The James River Park System, a unique part of Richmond’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, includes more than 550 acres of shoreline and islands in the capital of Virginia, extending in 14 sections from the Huguenot Bridge in the west to a half-mile beyond the I-95 bridge in the east.
The James River Park System (JRPS) includes a majority of the fall line of the James River in downtown Richmond. Rocks, rapids, meadows, and forests make for an area of unspoiled natural beauty — a little bit of wilderness in the heart of the city. From walking trails and picnics to river kayaking, there’s something for everyone in the James River Park System.
Belle Isle is the park’s most popular site, attracting people of all ages to the wooded paths, mountain biking trails, bicycle skills area, historical sites, fantastic views, wheelchair-accessible fishing at the quarry pond, good sunbathing, and the granite wall for rock climbing. Accessible by a pedestrian suspension bridge under the Lee Bridge, parking near Tredegar Street is limited. GRTC transit now offers service to the downtown riverfront.
For more information on Belle Isle and its history, visit our Belle Isle webpage.
T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge
This 1,600-foot-long pedestrian and cycling pathway sits atop a former hydroelectric dam, some 20 feet above the river, connecting the north bank on Brown’s Island to the south bank of Manchester. Completed in 2016, and named for the late City of Richmond senior planner T. Tyler Potterfield, the bridge provides unequaled river vistas. The panoramic views of the downtown skyline paired with sounds that fail to give the impression of the extraordinarily close relationship of the bridge to the roaring river, are an experience we highly recommend. The wheelchair accessible bridge is open to pedestrians and cyclists 24 hours a day. Access is provided from either side of the river: Brown’s Island on the north and from Semmes Ave. on the south side.
Unique views of the James River, the city skyline and historic sites can be seen from atop the Floodwall on the southern side. Completed in 1995 to protect areas of downtown and Manchester from devastating flooding, the southbank section comprises Floodwall Park, a popular spot for hikers, runners, fishermen, bird watchers and kayakers.
Manchester Climbing Wall
This area, under the Manchester Bridge, is a unique outdoor climbing venue under a series of abandoned train trestles that have been equipped with bolts and shutts. Here climbers can hone their skills of leading, both trad and sport, rappelling, and self-rescue. Climbers and non-climbers alike will enjoy a visit to this uncommon section of the JRPS.
The Pipeline Rapids walkway may be downtown Richmond’s best kept secret. And it’s a wonderful place to watch nature and escape the city for even just a few minutes. From the parking lot at the end of S. 12th Street, you walk to a metal ladder then descend to the metal catwalk atop the pipeline, which offers views of the Pipeline Rapids. Please pay attention to water levels for safety’s sake, and keep an eye on the CSX railway viaduct overhead.
Ancarrow’s Landing and Historic Manchester Slave Docks
Ancarrow’s Landing, the easternmost section of the park system, has recently undergone a major renovation, including an expanded and improved parking lot, new lighting and extended and enhanced trails. This park section is a prime spot for the running of the shad every spring. The trail loop is accessible from the east side of Ancarrow’s Landing and offers family-friendly riding for beginning mountain bikers.
Ancarrow’s Landing is also the beginning of the Richmond Slave Trail. Seventeen markers along the Slave Trail display somber and illuminating information on the history of slavery in Richmond. The trail goes from the Manchester Docks at Ancarrow’s, across the river into Shockoe Bottom to Lumpkin’s Slave Jail. This self-guided trail covers nearly three miles. For more a map of the trail, CLICK HERE.
Great Shiplock Park
Below the fall line, just east of downtown Richmond, you’ll find some of the lesser known and quieter parts of the James River Park System — Great Shiplock Park and Chapel Island.
The lock found at Great Shiplock Park connected the James River with the Richmond Dock, completing the James River and Kanawha Canal system that bypassed seven miles of falls and continued 197 miles through Virginia’s western mountain ranges. The canal served as a transport hub for the tobacco warehouses along downtown Richmond’s Dock Street. Great Shiplock Park marks the lowest lock in a system of locks that once connected the James River with the Richmond Docks.
In late March through early June, the fishery in this area is influenced by anadromous fish, which are migrating from salt water to fresh water on their annual spawning runs.
Chapel Island was named after an Episcopal chapel that was located there and active prior to the 1741 founding of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Church Hill. For access to Chapel Island, take the footbridge across the canal from Great Shiplock Park.
Chapel Island offers different types of fish such as shad, white perch, rockfish, smallmouth bass, herring, and several types of catfish. There is also a half-mile of winding, wide and flat single-track for hikers and bikers. Additionally, the central gravel path continues west along the island through the retention basin owned by the DPU to the 14th Street boat take-out.
If you’re making the trek to downtown Richmond to explore the park system, be sure to check out our Downtown Richmond Parking and Transportation Guide to figure out the best way to get around!
The park opens at sunrise and closes at sunset, unless otherwise noted by official posted park system signage.