Winter Family Hike Ingredients: Buttermilk and Soup

January 27, 2012 · 3 minute read
Ever feel that taking the family hiking on the Richmond’s system of park trails running up and down the James River is a risky proposition? That you could fairly easily get turned around and find yourself either lost or in an unsafe area? If you aren’t familiar with the James River Park System (JRPS) then that concern would certainly seem valid. But the fact of the matter is you have nothing to worry about. If you’re comfortable walking the trails in some of the county parks like Deep Run, Henricus, or Poor Farm (and you should be), then you will find yourself quickly at ease in the JRPS. The park comprises 550 acres of shoreline trails and islands running (non-contiguously) from the Huguenot Bridge to just east of the I-95 bridge downtown.
Here’s just one of hundreds of things to do, with or without the kids, in the winter time as cabin fever sets in. This self-guided hike will most likely take anywhere from 2-4 hours and covers approximately 5.5 miles of terrain (round trip)… a warm coat, hat and gloves are a good idea. Use this map as a reference.
Stage 1- Park in the Reedy Creek parking lot on the south bank of the river along Riverside Drive, two blocks east of 42nd St. Walk up the driveway back toward Riverside Drive. Find the singletrack bike trail bisecting the driveway and make a left onto that trail. You are now on the historic Buttermilk Trail. Don’t worry if the trail forks, pick any path you feel like…all paths run along a very narrow strip of land with the railroad tracks on your left and Riverside Drive on your right….just keep heading east and in less than 1/2 mile you’ll run into the 22nd St. parking lot.
Stage 2- Cross the parking lot, heading in the same direction (east) and pick back up the trail on the far side of the lot. You’ll head up a pretty steep embankment to a really cool rock outcropping. Just up ahead you’ll run into a pedestrian bridge on your left that leads you safely across the railroad tracks. Once at the bottom of the spiral stair case keep heading right (east) on the trail that runs right along the fence…you’ll be able to drag your fingers down the chain link fence (like you did as a kid) as you head to the Belle Isle access bridge just about 100 yards ahead. The bridge will be on your left; cross the bridge over the dry river channel (or rock hop across to the steel rung ladder on the bank of Belle Isle for more of an adventure) onto Belle Isle.

A view of Tredegar Beach from Brown's Island

Stage 3- Once on Belle Isle, follow the narrow dirt road straight ahead, across the island (make a loop around the island on the easily detected loop trail if time permits– adds about 3/4 mile to the hike) to the pedestrian bridge suspended under the Lee Bridge overhead. Crossing this pedestrian bridge will give you an awesome view of some Class III-V rapids, kayakers, rafters and other high-adventure paddlers, and a stunning view of downtown Richmond. Once you come down off the bridge ramp walk straight ahead (east) toward Tredegar Civil War Center and Brown’s Island.
Stage 4- Walk east across Brown’s Island (wide open tourist attraction…no way to get lost) and follow the signs to the Canal Walk (beautiful, historic, under-utilized walk way along the canal behind the Federal Reserve building and Shockoe Slip shops and restaurants…used mainly by visitors and runners). Once on the Canal Walk keep heading east along the canal to Virginia St. Turn left and walk up Virginia St. (north) about 3 blocks to Cary St. Turn right onto Cary St and enter Sine Irish Pub and Restaurant (1327 E. Cary St.). After the 2.5 mile hike, you’ve earned some guilt-free hot french onion soup and a pint of Guinness…great kid’s menu too. Retrace your steps to the car and dump the kids on the coach after 5.5 miles of fresh air and urban wilderness that they probably never knew existed and that will deepen their (and your) connection with the amazing city we call home.