Last weekend I was at Rockett’s Landing with some friends enjoying the perfect spring RVA weather and taking in the view of the downtown skyline when someone brought up the James River and its impact on our quality of life.
Without a doubt, the James River is a treasured resource. Not only did it inspire the naming of Richmond, but it has, in many ways, become the glue that holds the city and it’s residents together. So here are 11 ways that we Richmonders like to get out and enjoy the James River:
1. Canoeing, Kayaking, Paddle Boarding or Whitewater Rafting
With both flat water and rapids, the James River is perfect for all skill levels and ages when it comes to paddle sports. Whether it’s your first time on a stand up paddle board in the flat water beside Tredegar or you’re an advanced kayaker tearing up the only class IV rapids running through a major U.S. city, the James River has you covered.
2. Wildlife Walking
From great blue herons and bald eagles to otters and spotted salamanders, a walk in the James River Park system affords incredible opportunities to observe wildlife. With natural areas and preserves, the James River provides a sanctuary for a wide variety of wildlife species and plants that make for a great afternoon of discovery.
3. Jogging the floodwall, Tyler Potterfield Bridge, and Belle Isle
This is my favorite jogging route in all of Richmond. The variety of scenery, textures, people watching and running surfaces make this the best end of day stress-release and runner’s high possible. I still get goose bumps everytime I climb the southern staircase at the base of the Manchester floodwall and take in the sweeping panorama of the skyline against the rushing sound of the James River. Now, with the completion of the T-Pot bridge, you feel as though you are running directly on top of the river as you cross back over to Brown’s Island and Canal Walk.
4. Hanging out on the rocks at Belle Isle or Pony Pasture
As the unofficial beaches of Richmond, Belle Isle and Pony Pasture can’t be beat if you are looking to spend a sunny afternoon sunbathing and relaxing with friends. The massive rocks and boulders scattered throughout the James River allow you flat spaces to set up your towel or blanket and enjoy a picnic or lay back and soak up some rays.
5. Festivals and Concerts on Brown’s Island
Richmond is known for its plethora of festivals and outdoor activities, and the undisputed epicenter of these gatherings is Brown’s Island. From Friday Cheers to Riverrock to the Folk Festival, Brown’s Island is ideally located in the heart of downtown surrounded by the James River and Canal Walk, and is the place to be when it’s festival season.
6. Mountain Biking
The first time I mountain biked the Buttermilk and North Bank Trails when I moved to Richmond 13 years ago I thought “Wow, how in the world are there singletrack trails this good right in the middle of downtown??” With a wide variety of trails and obstacles that are well maintained by a devoted group of MTB enthusiasts, anyone can find their fix on the James River Trail System.
Looking for a relaxing way to spend a hot Richmond summer day? Here’s the recipe: Inflated rafts and tubes + cooler filled with refreshments + a few friends = a perfect afternoon floating down the James River.
With multiple boat launches and a marina at Rockett’s Landing, putting in your boat or renting one gets you on the water quick. Once you’re out on the James, the ample width and relatively flat water make for great wakeboarding and waterskiing conditions. You can even take a trip East out to Jamestown, Virginia Beach or anywhere on the East Coast for that matter!
Public Boating Access
With a wide variety of water profiles including flat water, rapids and deep pools, the James River provides excellent fishing opportunities both within or outside the city limits. Fish varieties include Bass, Catfish, Striper, Perch, Rockfish, Shad and Brim.
10. Canal Cruising
If you like to combine history with your fun, Richmond’s Riverfront Canal Cruises offer a 40-minute tour of George Washington’s vision for a canal and turnpike system that would effectively connect all of the harbors and shipping locations to the east of Richmond with Western trade markets as far as the Rocky Mountains. Starting with his lobbying of the General Assembly in 1789, the tour takes riders back in time and brings to life a fascinating slice of history.
From competitive Regattas to friendly recreational rowing clubs, the James River is home to rowers of all kinds. RVA is even the host of the liveliest festival stop on the Major League Dragon Boat circuit as teams from across the eastern seaboard and beyond travel to join local crews for a fun day of dragon boat races and festivities.