The James River Parks System is a municipal park in Richmond, Virginia. It is 550 acres of heavily wooded land along the James River. Hundreds are drawn to this park each year for the biking trails, swimming holes, beaches, fishing and of course paddling. The park system is a big part of what strengthens Richmond’s name as “the River city”. The Huguenot Flat Water posting is the the most western part of the park. It is a popular launching site for canoeists and kayakers, providing 2 miles of flat water paddling before the river starts to churn once again.
It’s the middle of October, and finally starting to feel like it, with highs in the upper 60s we wanted to take to the water. After hearing about his successful canoe run on at Pocahontas State Park, Minh’s uncle wanted to take him for a spin on the James. He was nice enough to load the Ol’ red prospector, and pack the food. It’s actually been a while since we have both been on this canoe together. It’s hard to believe that this was the canoe we drove up to Erie, Pennsylvania to pick up in March 2016. When we arrived at the parking lot, I realized that I actually haven’t been back to this flatwater segment in over a decade.
The air was crisp and the water calm as expected at this time of year with little rain. We paddled to the north bank and built a fire in Brian’s trusty snowpeak fire pit. We explored this beach that would normally be underwater in the summer. We searched for shells and firewood. Minh thoroughly enjoyed it. He was also much more calm and stable in the canoe this time around. This outing reminded me that you don’t always have to go far to have some fun.
*Always remember to check water levels before paddling trips. Know your sections of the river, where you plan to put in and out! And of course, don’t forget your PFDs. Have fun.
I have been wanting to take our 23 month old son out on the canoe pretty much since he was born but I wanted to wait until he was ready and old enough. The idea of bringing a toddler along in a canoe can sound a little unnerving but with the proper instruction and safety measures, we were all able to have a good time. I also didn’t bring my regular camera on the canoe, instead I brought along my trusty Sony FDR FDR-X3000, it is an action camera that shoots in 4k. After my gopro died on me, I switched to sony and this camera has not let me down. I love it.
We decided to test the waters on a beautiful October day with a high of 71 F. We head out to our “go to” spot, Pocahontas State Park. We wanted to choose a waterway that we knew well, and Swift Creek Lake was a good a place as any to go on our toddler maiden voyage. The water in this lake is very shallow, and calm with very few areas exceeding 8 ft. Most of the lake sits at waist depth. The lake itself is very “creek-like” and as a result there are numerous, quiet, meandering routes to take. At Pocahontas State Park, canoes and kayaks could be rented for $10 an hour and they provide paddles, PFDs. No gas motor boats are allowed on the lake to preserve the peace and quiet.
Overall, I was surprised at how well he did. He loved the small waterways and marveled at the wildlife we were able to observe closely from the canoe. Several turtles, fish, an a large heron. There are very few man-made vessels that nature accepts, the canoe is certainly one of them. Practicing different strokes such as the “indian stroke” can allow one to hover silently through the water while never fully taking the blade out of the water. This is a continuous stroke and is excellent for observing wildlife. Our son lasted the full hour before he started to get antsy. Most of the time, he just wanted to use the canoe paddle, as he is most definitely in the phase of toddlerhood known as “MINE”. Everything appears to be his! It looks like he have a new project on our hands in the near future……canoe paddle making.
An unseasonably cool breeze came through central Virginia and decided to stay around for the whole weekend. We were blessed with clear skies and temperatures in the mid to upper 70s. This was certainly a welcoming reprieve and sign that the last weeks of summer are upon us. It seems as if the more record-breaking hot summers we endure, the more I value such days. The morning air was actually crisp and it reminded me of the unfamiliar feeling of being chilly! We’ve gotten through the worst of it….autumn is just around the corner. The only logical thing for us to do with this beautiful day was to explore a new park! A 50 minute drive from Richmond brought us to York River State Park. The impressive York River spans 34 miles long with a width of 1 mile at it’s beginnings to 2.4 miles as it opens into the Chesapeake Bay. The river is formed by the confluence of the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi Rivers and drains a large watershed region of the coastal plains of Virginia. The York River was home to the indigenous people for thousands of years and subsequently was used heavily during both American Revolutionary and Civil Wars; it was the site of many historic battles.
Time to explore!
