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James River - Richmond, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
6.3 mls N/A
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
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2.5 hours plus a half hour for lunch
160 ft
Explore The James
RichmondGov.com James River
Printable Topo Hike Map (PDF)

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Park on Tredegar St at the Belle Isle parking area. 37.53469, -77.44803
 

This was a great hike to do without having to go to the mountains and if you like water, you’ll love this hike located mostly within the City of Richmond James River Park System. For an urban hike, there was a little bit of everything. There was nature with the geese, hawks, ducks, trees, and of course, the James River seen throughout most of the hike. There were also the urban distractions: traffic, people, trains, and something that we have not walked by on any other hikes on this site – 3 cemeteries. Surprisingly enough, even with all the distractions, this is a worthwhile hike. Look around as you hike and you will see some beautiful things.

The trail starts at the same parking lot as the Belle Isle hike, head under the train trestle to the sidewalk and take a right heading to the hanging bridge underneath the Lee Bridge (Route 1/301) Note: Do not park under the trestle as you may get train grease on your car.  It is about 0.5 miles to the other side of the bridge from the parking area. Stay straight as you come off the foot bridge passing an intersection on the right in about 100 yards, bear to the left past the Call Box, paralleling the Lee Bridge. You will pass another intersection in about 150 yards, stay straight and then cross the South Side pedestrian bridge.

Once on the South side of the James River, bear right and take the Low Water trail. If the river is high you will have to take the High Water trail. You will soon come to a concrete path, bear left. Continue on the trail and in 1 mile you will come to the James River Park System Headquarters and Visitor Center. Keep your eyes open on this mile long section for multiple small spur trails to view the wildlife on the many creeks that are flowing into the James River. Continue past the Visitor Center and reach the Boulevard Bridge in 1.2 miles. You will start getting closer again to this section of the James River and can see the outline of Richmond down river.

Go under the bridge and take a left over the railroad tracks, a not so obvious path will be in front of you, follow it up to the road and take a left towards the Boulevard Bridge walkway. Cross the bridge, up river is a beautiful railroad bridge, to the left and up on the hill is the Maymont House. Once across take a left towards the Northbank Trail, the trail begins near the kiosk. The next 0.6 miles of the trail will have the Maymont property on the left and the Kanawha Canal on the right. There will be a steep ramp and portion of the trail as you reach the intersection of Hampton Street and Kansas Ave. Follow Kansas Ave for 0.3 miles and take a right on Texas Ave towards the Northbank Trail parking area. Take a left into the parking area, the trail begins at the far end. At the first intersection bear to the left and the trail will go through a fence, it seems strange but that is where the trail goes. [Note: This part of the trail was a little confusing and with no blazes it made it even harder to follow. If you end up starting to go across a railroad pedestrian bridge, you have gone the wrong way, turnaround.]

Once through the fence it is about 1.5 miles back to the parking area. You will pass 3 separate cemeteries: Calvary, Riverview and Hollywood. There are some great views of the James River on this stretch of the trail. Keep heading towards the Lee Bridge and you can’t miss the parking area.

Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the James River hike:

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Hiker Reviews For The James River Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the James River hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, January 3, 2019
Took this trail as a spur-of-the-moment adventure. we were very glad to have the written tips from this site, as we had not hiked much in this area. Even with the tips, there were one or two spots that we found tricky. For those used to hiking on well-marked/blazed trails in the state parks and similar, it would be helpful to have these tips, as the trail at intersections/cross-trails is not always as obvious.

After crossing to the South side, only a very small portion of the concrete walkway was overflowed by the river, which we could get around over the rocks, so we were able to take the Low Water Trail...it's really just a small portion. We did not see as much wildlife as I had hoped, but did see bird activity. Mostly we really enjoyed being close to the river and seeing it fairly high. When arriving under the Boulevard Bridge, you literally climb up to the railroad tracks and cross over. The tips are understated when it says, "a not so obvious path" will lead up to the bridge. When you cross the tracks, immediately under the bridge, just to the right, is the path leading up to the pedestrian walkway across the bridge, back to the north. This is probably the steepest upward climb and a bit of tricky footing because of the overnight rains. Over the bridge to the North Bank trail is easy. The views are great you just have to ignore the cars zooming by. Walking past Maymont was cool the ramp up to the street IS very steep, a bit slippery when wet. Then it actually takes you a few blocks through a residential area on the way to the North Bank Trail parking area. I would refine the trail notes here, when taking up the trail from the parking lot. at the first intersection, do take the Left trail, marked "Texas Beach". You will go down the steps built here. you will not follow the Texas Beach trail, but will find the opening in the fence that is referred to, slightly to the left, just before the railroad pedestrian bridge. After this it was smooth sailing. It seemed marshier here in some spots than on the South Bank. we have had so much rain, but never so bad that we couldn't avoid puddles, and we had light, water-proof hiking boots. Regarding hygiene facilities, for those who care porta-potties at Tredegar parking lot, parking lot just across the Boulevard Bridge, and the North Bank trail parking lot...strongly advise bring your own toilet paper these potties were very full, and had not been serviced for a while you can't be squeamish if you are going to be a hiker! Just be prepared. We really enjoyed this hike on a coolish January afternoon. It was a combination of urban, woodsy, river hiking. There is so much history in this area, this hike prompted us to want to learn a bit more about the places we went through. I have lived in Richmond my entire life but there is always more to learn, appreciate and remember. We don't do as much of this kind of thing as we would like, so in terms of difficulty I would call it mostly easy with a few spots of moderate thrown in. You must be in good enough shape to tackle just a couple of short climbs, and watch aging knees on a couple of downhills, maybe a little balance if exploring the rock field just over to the South Bank. This could be done in 2-21/2 hours by someone just out for the pure exercise of the walk. We took a very leisurely 3 1/2 hours, taking pictures, snacking, etc. Happy Hiking!


