of the river through the woods. After crossing the river on the Mayo Bridge, the trail becomes more urban in nature as it winds north to Lumpkin’s Jail. See the Slave Trail Commission Brochure.
This 1.5 mile long trail is located just west of Pony Pasture and follows the river from Rattlesnake Creek to the Huguenot Flatwater parking lot. This well-shaded and well-marked wooded trail is very flat, making it tend to stay muddy for prolonged periods during wet weather.
Pony Pasture is an extremely popular and heavily used part of the Park. The main trails are wide and graveled, making them excellent for beginner off-road riders and walkers alike. There are approximately 3 miles of trail – mostly wide gravel paths. The area is very popular with walkers and can be busy on the weekends. A bridge connects this section of the Park to The Wetlands and its 2.5 miles of trails.
North Bank Trail
Like Buttermilk, North Bank is an advanced trail that is technical, rocky and rugged in spots. Fast, flowing singletrack with some steep climbs and fast descents – users should be careful of oncoming mountain bikers and pedestrians. This trail offers great panoramic views of the James River unavailable in other sections of the Park. The trail runs from the Boulevard (Nickel) Bridge west to Tredegar Iron Works parking lot
The trails in The Wetlands range from narrow singletrack to wide gravel paths. This area is very popular with dog walkers but is also used by cyclists, hikers and trail runners. The Wetlands is contiguous with Pony Pasture and can be connected via trail.
Trails that Connect to the JRPS Trails
Dogwood Dell Bike Loop
This trail starts across from the Pump House kiosk on Pump House Drive. Enter the woods to find a trail connecting to the loop that can be ridden either counter-clockwise or clockwise. Counter-clockwise seems to be the favored direction due because that situates the best berm on a descent instead of a climb. The loop trail is open to bikes and foot traffic, however it is the only trail in the Park where bikes have the right-of-way. Hikers and runners are encouraged to use the Dogwood Dell Hiking Trail as an alternative.
Dogwood Dell Hiking Trail
This loop trail is open to foot traffic only and connects the backside of The Carillon and Dogwood Dell to JRPS Pumphouse Park and the nearby North Bank trail. The trail offers a a wooded walking route and a narrow wooden foot bridge which cross a small creek.
Forest Hill Park Trail
This trail has been used as part of the challenging Xterra Off-Road triathlon race numerous times. Completely over-hauled in 2009, the trail should be considered flowing singletrack with several long climbs. The trail loop is accessible from the JRPS from Reedy Creek parking lot by heading though the tunnel under Riverside Drive, then follow the gravel road south and cross over the concrete pipe to follow the loop counter-clockwise or enter the trail at Riverside Dr. to follow the loop clockwise. You can also enter from the park’s parking lot at New Kent and 42nd St. For a longer ride, some people combine them with Buttermilk, North Bank, and Belle Isle trails.
Virginia Capital Trail
The 52-mile-long shared-use trail connects Richmond to Jamestown along the scenic Route 5 corridor. This asphalt and boardwalk trail features interpretive sites with information kiosks and bicycling and pedestrian amenities to accommodate users of all ages and abilities. There are nine main access points to the trail with the western terminus trailhead located within Great Shiplock Park.
Richmond Trail Conditions
Stay Safe and Be Courteous
These trails receive extremely high usage, especially on the weekends. Please use common sense and courtesy towards all other trail users.
- Cyclists should always ride in control, announce themselves when overtaking another user, and be courteous.
- The use of earbuds by all users is discouraged.
- Dogs should be kept on leash at all times.
- Using trails when are they are wet and/or muddy causes damage — if you can see your footprint or tire print behind you, the trails are too wet and should be avoided.
Trail Difficulty Chart
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Help maintain JRPS Trails
For trail work opportunities within the JRPS, check out rvaMORE.