An Ode to Richmond's Trails

Hunter PechinOct 11 · 3 min read

Photo by Elly Johnson via Unsplash
Photo by Elly Johnson via Unsplash

An Ode (and Partial Guide) to Richmond’s Trails

What do you think of when you hear, “Richmond, Virginia?”

For many, the city’s name evokes dim memories from high school history class. “Wasn’t Richmond the capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War?” Yes, it was. Unless you’ve visited, little about the 150 years since may come to mind.

Yet Richmond, despite it’s stuffy and, in some ways, dark history, is today a vibrant place where city and outdoor living blend. Point in fact: Buddy’s hometown is one of the few cities in America where you can spot bald eagles while strolling downtown.

The James River The main reason for this unique blend of nature and structure is the James River. Though lots of American cities are where they are because of their proximity to a river, Richmond has embraced its waterway more so than many. Through the generosity of private landowners and the stewardship of The James River Park system, strips of wooded wetland and wilderness border the river for miles along both its north and south banks--right through the heart of the city center. In a few spots where buildings meet water, bike and walking paths wind around to connect the trails on either side.

What’s more, in the water, Richmond is the only city that boasts class IV rapids within city limits. And, dramatic pedestrian bridges link acres of island parks to either riverbank.

If I haven’t sold you yet on stopping into Richmond the next time you drive by on I-95 or find yourself looking for a jumping off airport for the Appalachian Trail (trailheads are a couple hours west), then let’s talk more about those James River trails.

The Buttermilk Trail My personal favorite Richmond trail route is an 8-miler through the heart of the James River Park known as the Buttermilk. I’m a runner. But mountain bikers also love this route (and from my experience everyone is really cool about sharing the trail).

The route starts on the northbank of the James River just opposite Belle Isle. From there, you run west, upriver, along the northbank trail. Soon you pass below Hollywood Cemetery, final resting place of U.S. Presidents, before plunging back into deep woods that eventually lead you to the Nickel Bridge (known for the cost of the original toll). This bridge takes you to the southbank amid a panoramic view of a rocky river fringed with endless green trees. Herons and geese do heron and geese things below.

Once you hit the southbank, you crank back east, down river and follow the trail ups and downs all while forest bathing. Eventually, the trees give way and the view opens up as you run along the ridge of a floodwall and to the 14th Street bridge which takes you back to the northbank.

Finally, you crank left or west again and run past the pipeline. The pipeline is a local landmark where you can walk on a gangplank perched on the back of a massive pipe suspended over river rapids (cooler and less scary than it sounds...well, maybe both cool and scary, actually). Then, run back over paved paths in the shadow of the downtown skyline that take you back to your starting point. Add a couple miles by crossing the pedestrian bridge over to Belle Isle if you’re feeling good.

But Wait There’s More… The Buttermilk trail I described has many spurs and siblings that can add miles to any run or ride. What’s more is that it’s now all connected to the Virginia Capital Trail (aka Cap 2 Cap). This paved bike path is almost completely separate from any roads with motorized traffic and runs the 100 miles from Richmond to Williamsburg, Virginia.

So, next time someone mentions “Richmond, Virginia,” you’ve got a couple new associations beyond America’s Civil War; think wooded running trails and the hometown of Buddy, the only on-demand accident insurance.

Hunter Pechin wrote this post for Buddy's blog. Hunter is a Fractional Marketer and Strategist based in Richmond, VA.

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