Belle Isle in Richmond

Discover Belle Isle in Downtown Richmond

Located along the James River in downtown Richmond, Belle Isle is a great place for people with a love for the outdoors, granting them the opportunity to view wildlife in its natural habitat. From wooded areas to mountain biking trails, interpreted historical sites, a granite wall for rock climbing and wheelchair-accessible fishing at the quarry pond, guests have a variety of options to choose from.

From Belle Isle, visitors can see historic sites like Hollywood Cemetery, Tredegar Iron Works, and the downtown Richmond city skyline. Belle Isle has many bike trails around the island and a small cliff used for rock-climbing demonstrations. Large, flat rocks surrounding the island make for good sunbathing, but the water is rough around the rapids and not suitable for swimming. Children should be supervised.

Belle Isle also features a bicycle skills area, perfect for honing the mountain bike techniques needed to tackle the more than 22 miles of trails around the city.

History of Belle Isle

Belle Isle is an island in the middle of the James River in downtown Richmond that was acquired by William Byrd I in 1676, and it remained in the Byrd family for a century.

Belle Isle has been the site of a number of industrial operations beginning with a nail factory in 1814 and a mill in the same decade. Belle Isle Manufacturing Company built the Richmond area’s first chartered rolling and puddling mills on the island in the 1840’s producing nails, bar iron, boilerplate and other works of iron. This company became the Old Dominion Iron & Nail Works, which by 1860 was one of the premier nail manufacturers in the country and still occupied the island as late as 1910. The remains of an historic iron foundry are still visible.

During the Civil War, the island was home to the Confederacy’s largest military prison, which housed captured Union prisoners in tents surrounded by a stockade. At its maximum capacity in 1863, the prison held 10,000 Union soldiers, with tents for only 3,000. With no barracks for the prisoners, exposure to the elements was a large factor in what would prove to be a staggering death toll on the island.

The island’s granite offered ready material for the operation of stone crushing plants. A former quarry is still accessible on the north side of the island, not far from the James River’s Hollywood Rapids. The shell of an early 20th century hydroelectric plant stands on the south side of the island, visible from the footbridge to the south bank of James River Park. Operated by the Virginia Railway and Power company in 1905, it was used to generate electric power for Richmond’s streetcar system, the first of its kind in the nation.

Source: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior

Belle Isle in Richmond

Access to Belle Isle

From downtown Richmond’s north bank, along Tredegar Street, the main access point is the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge that runs under the Lee Bridge. This footbridge offers both pedestrian and bicycle accessibility from Tredegar Street. Alternate access is via the wooden bridge near 22nd Street or, for the more adventurous, by rock-hopping from the south shore.

Important Information:

  • There is a seasonal public water fountain located by the Wedge Building on the southeastern side of Belle Isle.
  • The island is open at sunrise and closes at sunset.

Parking and Transportation

Free Riverfront Parking:

  • On-street parking on S. 2nd Street between Brown’s Island Way and E. Byrd Street (limited daytime parking)
  • On-street parking on S. 5th Street on the west side of the street from Tredegar to E. Byrd Street (limited daytime parking)
  • The Belle Isle parking lot is located at the corner of Tredegar Street and Brown’s Island Way (limited daytime parking)

Paid Riverfront Parking:

  • American Civil War Museum parking lot located at 480 Tredegar Street (limited hours during special events)
  • 5th & Canal Street: public parking after 5:00pm on weekdays, and 24/7 on weekends (Rates: $6.50 for 8 hrs; pay through “ParkMobile” by app or QR code, see signage on-site)
  • 4th & Canal Street: public parking 24/7 (Weekday Rates: $4.50 for 1 hr; $9.00 for 2 hrs; $13.50 for 3 hrs; Evening Rate: $6.50 for 8 hrs; pay through “ParkMobile” by app or QR code, see signage on-site)
  • 1200 E Byrd Street (Reynolds lot): public parking 24/7 (Rates: see signage and pay-to-park kiosk on-site)
  • Delta Hotels by Marriott parking deck, 555 E. Canal Street (Open 24/7; 1 Hour $7.00; 2 Hours $14.00; Evening $7.00)

Riverfront Bike Parking/Riding:

  • Bike racks are located along Tredegar Street near 5th Street and at the vehicular bridge on the western end of Brown’s Island nearest historic Tredegar.
  • A Bike Share station is located at 620 Tredegar Street. Explore all of the RVA Bike Share stations here.

Riverfront Bus Transportation:

  • Getting to Richmond's riverfront is easy when you take the GRTC public bus system. Just take the route #87 bus across the Lee Bridge from the north side of the river to the new stops at 2nd Street and Brown's Island Way near Tredegar or at 2nd and Spring Street. The route #87 bus runs every 60 minutes. On its way back across the river, the bus stops at 2nd and Spring Street and again at 2nd Street closer to the Virginia War Memorial. Make sure to look for the GRTC signs.

Find more informating about Parking and Transportation in downtown Richmond here.

Explore more outdoors in downtown Richmond here!