By: Diego Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Can't believe I'm giving this a 5, but looking back on it, there was just so much to see throughout the hike. It was snowing the day of the hike which was beautiful. It also kept other people away from the trails. Both of these contribute to my high rating.

I started this from the Maymont Pump House lot (37.535162, -77.482964) and hiked clockwise. There is also parking at the Texas Beach lot (off Texas Ave) and the Reedy Creek trailhead (off Riverside Drive).

Instead of the hanging bridge under Route 301 I instead took the Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge. I would recommend both routes, but the Potterfield Bridge makes it a longer hike. After crossing the bridge you have to take a footbridge over the railroad tracks to get up to Railroad Ave. The Buttermilk trail peels off of this road, going under the Route 301 Bridge, then parallels Riverside Drive for a ways. There's a 4-way intersection (near 21st st) with a bridge/stairs to the right. Go right to cross over the railroad tracks to the Reedy Creek Trail. I did not take this route on my hike but wish I did. Continuing to follow the Buttermilk trail will result in you staring at trains and not much else.

The Reedy Creek Trail will eventually lead to the Park HQ building. Go right. You can either cross the train tracks or continue on the river side of the tracks. The trails meet up a little farther down. From there you get back to Westover Hills Blvd which goes back over the river.

I liked the portion on the north side of the river the most. There are so many places to branch off and explore if you have the time - Texas Beach, Maymont, cemetaries, Brown's Island, Tredegar. It's also worth noting there are trails all over Belle Isle to explore as well.


By: Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, February 17, 2017
Just wanted to update with the December 2016 opening of the fantastic new T. Tyler Potterfield Pedestrian Bridge, which adds a new foot crossing over the James. The bridge is built on the piers of the old VEPCO levee which crosses from Brown's Island south to the Manchester wall. A short section has been open for many years but now you can walk all the way across. You get beautiful views of the city and the falls of the James. This is a very cool structure and well worth the drive to Richmond to see it. The bridge is 100% accessible from both sides. There is a warning sign for dog owners, longer nails can be caught in the bridge decking so beware.

Instead of taking the Belle Isle hanging bridge from the parking lot, go left down Tredegar Street and turn right onto Brown's Island. Follow the Potterfield footbridge across the river and continue on the path to the view from the top of the Manchester wall. Continue on the shorter footbridge over the train tracks and turn right behind the Suntrust parking lot. Follow the sidewalk and then a marked trail under the Lee Bridge. In about a quarter mile you will come to the 21st Street park entrance. Go down the spiral stairs to reach either the High Water or Low Water trails and rejoin the route in the main description.


By: Midlo Day Hiker Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, November 15, 2015
We have lived in in the suburbs of Richmond since 1997 and never hiked this trail. It is fantastic and can't wait to hike it again. It has everything a hike in the mountains has, except the elevation. We parked in the lot off Westover Hills Blvd/Pump Rd. and went clockwise up Northbank trail. The Northbank trail is very busy with walkers, runners, mountain bikers, but once you cross over to Belle Isle and are on the Low Water trail it becomes much quieter. I think the trail changes to Buttermilk Trail at some point. We enjoyed the trail, cemetaries, rock hopping, creek crossings. The whole trail is very dog friendly and my dogs particularly liked the Reedy Creek area. Highly recommend this trail.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, November 11, 2015
This was a very nice hike right in the middle of Richmond. It gives you some nice views of the river as well as lots of history along the way. Recommend taking the excellent hiking summary along as the trail is obscure in several places. It was a fun way to spend a morning. Get there early to find a place to park. By the time we finished the hike around noon, the lot was full.

    View all 16 reviews for the James River hike
Early January
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