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My 2 Favorite Running Routes on the James River


Story and photos by Chad Williams


When it comes to running in Richmond, there are tons of great options. But my favorite by far is the James River Park System. There are numerous variations you can take to switch things up -- 19 sections in all.

But first, you need to ditch your car. The most flexible place to park is Belle Isle (here's a map). From here you can go east, west, south out and back, or take a full loop around the river.

Here are my two favorite scenic routes along the James:

1. The Loop and Scramble

This route is an approximately 7- to 10-mile loop, depending on a few choices.

Start at the Belle Isle parking lot, then pick up the North Bank Trail, a meandering riverside path by the train tracks and Hollywood and Riverview cemeteries. There are lots of fun hills, bridge features and tight switchbacks.

When you reach Texas Beach, you’ll briefly run along Kansas Avenue until Meadow Street. There, you’ll pick the trail back up along Maymont until the end. Cross the Boulevard Bridge with amazing views of the James in both directions.

Once you’re over the bridge, pick up Buttermilk Trail, a section set back from the river with good elevation gain and plenty of shade.

If you’re feeling like tacking 3 miles on your run, veer off for the Forest Hill Loop. Otherwise, head on until you reach 22nd Street. This will be a good place to stop and snap a few photos.

Take the stairs down to the paved trail and go east for a few hundred yards. Here’s where you have a choice.

Option one is to take the footbridge onto Belle Isle, which will veer off to the right. Then head back to your starting spot.

Option two is crossing the rocks over the James River.

That Rock Scramble is probably the most fun section, but be careful because the rocks can be slippery.

Here’s where navigation will be most important for first-timers: There's a steel ladder built into the side of a concrete wall on Belle Isle. This ladder is an ideal exit point from the rocks. It's almost straight across from the large high-rise building on the south side of the river.

Once you’ve found it, you've made it to the island. Now you're free to do some exploring during your run. Check out the rock beaches where you can take a swim, quarry or bike skills course, and find additional trails through the woods on the east end and the top.

To finish it out, take the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge under the Lee Bridge and end up back where you parked.

2. The Floodwall View

The Floodwall View is another great route to try. From the same parking lot, head over to Brown’s Island and run along the canal until the end.

Skirt along the floodwall, cross the train tracks, and head across the 14th Street/Mayo Bridge. Once across, you’ll find the trail to the right that hugs the floodwall and leads to a staircase, which takes you to the top of the floodwall.

Run along the top of the wall and enjoy the cool breeze off the water and spectacular views of the river and skyline. Maybe even stop for some bird-watching. Continue until the 9th Street/Manchester Bridge where you’ll pick up the path to the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge.

Feeling adventurous? Climb up the rugged steps along the rock wall known as the “Mayan Ruins,” or simply take the staircase, which will put you right at the base of the T Pot.

Check out this map for some more ideas, and don’t forget to hashtag your shots #runrva!


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