The favorite owl
Today, York River State Park serves as a diverse and well kept recreational area for all lovers of the outdoors. It is a day-use only park and as such, it closes at dusk (during the summer is 8:00pm, the gates lock so be careful!). The park’s 2531 acres offer a plethora of activities, from canoeing and fossil hunting, to historical sites to explore. The unique location on such a large river provides a rich variety of terrain, with sweeping bluffs, open lands, marshes, and densely wooded forest. This transition zone of land to eventually ocean, provides refuge for hundreds of animal species including, bald eagles, river otters, deer, crab and countless insect species.Our boy was certainly excited to be here. He immediately took off into the large open spaces of freshly cut grass to let out a triumphant toddler yell that was loud enough to catch the attention of nearby deer. Our first stop was the nature center, where he eagerly pointed at every single animal and inquired “what’s that!? what’s that?!”. He was particularly fond of the owls and of course the rabbits. Behind the nature center is a small amphitheater that can be reserved for meetings and retreats, it overlooks the York river with a grand view over a bluff. From here, you are able to spot the large nests of the numerous osprey that hunt these grounds.
Sands of time
One of my favorite parts of this park has to be the lovely view overlooking a Taskinas Creek, as it winds through a dense marsh. There is a wooded stage with a mounted tower viewer binocular set to see the show that nature has in store for us. What’s even better, is the fact that you can walk down a series of staircases to get right on this tributary. A fleet of canoes is standing by, ready to be rented out and paddled along this scenic waterway. I was very impressed at how well kept the park seemed to be. The facilities and equipment seemed to be in tiptop shape. I was pleased to learn that like all Virginia State Parks, York River organizes numerous activities each week to draw visitors to the park. One of which is called “canoeing under the stars” from 8-10pm, where canoiests can paddle by moonlight along the mighty York.
We hiked a short half mile trail across boarded walkways to get to Fossil Beach. Along the way, we spotted two large white-tailed deer in the distance. Our toddler without skipping a beat, took off a full speed after them. The deer were amused at this small creature creating such a scene and decided to watch for several moments before taking off into the woods. We had the beach to ourselves as the sun was beginning to set. Our boy loved every single moment of it as he tracked down crabs, fingered through seashells and pick up colorful rocks.
The York River
The state parks were created for all to enjoy and to instill a sense of adventure, inspiration and curiosity. By the look on my son’s face, York River State Park certainly accomplished all of those goals. We will certainly be back to paddle Taskinas Creek and to explore the many trails.
A short 24 minute drive from Richmond, Virginia will get you into the tranquil and densely wooded areas of Pocahontas State Park. It is a fantastic escape from the noise and grind of the city. Over the past few years, we have actually made several trips to Pocahontas although I truly didn’t appreciate all of it’s offerings until now when we are tripping with a toddler. Pocahontas is a very well kept park providing a plethora of activities for everyone to enjoy.
I thought that we had gotten through the hottest days of Virginia summer but sure enough, I was wrong. Here we are, the 17th of August with temperatures still in the 90s F. We were getting stir crazy indoors and wanted to get moving. We set out to hike the 2.3 mile loop around Beaver Lake in Pocahontas State park. The only way to do this, was early in the morning, before the sun was at full strength.
Most of the Beaver Lake Trail is under the thick canopy of the forest so we were actually all quite comfortable. We were also blessed with an early morning of overcast and fog. The trail is relatively flat with very minor elevation changes. Our son has a taken a great liking to the Kelty Kids backpack carrier. It was a little too comfortable and he actually took a nap in it.
Other activities at Pocahontas include, camping, bike riding, water recreation area as well as plenty of good water for paddling. There is also an excellent nature center with a kids play area. We only had a couple of hours to spend here but will be back to take him to the water play area. Pocahontas is certainly an awesome place for anyone to explore nature….whether it be on foot, bicycle or canoe.
On an unseasonably mild summer, August day, we headed east to the coastal plains (tidewater) region of Virginia. With the predicted forecast of highs of 82F with some overcast, we knew this was the perfect time to further explore the beautiful blueways in gloucester county. We had previously completed two of the blueways (Warehouse Landing & John’s Point) and decided to take on our third – Tanyard Landing Trail in Gloucester, Virginia.
Located just an hour away from richmond, this trail follows the gentle poropotank river, a small tributary of the York River. As a blueway, this trail is designed for non-motorized boats, such as canoes and kayaks. It is a great place to experience a small piece of the huge Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The wildlife is abundant, with blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers, crabs, and even dolphins have been spotted in the poropotank river. It was a perfect day to flow through the arteries that make up the Chesapeake Bay. The occasional clouds, helped shade us from the summer sun and welcoming breeze, flowed through us. The air was fresh, with just a hint of salt. The bay grasses were healthy and plentiful. These are the buffer zones that are so important in keeping the bay clean. We meandered down the peaceful river in complete silence. The occasional fish would jump from the water, but otherwise, the only other sound was the wind through the grasses.
