The Piedmont meets the Coastal Plain in Central Virginia, and the result for road cyclists is a lot of fun. Rolling hills — and a few short, steep ones — characterize the road biking options in the Richmond area. Whether it’s out west on Riverside Drive and Old Gun Road, east into Varina, Richmond National Battlefield and Charles City County, or north into Ashland and Hanover County, you’ll find lots of country roads with moderate ups and downs but nothing too awfully punishing.
And one of the great things about Richmond is that it’s not so big that it takes very long to reach those mostly-abandoned, bike-friendly roads. Just saddle up, point your bike in any direction you please, and pretty soon you’ll be contemplating crop rotations and forest management. And if you get lost, remember, RichmondOutside.com is mobile friendly. Our maps will get you home.
Local birder Jerry Uhlman first wrote his authoritative A Birder’s Guide to Metropolitan Richmond in 1998. He revised it in 2009, and it remains one of the most accessible and handy guides to have with you while out searching for birds in Central Virginia’s public greenspaces. Most of the information in RichmondOutside.com’s Birding section is adapted with permission from Uhlman’s great book, which can be purchased here. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Birding and Wildlife Trail was also a invaluable resource in compiling this information.
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. Of course, there’s plenty of flatwater, too, for more laid back paddlers, anglers and family canoe trips. That’s what’s great about paddling in Richmond, the James can be both challenging and accessible. O
Of course, the James isn’t the only body of water available to paddlers. It just hogs all the press. There’s Swift Creek Lake in Pocahontas State Park; the Appomattox River, down around Petersburg; the South and North Anna rivers up near Ashland, and much more.
Welcome to Richmond — urban paddling nirvana.
Richmond doesn’t have a huge variety of climbing options, but what it does have can be a lot of fun, especially for beginner and intermediate climbers. If you’ve never climbed or your experience is limited, but you think it looks fun, indoor climbing gym Peak Experiences is probably the best place to start. There you can learn about gear and skills, become educated in how to climb safely, practice climbing, and meet other members of the rock climbing community.
Once you’re ready to head outside, the Manchester Wall offers the best climbing — for total routes, variety and difficulty — in the region. Part of the James River Park System, the Manchester Wall is actually the biggest of four pillars that, in the 19th century, held up the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad bridge.
Local climber Michael Greeby has produced a handy guide to climbing the Manchester Wall and the adjacent pillars.
The rock wall above the quarry pond at Belle Isle is also popular with climbers, though less so than the Manchester Wall. The climbs are much shorter. Setups are similar to Manchester.
If bouldering is your thing, there are options in the James River Park, especially along the Buttermilk Trail between Reedy Creek and the Nickel Bridge. Places like the Sean Lough rocks, the Egg boulder and the Whale boulder are popular with climbers.
Fall line meets tide line in downtown Richmond, and area anglers reap the rewards. For four hundred years, fishermen have found the James River — where the rocky Piedmont meets the sandy Coastal Plain — to be a place of great variety and bounty. The same holds true today.
From Bosher’s Dam near the city’s western limit through the Mayo Bridge downtown, fishermen have their pick of freshwater species: smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, bluegill, redbreast sunfish, channel, flathead and blue catfish. Below Mayo Bridge, where the rapids give way to tidally-influenced water, blue catfish and largemouth bass reign. The fishing here is augmented by seasonal runs of American and hickory shad and striped bass, all on their way upriver to spawn.
The James is the most popular fishing destination in Central Virginia, but it is by no means the only one. Public access ponds and lakes from Powhatan to Henrico counties beckon with stocked populations of largemouth bass, sunfish and catfish. Dorey Park, near the airport, and Shields Lake in Richmond also receive seasonal stockings of brown and rainbow trout as part of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Urban Fishing Program.
No matter your fishing pleasure, you can find all you need to know to get out on the water here.
While Central Virginia can’t lay claim to the rocky, mountain trails with long climbs and alpine vistas in the western part of the state, there is quite a variety of places to hike and trail run here — from city and county parks, to Pocahontas State Park to the Virginia Capital Trail and more. There’s a reason Trail Runner Magazine named Richmond one of America’s best trail-running towns in 2009.
The urban wilderness trails of the James River System consistently surprise out-of-town hikers and runners with its rugged singletrack and short, steep climbs. Especially in winter, when the trees are bare, you don’t have to walk far to find a view of the river, downtown or both.
In Chesterfield’s 8,000-acre Pocahontas State Park you can take a wooded hike along Swift Creek Lake without seeing another person or put in 30 miles of running without retracing your steps.
All throughout Central Virginia, parks like Deep Run, Powhite, Larus, Point of Rocks and dozens of others make it easy for everyone from neighborhood dog walkers to hikers and runners to pursue their passion while getting their feet a little dirty.
It’s hard to imagine another metropolitan area, especially on the East Coast, with a better variety of mountain biking opportunities. Richmond really could be mountain biking nirvana.
It all starts downtown, where the trails of the James River Park System wind their way along both the north and south banks of the river. These are world class, technically-challenging trails. There’s an 8-plus-mile loop that stays almost entirely in the park. Riders can connect that with Forest Hill Park’s 3.1 fast, rolling miles for a ride that never gets old.
Other city parks with singletrack are Powhite Park, a place seemingly known only to mountain bikers and beavers, and Larus Park, a true hidden gem near the Huguenot Bridge.
North of town, just outside Ashland, Poor Farm Park offers a spider-webbed network of trails, with steep climbs and descents along with some rocky, rooty sections. And to the south, in Chesterfield County, sits Virginia’s largest state park. At 8,000 acres, Pocahontas boasts over 20 miles of flowing singletrack for every skill level and more than 50 more miles of fire roads and wider trails. It’s a great place for hard core enthusiasts and families alike.
And these are just the highlights. When it comes to mountain biking, Central Virginians are a lucky bunch.