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“Canal is a little dirty”
Review of James River

James River
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Lower James Rafting in Richmond VA
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Hollywood Cemetery Electric Car Tour in Richmond
Ranked #13 of 180 things to do in Richmond
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Owner description: This river running right through downtown Richmond offers sightseeing rides on an antique paddlewheel steamer or on a raft with a trained guide, as well as wading, fishing, rafting, kayaking or simply relaxing on the river banks and gazing out at the city.
Reviewed August 15, 2013

I took a long walk around the James River Canal out to the James...and enjoyed it. The canal does have a lot of natural moss and other plants in it that give the appearance of a dirty canal, but I did not notice a smell. The river is beautiful to see at the end of the canal and there was a small beach that was full of people in the 90 degree weather. Nice walking paths all along the way.

Thank Rita W
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed August 1, 2013


If you want to get away from the Civil War era streets and modern day traffic of Richmond, then go to Belle Isle Park in the James River.

The pedestrian bridge you have to walk across to get to the island has great views of Richmond and a nice sunset. You can also rock hop from the shores to get to the island, but I strongly suggest you do not do that as it might be the last thing you do.

On the island, there are many hiking trails, bike trails, a rock climbing area, a fishing area, and the rock beach area. You will not know you are minutes away from the capital of VA when you are in this park.

Bring a towel to lay on, lots of water, sunscreen and bug spray in the summer (the bugs will even bite your face), and your camera.

It is stroller and wheelchair friendly.


I, along with the Richmond Department of Parks and Rec., do not suggest swimming in the river because the water is disgusting, the rocks are slippery, and the rapids are dangerous. If you choose to swim anyway, please supervise your children.

I did notice a lot of trash around, but that is the fault of people who refuse to pick up after themselves. The trails can be dangerous for many reasons if you are by yourself because they are so remote (accidents, serial killers, etc.) .

Parking near the pedestrian bridge is scarce and unpaved in many spots. There is no food for purchase on the island. There are no restrooms, unless you plan on going in the river.

History of the park:

Pre-historic times - Native American fishing village.
1608 - Bought by John Smith from Chief Powhatan and named Broad Rock Island.
1815 - Small iron works company existed on the island.
1836 - Bought by Belle Isle Manufacturing Company and renamed Belle Isle.
1855 - Bought by Old Dominion Iron and Nail Works.
Civil War era - Union POWs and slaves were used to make weapons for the Confederacy. The armor plate for the ironclad Virginia, commonly known as the Merrimac, was made on the island.
After the war, a small community of homes, a church and cemetery existed. Those structures are now barely noticeable under the swamp and bushes.
1904 - 1967 - Virginia Electric Power Company operated a hydroelectric power plant on the island.
1934 - Lee Bridge built over the island.
1955 - Refrigeration Engineering Company of New York bought over Old Dominion Iron and Nail Works. There are some ruins of iron structures and buildings that are scattered all over the island.
1973 - Island made into a formal park.
1988 - Lee Bridge replaced.
1991 - Pedestrian walkway under Lee Bridge built.

1  Thank globaltrekster
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 29, 2013

James River is the longest river in U.S. that is all in one state. It has Class IV rapids within Richmond city limits (only U.S. city to have this). It is a deep water river east of Richmond. To the west it can be very shallow. Rain and snowmelt in the mountains can affect the river making the need for safety vests at times. A large series of rocks at a popular swimming area is called the Pony Pasture.

This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 29, 2013

This is what makes Richmond really great; There are not too many rivers running through a City that has a vast amount of unspoiled shoreline. Below the falls it is tidal and a small portion of the non-tidal is adjacent to industrial and development, but upstream from the Tredegar Iron Works, used in the Civil War for munitions manufacturing and where the National Park Service has a facility; it is beautiful. Access an island, see or boat the Class IV & V rapids, watch heron, hawks, eagles, etc. or swim/rope swing into the running water. Great mountain biking trails, etc. Not to be missed.

1  Thank davidswc
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 26, 2013

We explored the James River via Belle Isle, which offered lots of wading, rock climbing, and hiking. My only complaint was the amount of broken glass we encountered - made it difficult to take off our shoes and explore. But with good water shoes there is lots to do and see at this historic site.

Thank HannahB891
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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