When you first arrive at the Tanyard Landing Boat Ramp, you will have the option of either going west down the trail or east to explore the river upstream. We actually did not stay on the trail, but headed east to explore the inner wetland areas. We spotted one other group kayaking but no one else was on the water. After the day of paddling, we headed to the nearby Gloucester village, a peaceful and quiet town with a population of 2951. The busiest section of town is the main street where most of the shops and restaurants are located. We returned to Olivia’s, our favorite restaurant in town, for crab cakes. For anyone looking for the complete, Virginia tidewater region experience: find a canoe/kayak, pick a blueway to explore, and then stop for food in Gloucester village. It’s what summer is Virginia is all about.
During the hot, summer months in Virginia, the watering holes of Shenandoah National Park are natural sanctuaries for those looking to escape the heat. No trail is better for this than the popular White Oak Canyon Trail. It is the second busiest trail in the park and for good reason – this hike is packed with picturesque pools, natural water slides and waterfalls flowing with pristine, mountain water.
The entire circuit, however, is no easy, feat. For those looking to complete the entire Cedar Run / White Oak Trail circuit, be prepared for a strenuous 8.2 mile hike that covers a steep elevation climb of over 2000ft in rocky terrain.
At the beginning of the circuit, is the Whiteout Canyon parking lot (which can fill up quickly during peak seasons). From here, as you start the trail, you will come to a fork in the road. On the left, will be the Cedar Run trail, and to the right is the White Oak Canyon trail. The entire circuit can be completed in any direction, however it is strongly recommended, to start up the cedar run trail. Completing the circuit in this direction has many advantages. The ascent up cedar run trail is a much more gradual climb with softer terrain. Once you reach the top, the horse trail and white oak fire road will connect you to the top of the white oak canyon trail where you can begin your descent towards the parking lot. Now you can relax and take in the numerous beautiful falls on this side of the trail (you will also have breath to enjoy them).
Obviously, one does not have to hike the entire circuit to enjoy a good swim. From the parking lot, it is a short 2 mile hike to get to the white oak lower falls. This is probably the most spectacular of all of them. If you’re looking for natural water slides, head to the cedar run falls on the east part of the circuit, where you can check out two awesome water slides. There are also several areas here where you can jump into the pools. Please be careful as this can be dangerous if you have not established the depth of the pools. I bring along a pair of swimming goggles to scout the water for depth and debris before jumping.
There are many other surprises on this circuit. The pools have healthy populations of native brook trout so bring your fly fishing rod. Consider a tenkara rod for these tight spaces up in the mountains. Wildlife here is also abundant and black bear sightings are common, but don’t worry, they tend to keep to themselves. The trail is so busy that the human voices will keep them away. But as always, just be smart and don’t agitate the wildlife, we are visiting their home after all.
On a hot summer day, there’s not a better place to be in Virginia. Be safe, and have fun.
What to bring:
water shoes (for swimming)
swimsuit and towel
swimming goggles (optional)
plenty of water
water filter (optional)
bug spray (especially around the ankles)
fly fishing rod (optional)
*As always, please help keep our parks clean. Take nothing but photos, and leave only footprints!
