RVA Parks Guide

There’s no easier way to enjoy the outdoors than to hike, which is just a more rugged version of walking. While hiking shoes can provide support and traction, and a backpack may come in handy, you don’t need special equipment. Simply check the weather, choose your destination and admire your surroundings as you traverse a trail.

Photo by Justin Vaughan

Dutch Gap River Trail: Chester

This relatively flat 4.5-mile loop on a well-maintained trail around the Dutch Gap Conservation Area leads hikers through tidal wetlands and a meadow before circumnavigating a tidal lagoon. It’s not a strenuous hike and is good for families.
The area is home to numerous species of birds, including bald eagles, kingfishers, osprey, great blue herons, gulls and red-winged blackbirds. The National Audubon Society lists it as one Virginia’s top spots for birding. Look out for deer, beavers, wild turkey, turtles and other wildlife.
You’ll find history here, too: In 1611, Sir Thomas Dale attempted to shorten river travel and bypass this meandering section of water by cutting a channel, aka Dutch Gap. The trail is adjacent to Henricus Historical Park, which re-creates the history of the Citie of Henricus, the second successful English settlement in the New World.
Photo courtesy Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation

Bear Creek Lake State Park: Cumberland

Located about an hour west of Richmond in the Cumberland State Forest, Bear Creek Lake State Park makes a nice destination for a day hike, or, if you are looking for an inexpensive weekend getaway, book a campsite or stay in one of the park’s two- or three-bedroom cabins. There’s even a six-bedroom lodge available with room for 16 people.
The trails within the park feature easy to moderate terrain. If you want to take it easy, try the 3.1-mile Bear Creek Lake Loop Trail with water views. If you’re more adventurous, check out the 13.1-mile out-and-back Willis River Trail. Be prepared to cross some creeks — you may get wet if it has rained recently, and take a map, as this area can be tricky to navigate. Most of the hiking here traverses heavily wooded terrain, so consider a trip in late October or early November for peak leaf peeping.
Mary Fleischman-Johndrow and Dave Johndrow regularly traverse the Pipeline Rapids Walkway. (Photo by Jay Paul)

Pipeline Rapids Walkway

James River Park System

While this half-mile urban trail is short on length, it’s long on urban adventure. Some call it the best-kept secret of the James River Park System, and perhaps that’s because the entrance to this unique trail can be difficult to find. You’ll see signs between the floodwall and the river around South 12th and Byrd streets, where you’ll descend a metal ladder, or enter from the eastern end of Brown’s Island via a dirt trail if water levels allow. You’ll walk atop an actual pipeline, part of the city’s stormwater and sewage system, some of which is covered by a metal catwalk. Enjoy the invigorating sound of rushing rapids, occasionally punctuated by the screech of trains overhead. You’ll see kayakers and rafters running the rapids and birds nesting on the nearby islands. It’s a great spot to take out-of-towners to showcase something uniquely Richmond. If you work downtown, it makes for a quick lunchtime nature break, and is a fun adventure for kids 8 and older.
by Jessica Ronky Haddad

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