When a Richmonder considers the natural beauty of the area, the James River is among the first thoughts. Yet a park named after the waterway that runs through Virginia’s capital city is eighty miles west of it—many more miles if you were to take the meandering James.
On Route 60 in Buckingham County, James River State Park offers multiuse trails, water recreation, and camping facilities.
Fifteen miles of well-marked and well-maintained trails await hikers, bikers and horseback riders. In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the park is not mountainous, but has some elevation change, ranging from easy to difficult, but mostly moderate. The Tye River Overlook, Green Hill Pond Trail and the fishing pier are wheelchair-accessible.
The trails I enjoyed on a recent visit wandered peacefully through Virginia forests of hardwood and evergreens and netted us one sighting of a pair of white-tailed deer and sounds of nature all around.
The highlight of my hike was the Tye River Overlook, a platform perched high above the river, across from where the Tye River runs into the James River. A unique geographical feature of this confluence of rivers is that the Tye meets the James at nearly a right angle—most tributaries create a Y shape as they flow in to the larger waterway.
The overlook also provides an unobstructed view of the mountains, approximately 19 miles away as the crow flies. Prominent in the view is the “Religious Range,” consisting of the Priest, Friar and Cardinal mountains. Hikers who have visited Crabtree Falls have been on Priest Mountain.
A marker near the overlook also tells the tragic story of the night the James flowed backwards. During Hurricane Camille, the Tye River filled with water so quickly, that it ran into the James, forcing the current of the James River upstream. Camille took 113 lives in Virginia and caused $116 million in damages, demonstrating that inland flooding can be as devastating as coastal flooding during hurricanes.
Camping at the park includes levels from primitive to individual lodges. Primitive sites are open year-round, with tent camping beside Branch Pond, beside the James River, near the canoe landing, and near one of the trails. Thirty campsites have water and electric hook-ups and a full-service bathhouse plus laundry facilities (March 1 through the first Monday of December), and equestrian camping that provides 20 stalls for horses as well as provisions for their humans. Cabins and lodges are available for a taste of creature comfort amidst the natural setting.
The three miles of shoreline and ponds at James River State Park are great for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing, though there are no designated swimming areas. Fishing here can land you a smallmouth bass, catfish, pan fish and the occasional monster musky.
The park even has a canoe and kayak livery service, James River Outdoor Adventures, supporting an eight-mile river paddle. rents kayaks and canoes (434-933-8682). The livery offers shuttles for those renting equipment as well as for people bringing their own equipment.
If appreciate the history of the James River, you’ll even find that the park is a great place to view the James River Batteau Festival.
Other facilities include the nature center, gift shop, public restrooms, picnic shelters, and boat launches.
Richmonders looking for a new view of the state’s central river and natural recreation in a beautiful foothills setting will be glad they made the drive to James River State Park.
For more information, visit the James River State Park web site.