Spring is one of my favorite times in Richmond. The weather is not too hot, not too cold. The flowers are in full bloom. And the hiking trails are just begging to be explored.
Virginia is known for its amazing hiking trails, but most people associate hiking in Virginia with the mountains. And without a doubt, some of the most beautiful mountain trails are in Virginia. But even without mountains to climb, there is no shortage of beautiful trails right here in Richmond.
With the James River cutting its way through the city and plenty of forested land, open green spaces and beautiful wetlands, you don’t have to go far to find a perfect spring hike in Richmond. To get you started on your hiking itinerary, we’ve reviewed some of the top trails in the city and put together a list of our favorite five.
To rank our favorites, we considered whether or not they were:
- Easy enough for the whole family, while still feeling like a hike
- A good distance – not too long, but not too short
- Easy to access
- Diverse in terms of terrain and/or scenery (i.e., not just two miles of the same view)
It wasn’t hard to find plenty of trails that met our requirements – and then some. But the following five won out as our favorites, and once you learn more about them, we think you’ll see why.
If it’s a nature walk, you’re looking for, the Powhite Park Trail fits the bill. Located just off the Chippenham Parkway in Bon Air, the Powhite Park Trail is hidden gem. In fact, many people forget that this 100-acre park even exists, which makes it all the more appealing to us. You’ll probably see more bikers than hikers on the trail, but overall, with less traffic than other more popular trails, the Powhite Park Trail provides a picturesque, if not slightly primitive, hike. The park offers more than five miles of trails and hiking paths that meander through through hardwood forests, open fields and wetlands. But, unless you’re feeling adventurous, you’ll most likely want to stay on the two-mile outer loop. The other trails aren’t as well marked…or traveled. Despite its close proximity to the city (and yes, you’ll hear traffic from the parkway along certain parts of the trail), the park is home to a surprising array of wildlife, including birds and deer. Beavers even make their dams down in the park’s wetlands. The trail is dog-friendly, but you’ll need to keep your furry friends on a leash – especially if you want to see wildlife.
Why we love it: Tucked away near highways, houses and local shops and restaurants, the Powhite Park Trail makes it easy to forget you’re even near a city. It’s like a forest oasis. We especially love that it offers a variety of trails – stick to the two-mile outer loop for simplicity sake, or get adventurous and explore a bit deeper. With plenty flora, fauna and wildlife, you can keep the kids entertained, engaged and constantly learning about the natural world around them.
Hiking Time: About 1 hour for the outer loop.
Activities: Hiking, mountain biking, trail running, bird watching, nature exploration
Parking: A parking lot is located at the trail head at 7200 Jahnke Rd.
Contact: (804) 646-5733
If we were doing a “Most Popular Outdoor Destinations in Richmond” list, Pony Pasture would be hard to beat. With its large rocks, ideal swimming and wading conditions, beautiful rapids and large open spaces, Pony Pasture is a go-to for many Richmond families the moment the weather starts warming up. And while the rocks might be crowded with sunbathers, swimmers and those who came to ogle at the stunning river views, this Richmond hot spot has more than just the river to offer. With a two-mile loop trail available, Pony Pasture gives you a chance to explore the lush wooded areas around the river. Along the way, you’ll find wetlands, a wildlife blind and even a small stream called Pleasant Creek. The downside, and the only reason this otherwise beautiful trail isn’t higher on our list, is that it does get crowded. The river banks are often busy, but even the trails can fill up quickly with hikers, bikers and trail runners. However, if you don’t mind passing friendly faces along the way, then you’re going to love what you find along this riverside trail.
Why we love it: The trail is easy enough for toddlers – and more than engaging enough for the rest of the family. Which is a win in and of itself. But we also love that you can make a day out of a trip to Pony Pasture. The loop shouldn’t take you too long, even with occasional stops for tired little legs. But when you’re done, there’s still plenty of space to explore. Bring bathing suits or water-friendly clothes and cool down on the river rocks. Bring a camera to capture the amazing river views. Watch paddlers make their way through the rapids. And if you’re lucky enough, you might even be able to rock hop your way to Williams’ Island – a 100-acre, uninhabited island filled with wildlife.
Hiking Time: 1 – 1 ½ hours
Activities: Hiking, biking, trail running, bird watching, nature walks, rock hopping, swimming (life jackets and water shoes are recommended!)
Parking: Although Pony Pasture has the largest parking lots of all the James River Parks, it fills up quickly. The lot can hold more than 100 cars (with creative parking, up to 150), but it’s recommended that you arrive early, especially during the peak months of June through August. The lot is located at 7310 Riverside Drive.
