This story ran as part of a VCU Student Media Center summer special publication, The Compass, which serves as a guidebook for new students.
Mary McLean, Contributing Writer
Richmond is teeming with pop culture, restaurants and beautiful views. From Carytown to Shockoe Bottom, there is plenty to do in your free time. The James River is a great place for hiking, canoeing and even white water rafting if you are up to it. Along the James you can find many stops, but here are the ones you should see first.
To start off this list, you have to visit the beautiful 54-acre island of Belle Isle. Set in the James River and intersected by the Robert E. Lee bridge, you can access it by the pedestrian bridge on Tredegar Street or by hiking along the coast on the south shore when the tide is low. The island features extensive trails for biking and hiking, and many historical landmarks. The strong Hollywood Rapids are located around the island and make it unsuitable for swimming in most spots, so this location is better suited for hiking, exploring and relaxing on the rocks.
Unlike Belle Isle, Brown’s Island was artificially made by the Haxell Canal and is part of the Riverfront Canal Walk — more on that below. Largely used as a music venue, the island is also home to ruins of the Richmond and Petersburg railroad system. The Richmond Folk Festival and VA Pridefest take place here, and many musicians perform on Brown’s Island throughout the year, so keep an eye out for events. It is located between 5th and 12th streets.
If you are looking for places to relax and watch the river flow, the place to be is Floodwall Park. The wall extends from the Manchester Bridge to the 14th Street bridge and offers a beautiful view of the Richmond skyline. It was designed to keep out flood waters of up to 32 feet and is also a great spot for fishing — the park is located where the James meets the falls, and fish tend to collect in that area. It also features Diversity Park, which is a grassy area great for picnicking. The entrance to the park is located next to the 14th Street bridge and has a large parking lot.
Similar to Belle Isle, Texas Beach fills up with visitors the first few warm weekends of the year. It’s a popular destination for students, including those looking to hike, swim or hang out in one of many sandy or rocky alcoves along the river. The waters are much calmer than at other spots along the river, making it ideal for swimming, and most of the trails are heavily shaded.
Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge
The next great stop is the 1,600-foot walking bridge located next to Brown’s Island. It is a great place to run and features many historical landmarks with Civil War facts on most of the planks that make up the bridge. It travels across the James from Brown’s Island and ends behind the SunTrust complex on Semmes Avenue. If you want to experience the roaring waves of the James firsthand, this is the place to go. It is wheelchair accessible and available to bikers and pedestrians 24 hours a day.
The 1.25-mile Canal Walk is one of the best things RVA has to offer. Along the canal walk you can find the first successful street car in the world, the Richmond Slave Trail, The Virginia Capital Trail and other attractions. It has places to stop and enjoy the view as well as spots to run and walk. You can access it via Virginia Street downtown.