James, Take Me Away
If you live in Richmond, one of the great natural resources is the James River. I’ve always loved the James, but I was surprised that more than one third of all Virgininas rely on the James for drinking water, business, and recreation. It’s also one of the longest rivers in America that begins and ends in the same state, and the only city with class IV rapids. What’s also surprising is how few Richmonders take advantage of what the James has to offer.
A few years ago a friend told me to bring some water shoes and we were going to hit the James. It was a perfect summer day, the water was warm and low, and we pulled into the parking area at Pony Pasture Park with a few inner tubes. We walked and paddled to the middle of the river, and when I rounded a turn I was astonished at how beautiful it was. Ospreys were overhead, there was hardly a man-made object in sight, and the hum of a nearby waterfall was perfectly hypnotic. I had grown up in this city, but had no idea this could exist outside of remote areas out West.
If you want a similar experience, here are some suggestions for exploring the river. Start with a hike, maybe dip your toe in the water, or go for a Class IV white water experience.
A walk around Belle Island is a good place to start. Located downtown in the middle of the James, Belle Island is in the middle of the James with great views of the city, the river, and Hollywood Cemetery. Parking is available at Tredegar Street and Brown’s Island Way, and the walk over the bridge and around the island is 1.7 miles and bike and stroller friendly.
The Canal Walk is a broad name for the series of trials around the canal system that covers about 25 miles. A great taste of it is the area around Tredegar Iron Works and the downtown area. Parking is found around downtown, but the best place for free predictable parking is at the Virginia War Memorial. Exhibits along the walk cover Richmond’s history, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars nearby. This is a great spot to be a tourist in your own town.
Pony Pasture remains an RVA fav. A large parking lot is located at 1710 Riverside Drive, and it’s a fun location to wade, sunbathe, fish and canoe or kayak. I’m still a big fan of inner tubes, whether it’s oldschool from a truck tire, or river tube from Walmart. One for me, and one for a cooler. If you are going to enjoy the current, spring for a sturdy tube, the cheaper ones don’t last long banging against the rocks. And if you are going in the water, it’s always a good idea to protect your feet and ankles with water shoes or a pair of old sneakers.
One of my favorite walks back in the day before it was part of the Canal Walk is the Pipeline Trail. Park at the end of 12th Street and descend on to the pipeline and walk it next to the river near the rapids and train tressels. There’s some climbing involved to get to the pipeline, and no handrails, so this is not for younger children. It is a great spot for photography and wildlife.
If you literally want to jump right in, look into the trips available through Riverside Outfitters. No matter your comfort level, they have a trip for you including calm upper river rafting, to the intermediate falls of the James, to the bigger rapids on the lower river. Evening trips are available too. Located on 6836 Old Westham Road (near Forest Hill and Cherokee), give them a try if you are game for an adventure.
March certainly couldn’t make up its mind, but hopefully April will bring some warm days to tempt you outside. This is Richmond after all, there is always something to do.