“There is but one entrance by sea into this country, and that is at the mouth of a very goodly bay, 18 or 20 miles broad. The cape on the south is called Cape Henry, in honor of our most noble Prince. The land, white hilly sands like unto the Downs, and all along the shores rest plety of pines and firs … Within is a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places known, for large and pleasant navigable rivers, heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.” – Captain John Smith (regarding his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay in 1608)
In one of his most well-known passages describing the Chesapeake bay, Captain John Smith’s words still resonate today. This is the largest estuary in the United States and home to an incredible ecosystem. There is no question that the a healthy bay benefits everyone, from a environmental and wildlife standpoint and of course economically. Unfortunately, not everyone shares this sentiment. The future of the bay is uncertain as a proposed budget, by President Trump would eliminate federal funding for the continuing cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. The Environmental Protection Agency budget for the Chesapeake cleanup was $73 million. With the new bill proposed, this amount would be $0. Organizations like The Chesapeake Bay Foundation have been fighting the battle to restore the bay for many years. Click here to sign a petition to urge congress to preserve funding for the bay: http://takeaction.cbf.org
I used this golden spring weekend, to pull out the canoe from the basement and explore another part of the Chesapeake Bay and the Gloucester Blueways, this time, to John’s Point. We paddled the Ware Riverlast year, but wanted to explore another of the 5 total blueways that exist in Gloucester County. John’s Point is very similar to Warehouse landing, the boat launch is very well kept with a nice clean beach as your launch site. It was a windy day, and the proposed trail totaled 8.8 miles along the Severn River toward Mobjack Bay and back was formidable. This might have been possible in a kayak, but we opted to head west instead of east to explore the inner waterways and the beaches in search of crabs and oysters. We took breaks from the wind as we hopped from island to island, and combed our way through the beaches. We saw several ospreys, one egret, one loon and a red tailed hawk. The water was very clear and all along the beach were oysters popping out of the sand. I came out here to feel once again how special the Chesapeake Bay is. What John Smith said about the bay in 1608, still holds today. It is truly a national treasure worth fighting to protect for future generations to come.
Fall is the busiest time along Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, and it’s easy to see why. The crisp mountain air and the gorgeous colors have us strapping on our hiking boots as much as possible. This last impromptu hike was actually suggested by our friends. They are preparing for a trek through Patagonia and wanted to get some good hikes in to build endurance. They suggested a trail I had never been on, the Rip Rap Trail Loop in Shenandoah National Park. A strenuous 9.8 mile that starts at Wildcat Ridge, then meets up with the Rip Rap Trail to finish the loop. We entered the park through the familiar Rockfish Gap Entrance and parked in the Wildcat Ridge Parking Area.
The initial trail is a moderate descent down into the valley where we traveled along side the mountain stream known as Meadow Run. We crossed the streams several times and before beginning our ascent up to Chimney Rock. I would say that the first half of this hike is much prettier than the second half. I am partial however to hiking along the gentle streams as they meander through the valley. This hike is known for it’s beautiful watering hole at the bottom of the valley where two streams merge into one 50ft long watering hole. I’ll try to come back one day in the summer to camp and swim at this location. Peak fall colors seemed to arrive later than ever this year, attributable to the much warmer temperatures we have seen over the past years.
I often worry about how climate change will impact the fragile environment around us. This would mean hotter summers, longer mosquito seasons, a harsher environment for the brook trout that thrive in cold mountain streams. In Canada the effects can already be seen with ticks on the rise, as they are able to establish more stable populations in the increasingly warmer climates.
For those that have not seen it, Leonardo DiCaprio released his documentary “Before the Flood” last week. It highlights climate change and the barriers we face as a planet in addressing this pressing matter. I highly recommend this film to everyone. I thank DiCaprio for his efforts in raising awareness about global warming, an issue that affects us all.
The changing of the seasons is always a special time in Virginia. Although the summers can be uncomfortably hot and humid, I’m always sad to see it go. Before the official end of summer, we traveled out to the Blue Ridge Mountains in George Washington National Forest to hike Spy Rock, near Montebello along Route VA 56 West. The hike is of moderate difficulty at 3.2 miles and we paired it with a quick run up Crabtree Falls, the tallest waterfall in Virginia.
Montebello Trout Hatchery
In the mountains, the climate was noticeably different; it was at least 10 degrees cooler and the earliest hints of yellow and orange leaves signified that fall was already here. The trails at both hikes were packed filled with people as we expected on a pretty Saturday. We parked at the Montebello Trout Hatchery because the main parking lot was already full. This gave us a nice opportunity to examine the rainbows, browns and brook trouts that were being raised. While only the brook trout is native to Virginia, the browns and rainbows are a popular trout species to raise since they grow to massive sizes and promote a healthy fly fishing culture in the Virginia mountains.
The hike up Spy Rock took us along a rocky road for the initial segment until it intersected with the Appalachian Trail to take us to the top of Spy Rock. The view atop is impressive, allowing a full 360 degree view of central Virginia. We ate a quick lunch and made our descent and back into the car along VA 56 to Crabtree Falls. We then ascended the first mile up Crab Tree Falls to view the lower falls. The water was slow flowing at the end of summer but still a magical sight. On the way home we visited the Albermarle Ciderworks for a cool drink and dinner in downtown Charlottesville. I am sad to see summer go but excited for all the things fall has to offer: camping, changing colors, harvests and of course the start of the holiday season. Cheers to Summer 2016.