James River Park Pipeline Walkway (Richmond’s Founding)

When hearing “Pipeline”, you might visualize a sprawling industrial complex supporting oil refineries and distribution in your mind. The opposite of peaceful nature. Instead, the James River Park Pipeline Walkway in Richmond, VA offers stunning views across the city’s rapids.

In Richmond—“Pipeline” is synonymous with access to nature—right in the middle of the city proper.

Pipeline Park may have been similar to your vision of heavy industry in the era of Richmond’s tobacco industry heyday.

Today, even as the namesake’s pipeline still operates, nature has taken over its meaning. It’s one of RVA’s great outdoor activities.

Only a short walk from downtown Richmond, Pipeline Park’s primary points of interest are Pipeline Overlook and a catwalk.

The catwalk is better known as the James River Park Pipeline Walkway. 

Pipeline Overlook offers sweeping views from the banks of the James River atop a small concrete tower. You’ll be just a little jealous of the sights the tall riverside apartments enjoy.

The Pipeline in the Park

The overlook offers a nice view and there are some hiking trails along the bank.

But, the real gem in this park is the James River Park Pipeline Walkway.

The pipeline juts out from the riverbank in a straight shot west, following the river. A metal catwalk rests atop the pipeline which itself is under a railroad viaduct.

The pipeline below your feet on the catwalk transfers both wastewater and sewage for the city. The viaduct above is actively used by the CSX railroad.

Normally a peaceful walk, it can turn into a very different experience if you happen to catch a train running above you.

The James River Park Pipeline Walkway is a secluded natural adventure nestled over the river in downtown Richmond. It's where RVA began, see our tour!
The view from the James River Park Pipeline Walkway.

The catwalk runs a hundred meters or so while straddling the pipeline before abruptly ending.

At this point, the metal pipeline dons a thick concrete shell that makes for a fine walkway even as the handrails of the catwalk end.

Another few hundred yards without the comfort of the catwalk and you’ll find the pipeline ends at the bank, continuing its snaking infrastructure underground.

A trail along the riverbank offers a chance to continue your walk to the base of Brown’s Island when the water level is low enough.

Animal Life at Pipeline Park

The trails and pipeline walk offer a surprising chance at observing the river’s animal life. Nature isn’t quite as dense here on the James as at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge downstream, but it’s still a lovely sampling. 

There are several small islands visible from the catwalk that are wild, including Baliey’s Island and Devil’s Kitchen Island. Kayakers tend to use them as rest points.

Great Blue Herons roost in the area, and you’ll catch them out hunting if you’re lucky. Osprey also frequent the area. There’s a good chance you’ll spot ducks and geese. You might happen upon beaver in the area as the churning river tends to offer them lots of debris to work with. 

If you’re looking to fish and have a license: smallmouth bass, channel catfish and sunfish are in the area. Rockfish can be found during the spring migration.

The area is also known to have some semi-permanent human residents. Keep an eye out.

Watersport and Outdoor Activities

The rapids that run the river length along the pipeline are very popular with kayakers and rafters. The whitewater is generally Class III although there are some Class IV sections depending on conditions. This isn’t a safe area for beginners.

It’s also a great spot for a picnic, sunbathing, and swimming. There’s multiple fairly large sections of sandy beach you can hop down to from the catwalk or access from the trails past the catwalk.

Founding of Richmond, Virginia Near Pipeline Park

Richmond, and the James, are steeped in history. Only about a hundred meters east of the entry to the James River Park Pipeline Walkway is the estimated location of a cross that was raised by Captain Christopher Newport and Captain John Smith in May of 1607.

The cross was laid only days after the party’s landing in Jamestown.

In the decades that followed, William Byrd, a prominent trader, operated several acres of plantation along the falls in this area. When the land passed to his heir in 1704, the Colonial government worked with William Byrd II to incorporate a town from this land.

The concept of what would become Richmond began in 1705 as this land was put to use.

The city was officially founded in 1737.

Richmond's Newport Cross at Canal Walk
A reproduction and monument to the Newport Cross and landing is along the nearby Canal Walk.

The James River Park Pipeline Walkway and Pipeline Park were opened to the public in 2005.

Pipeline Park is part of the James River Park System.

Getting to the Park

A small parking lot is at the entry to the park. A small bike rack is along the trail to the James River Park Pipeline Walkway. The park is open from dawn to dusk. 

There’s no cost to visit the park, use the catwalk, or park.

Accessing the catwalk requires a short climb down a metal ladder from the riverbank. Be aware of the water level and weather. High, fast water can easily engulf the pipeline and connected trails.

Attempting to map out the location might be difficult as it’s on a small access road off of S. 12th street in Richmond.

The closest address is:
1101 Haxall Point
Richmond, VA, 23219

Take a look at the photo below that is labeled with locations of the overlook, parking, and the direction of the catwalk. This is from the point of view of driving into the park from Shockoe Bottom/Canal.

