Trail Area

Belle Isle

About This Area

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Part of the James River Park System, Belle Isle is an extremely popular trail located in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

The primary trailhead starts from the parking lot and moves up a ramp before connecting with a pedestrian bridge that crosses the James River. The bridge is almost a quarter of a mile long and ends on the island at another ramp. On the island, there is a loop trail around the perimeter of the island; you reach a junction shortly after coming off the ramp and can go either direction.

Along the loop you pass Hollywood Rapids, where you can see Hollywood Cemetery across the river, and sunbathers on the rocks on nice days. The trail also passes an old quarry lake, a picnic shelter, and the ruins of a civil war ammunitions storehouse and prison.

The main loop is stroller and wheelchair accessible; the ramps and bridge are paved, and the main loop is very compact dirt.

In addition to the main loop, there are several connecting singletrack trails in the wooded, higher elevation of the center of the island. These are primarily used for cyclists, but are fun to explore if you are looking for something to do in the city more rugged than what most of the nearby parks have to offer.

A favorite for littles are the dry rocks on the southern side of the island. There are two access points; a pedestrian bridge that spurs off the loop trail on the southern end of the island, and a ladder that comes down from the ruins on the south side. The pedestrian bridge offers excellent views of the old ammunition storehouse, before connecting with the Buttermilk Trail on the other side, also part of the James River Park System. From here there are several access points to the dry rocks, and when the water is low enough you can cross all the way back to the main island and take the ladder back up and reconnect with the loop.

While the main trail at Belle Isle is very easy, there are several hazards on this trail parents should be aware of; the rapids of the James River are very strong, so the points where you can walk down to the water will require close supervision. During low water the dry rocks are typically easy for kids to navigate, but there are areas that may require extra hand holding or a carrier for young walkers. Finally, this is a popular trail and draws in a lot of cyclists who will be sharing the trail with you.

Area Features

Rangers No
Emergency support
within 5 miles
No
Nearby convenience store Yes
Trash Disposal No

Trail Area Highlights

The biggest draw to this hike is the proximity to the river, and the opportunities for rock-hopping. Kids will enjoy the long pedestrian bridge leading from the north bank to the island, but once on the island there is a host of natural play spaces, from ruins of Civil War buildings to dry rocks on the south side of the island. Water play can be limited here if the river level is high due to the ferocity of the rapids, but there is always something here to explore. The rapids are also loud enough to drown out the noise of the city, allowing a feeling of immersion in nature despite the downtown location.

Trail Contributor

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I am the Branch Ambassador for Hike It Baby Chattanooga. A native of Richmond, VA, I spent most of my adolescence and early adulthood hiking and camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and once my children were born started taking them on adventures with me! I am a portrait photographer and freelance writer, trying to hike my way through all the trails southeastern Tennessee has to offer.

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