The James River is a beautiful recreational river with Class II, III and IV rapids in an urban setting, making it a fantastic resource for activity of all kinds!
With the Virginia Capital Trail anchoring the eastern end of downtown Richmond’s riverfront, and Belle Isle to the west, visitors have access to several miles of downtown trails and pathways.
The historic Canal Walk is the 1.25-mile centerpiece of downtown Richmond’s riverfront. Enjoy a romantic after-dinner walk with the city skyline lights all around you; or, stroll through history, interacting with the exhibits, public art, or learn more about Richmond when you read the historic markers. Walk or run anytime and anywhere along the Canal Walk, through the adjoining neighborhoods, or along the Virginia Capital Trail. Or, make a break for the wild side of downtown and head to the James River Park System’s North Bank Trail and Buttermilk Trail or a lap around Belle Isle.
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. If you prefer organized races and walks, there are also a number of annual events in Richmond that start, end, or intersect along downtown’s James River and on Brown’s Island.
Richmond’s mountain bike trail system, comprising trails along the James River and throughout Forest Hill Park, are among the best in the nation. If mountain biking sounds more your speed, downtown has 20 miles of trails. You’ll find it hard to find another downtown on the East Coast with a better variety of mountain biking opportunities! Detailed information about all of the James River Park System trails can be found HERE.
Bicycle Skills Area
The Belle Isle bicycle skills area is the best place in the James River Park System to polish your technique to master the more than 20 miles of local mountain bike trails. The skills area consists of beginner to intermediate obstacles, such as logs, rock gardens and drop-offs. It also includes a beginner and full-size pump track for improving your rhythm and stamina. The park is easily accessible and perfect for riders of all ages. Opens at sunrise and closes at sunset.
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 our bike resources and downtown transportation options here.
Even if you are a beginner on a bike or just looking to take a stroll, the Virginia Capital Trail offers something for everyone. Beginning downtown in Shockoe Bottom at the floodwall doors at S. 17th Street, the trail parallells the historic James River and Kanawha Canal in a flat, urban landscape, then continues eastward to more rural vistas. The 52-mile mixed-use path connects Richmond’s downtown to Jamestown, for those who decide to enjoy the trail in its entirety. Along the way, you’ll find amenities like benches for resting, repair stations, portable restrooms and rain shelters.
The James River drops 105 feet in elevation between Bosher’s Dam at Richmond’s western edge to where the tides begin at Mayo’s 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 Creek, the downtown Richmond rapids challenge even experienced boaters with narrow runs through Class III and IV water.
City Boat Landings and Launch Areas:
Be sure to check out Waterfront RVA on Brown’s Island for stand-up paddleboard and kayak rentals and excursions!
For those looking for fun ways to beat the heat of Richmond summers, the fall line of downtown’s James River includes rocks, rapids, meadows and forests making for an area of unspoiled natural beauty — a wilderness in the heart of the city — that can be enjoyed by tubing and rafting.
The James River in downtown Richmond is a great place to fish. The Fall Line creates different fishing environments ranging from flat water to rapids with lots of deep pools. You’ll find a variety of catfish, bass, sunfish, gar, carp, shad and herring. Recently, sturgeons have returned to the river.
March, April and May are popular fishing months when shad, perch, stripers and herring are migrating upstream to freshwater. When these spawning runs are underway, you can see anglers fishing from boats, the shore, bridges and on the rocks in the river. Some big, trophy-sized fish have been hooked in the James; jumbo stripers up to 30 pounds, largemouth bass up to 7 pounds, smallmouth bass up to 5 pounds, blue catfish up to 102 pounds and more. According to John Bryan, who has written a lot about fishing in the James, “Several fish over 50 pounds are caught every week throughout the year.”
Looking for a place to park in downtown Richmond or need to figure out the best way to get into the city? Check out our Parking and Transportation Guide!