Richmond Pipeline Park Parking and Catwalk Directions
Richmond Pipeline Park Parking, Overlook, and Catwalk Directions

James River Park Pipeline Walkway: Nature in Downtown

There aren’t very many “secluded” spots in a city with a metro population of over a million. But, Richmond is an old city on an older river. The James River has been used for centuries by modern Americans, Colonists, and the original Native people to ferry cargo.

The pipeline under the James River Park Pipeline Walkway still ferries cargo, keeping this section of the James pristine.

That pipeline also offers a clever way for us to access this beautiful, secluded park.

Looking for more adventure? I recommend Presquile National Wildlife Refuge about 20 miles away.

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge (A James River Island)

There is a hidden island sanctuary just 20 miles from the city of Richmond, VA teeming with nature. Presquile National Wildlife Refuge lies in the middle of the James River.

The island habitat exists without roads or private development.

The wildlife refuge covers all of Presquile.

The Fish and Wildlife Service operates the wildlife refuge. It’s home to some endangered species as well as a variety of migratory birds including roosting Bald Eagles.

Established in 1953, Presquile is accessible only with a permit by boat. It’s an enjoyable ferry ride during the annual Field Day. Alternatively, it’s a short paddle by kayak or canoe.

The island is one of the Richmond area’s great outdoor gems. It remains relatively unknown due to the difficulty accessing it.

The refuge is east of Richmond, making it only about 35 miles from Williamsburg. It’s a short trip to this national wildlife refuge in the middle of the James River from much of Central Virginia.

The unspoiled landscape creates an opportunity for fantastic outdoor adventure activities. Hiking, canoeing, and kayaking are all great ways to take in the refuge. There’s only barely a distant hum of city life and industry even though heavy industry surrounds the island from the banks of the James.

The habitat covers 1,329 acres of protected land. You’ll find Tidal Swamp Forest and Mixed Mesic Forest offering thick shade and plenty of lingering webbed branches to get caught in. Much of the wildlife refuge is comprised of Freshwater Marsh which limits access by grassy trail.

This large undeveloped space means you may run into some wild bits of nature.

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge’s Creatures

It wouldn’t be a wildlife refuge without plenty of creatures! Presquile National Wildlife Refuge teems with it.

This, is a wheel bug.

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge teems with nature like this wheel bug.
Presquile National Wildlife Refuge teems with nature like this wheel bug.

They’re quite timid and tend to hide in larger foliage, hunting other insects. If you do manage to bring the wrath of the Wheel Bug, you can look forward to a bite wound more painful than a wasp. It may last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months!

If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the infamous James River Sturgeon swimming along, prized for its massive length.

You might hear the Prothonotary Warbler singing its tune.

You’ll likely spot the common American Black Duck paddling around the calm waters.

Monarch Butterflies glide casually from petal to petal across the island’s dense flowers.

America’s icon itself, the Bald Eagle, will be watching you from above protecting its nest.

Presquile As An Outdoor Field Trip for Adults

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plays host to a “field day” semi-annually on Presquile. FWS typically runs this and other Presquile events throughout the month of March and September.

No public facilities are on the island, but FWS does provide access to modern facilities with running water during their events. Pack light as you will pack out everything you bring to the island.

The event allows visitors to explore the miles of grass trails on the island. Take a moment with a pair of binoculars to spot the variety of bird species. Be intrigued by the biodiversity on this small island of Presquile.

You’re only a short distance from urban city life yet you’ll find yourself on this beautiful piece of nature.

FWS also offers educational opportunities on Presquile through the James River Association.

Sunrise on the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge
The Sunrise over Presquile

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge sits amid the human history-laden James River, not far from where Richmond was founded: near Pipeline Park in the city.

For the creatures that were here long before us, Presquile remains a true wildlife refuge.

→ Looking for more adventure? I recommend the James River Park Pipeline Walkway in the heart of Richmond.

How to Pack Light for Europe (Top Tips & List for 2 Weeks)

I’ve been to a few dozen countries around the world with just a backpack on my back. Today I’m going to show you how to pack light for Europe.

I’ve had my fair share of overpacking and under packing for trips around the world through the years.

Overpacking is far worse. You really don’t need much for a 2-week trip!

Avoid my mistakes by following these tips on how to pack light for Europe.

Denied Health Insurance as an Entrepreneur or How a Fractured Elbow Got Me Denied

I wrote last week about the difficulties of finding reasonable health insurance as an individual, one of the pains of entrepreneurship. An even larger problem to overcome once you’ve found the right health insurance maybe overcoming being denied health insurance as an entrepreneur.

Denied Health Insurance

Turns out having a fractured elbow, even after it’s all healed, can be a real problem for future health insurance applications. I recently applied to Optima Health, a regional non-profit with decent reviews (despite being #133 on Consumer Reports, it’s the best-rated available in Virginia for a PPO). I was subsequently denied health insurance by Optima. Turns out I was rejected due to a “Broken Elbow” which occurred way back in July, 2011 and has since fully recovered (confirmed by an orthopedic doctor). I even managed to fracture it while in Ireland which made for an interesting trip down Ireland’s healthcare system.