Contact: (804) 646-8911
Chances are, you’re familiar with Belle Isle, from the suspended foot bridge under the Lee Bridge that takes you to the island to the large, flat rocks that fill with sunbathers, swimmers and picnickers during the summer months. But what you may not know is that the Belle Isle Trail, which runs for 1.8 miles around the perimeter of the island, is filled with history. Not only was the island a Native Americans fishing site long before Europeans settled in Virginia, but Captain John Smith visited it in 1607 and it served as one of Richmond’s first industrial sites, hosting a nail factory in 1814, an ironworks until 1972, a granite quarry in the 18th and 19th centuries, and a power plant from 1904 to 1967. Most notoriously, however, Belle Isle was a Civil War prisoner-of-war camp, and today, you can still see the ruins of a Confederate gun emplacement. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Belle Isle is a hike through history – not to mention home to some of the most incredible views of the city, the river, and even the hauntingly beautiful historic Hollywood Cemetery. Perfect for hikers (and bikers) of all skill levels, the Belle Isle Trail does get a bit crowded, so get there early.
Why we love it: With hiking and running trails, quarry walls perfect for rock climbing, historic markers, and, of course, the large rocks that have made the island a favorite warm weather destination, there’s really nothing you can’t do along this stunning trail. But to have all of this right in the heart of downtown? That’s a gift that most cities don’t offer. While the trail can get crowded, it’s worth it. Perfect for the whole family, even the furry members (as long as they’re on a leash), the trail is truly accessible, even offering a wheelchair ramp to the river rocks as of 2010.
Hiking Time: About 1 hour, depending on stops.
Activities: Hiking, trail running, mountain biking, rock climbing, rock-hopping, swimming (use caution depending on water levels and currents), historic sites, bird watching
Parking: The main parking lot is located at 300 Tredegar Street, and although it offers upper and lower lots, there is only room for about 50 cars – and it can fill up quickly. For alternate parking, consider the Oregon Hill overlook, 5th Street or on the Southside of the river near 22nd Street.
Contact: (804) 646-8911
With 6.2 miles of easy-to-hike terrain, the North Bank / Buttermilk Loop Trail is our longest trail, guiding hikers through woods, along the riverside, through parks and gardens, past historic cemeteries and along some of the city’s favorite sites. To start from the north bank of the James River, cross over Belle Isle to the river’s south bank, make your way west along Riverside Drive, then head north back across the river, coming out at Maymont Park. For at least half a mile, you’ll have incredible view of the park to your left and the Kanawha Canal on your right. From there, you can continue parallel to the river, past Riverview and Hollywood Cemeteries, coming right back to the parking lot where you started. Be on the lookout for bikers and even horseback riders, but don’t hesitate to bring the whole family, including dogs, for a chance to see the city from new angles and perspectives.
Why we love it: For a family that loves outdoor time together, the North Bank and Buttermilk Loop blends urban scenes, forested woods, and sweeping river views into a nearly perfect hike that offers plenty of exercise, but with plenty of diversity. If you want to make a day of it, detour off the trail about five blocks east of the Maymont entrance at Hampton Street and take a smaller trail to Texas Beach, an area of sandy beach and plenty of rocks for sunbathing. Or just soak in the views of the river, wildflowers, birds, local wildlife and more as you hike your way through the city, while feeling like you’re a world away.
Hiking Time: 2 ½ – 3 hours
Activities: Hiking, walking, trail running, mountain biking, bird watching, horseback riding,
Parking: Parking is available at the Tredegar Street lot shared with Belle Isle-goers (300 Tredegar Street), but only has space for about 50 cars. If you’d like to be closer to the access point for Texas Beach, try parking at 1941 Texas Avenue, which offers parking for about 30 cars.
Contact: (804) 646-8911
Just like its name implies, this beautiful loop trail takes you through forests and over hills, offering beautiful natural views and tranquility the whole way. With terrain that’s perfect for all skill levels, even your littlest hikers will be able to keep up, assuming they don’t stop too often to pick the wildflowers that decorate the forest path. The trail winds through the 105-acre park for just over three miles. Along the way, you’re likely to see other hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, dog walkers and nature enthusiasts. In recent years, the park itself has experienced a bit of an overhaul, adding a bridge over Reedy Creek, renovated structures, benches, fire pits and more. Today, Forest Hill Park offers the perfect place for a family day trip – hike, picnic, and play on the banks of the park’s lake, Reedy Creek or even the nearby James River.
Why we love it: With an incredible array of natural beauty – from open fields to forested ravines to wetlands – Forest Hill Park Loop offers a chance to be surrounded by nature without ever leaving the city. But, the park itself also provides a peek into the area’s history. Forest Hill Park is listed in Virginia’s Historic Register and was once home to a quarry, served as an estate, and even served as an amusement park in the 1920s. So when you’re done hiking, be sure to explore the rest of the park. See historic buildings, play on the playground, have a picnic or just sit back and enjoy a beautiful spring day.
Hiking Time: 1 ½ – 2 hours
Activities: Hiking, biking, trail running, bird watching, picnicking, playgrounds, historic sites
Parking: Find parking in the park’s main lot, located at 4021 Forest Hill Avenue.
Contact: (804) 646-0036
If you have a favorite walking path or hiking trail that we didn’t cover, let us know! Tell us about it in the comments below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, we hope you’ll get out there and enjoy all of the adventures that Richmond has to offer.