Best River Town in America

Outside Magazine

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Some of downtown’s most amazing and noteworthy spots can be enjoyed outdoors. Whether you’re climbing, kayaking, running, mountain biking or just enjoying the views – you’ll find yourself at our urban riverfront, the James River. Exploring the James River and its surrounding park systems are essential to the Richmond experience.

Here are some of the must-see highlights that you’ll want to visit during your trip downtown:

  • The Manchester Wall: Located below the Manchester Bridge at the western end of the Floodwall, the Manchester Wall is one of the only urban climbing wall sites in the U.S. and offers multiple routes for trad climbing, sport climbing and top roping. Not interested in scaling the 60-foot granite wall? Watch from a vantage point above at the overlook nearby.
  • The Pipeline Walkway: Arguably the most unique way to experience the James, the Pipleline runs along the river at the Riverside on the James condominiums and is easy to access from the Canal Walk at South 12th and Byrd Streets or from the east end of Brown’s Island.
  • Virginia Capital Trail: A 52 mile mixed-use path for pedestrians and cyclists connecting Richmond’s downtown and Williamsburg.
  • Low Line Garden: While NYC’s Highline park is built upon decommissioned railroad trestles, RVA’s Low Line runs beneath active trestles. The Low Line acts as a connector for cyclists and pedestrians from the beginning of the Virginia Capital Trail at Great Shiplock Park to the end of the Canal Walk. The Low Line runs adjacent to downtown’s canal systems and captures the perfect balance of nature and city that exists throughout Richmond.
  • Riverfront Canal Walk: Stretching 1.25 miles along the James River and the Kanawha and Haxall Canals, the Canal Walk presents four centuries of Richmond’s history with over 75 restaurants and 40 attractions and activities within walking distance.

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James River Park System

The urban hiking and biking trails, access to the James River and dog- and kid-friendliness of the James River Park System consistently surprise out-of-town hikers and locals with the peacefulness of the riverfront and adventure in the green that surrounds it. All park sections are open from sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year, except for the T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge, which is accessible 24 hours a day.

T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge

The long anticipated physical link between Brown’s Island and Manchester, this pedestrian and cycling pathway sits atop a former hydroelectric dam, some 20 feet above the river. Completed in 2016 and named for the late City of Richmond senior planner T. Tyler Potterfield, the bridge provides unequaled river vistas, panoramic views of the downtown skyline, along with sounds that belie the extraordinarily close relationship of the bridge to the roaring river. – JRPS

Floodwall Park

Completed in 1995 to protect areas of downtown and Manchester from devastating flooding, the south bank section comprises Floodwall Park, a popular spot for hikers, runners, fishermen, bird watchers and kayakers. If you start the walk from the west, the walkway quickly leads to the Manchester Overlook, featuring one of the city’s more flattering angles: downtown buildings with picturesque rapids underneath. The trail can connect with the Richmond Slave Trail, the Canal Walk, the Robert E. Lee Bridge or the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge to form a circuit. - JRPS

Northbank Trail

If chilling isn’t what you’re about, North Bank Trail provides an excellent challenge for hikers and mountain bikers. This advanced trail runs uninterrupted from Pumphouse Park to the Tredegar Parking lot and offers panoramic views of the river unavailable in other sections of the Park. The trail can be elongated by crossing the Boulevard (Nickel) Bridge and hooking up with the Buttermilk, Forest Hill and Belle Isle Trails creating a mega loop. - JRPS

Belle Isle

Belle Isle is the park’s most popular site, attracting people of all ages to the suspension pedestrian bridge, wooded paths, mountain biking trails, bicycle skills area, historical sites, wheelchair-accessible fishing at the quarry pond, good sunbathing and the granite wall for rock climbing. - JRPS

Great Shiplock Park and Chapel Island

Below the fall line, east of downtown Richmond, you’ll find some of the lesser known, quieter sections of JRPS: Great Shiplock Park and Chapel Island. Chapel Island is a half-mile of winding, wide and flat single-track for hikers and bikers, an accessible boat ramp and a non-motorized boat launch - JRPS

Explore downtown's parks with this map or all of the James River Park System with this map.

Plan your visit or find out how you can support the JRPS by visiting the Friends of the James website or the James River Association website.

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Running RVA

Enjoy your runner’s high on the 22 miles of trails that can be found along the James River. Some of the favorite places for runners downtown are the Canal Walk, Floodwall Walk and Belle Isle. Check out RVA’s running community at Richmond Road Runner's Club or borrow a pooch with Richmond SPCA's Running Buddies program.

Take A Ride

Even if you are a beginner on a bike or just looking to take a stroll, the Virginia Capital Trail offers something for everyone. The 52-mile mixed-use path that connects Richmond’s downtown to Williamsburg for those who decide to enjoy the trail in its entirety.

If mountain biking sounds more your speed, downtown has 20 miles of trails, like the Buttermilk Trail and North Bank Trail. You’ll find it hard to find another downtown on the East Coast with a better variety of mountain biking opportunities.

For bike advocacy information and issues in Richmond, check out Bike Walk RVA. For an introduction to our city’s bike culture, check out BreakawayRVA. For more information regarding cycling through the city, check out the bike resources at Getting Around.

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River City

The James River drops 105 feet in elevation between Bosher’s Dam at Richmond’s western edge to where the tides begin at Mayo Bridge. This seven miles — the Falls of the James — is home to America’s best urban whitewater. From Bosher’s Dam to Reedy Creek, the rapids are mostly Class I and II. Below Reedy, the downtown rapids challenge even experienced boaters with narrow runs through Class III and IV water.

Don’t worry though, for those looking for fishing holes, places to canoe and paddleboard - there is plenty of flatwater too! That’s what’s great about our urban riverfront, it can be both challenging and accessible.

Make sure to check out Riverside Outfitters and RVA Paddlesports for rentals, teaching programs and excursions!

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Image Credit: Header Image - Dave Parrish Photography

Image Credit: "Best River Town in America" - Dave Parrish Photography

Image Credit: "50 Best Running Cities" - Dave Parrish Photography

Image Credit: "10 Cities You Should Explore on Two Wheels" - Jeff Saxman