James River Park Pipeline Walkway – Richmond, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

James River Park Pipeline Walkway

Heron, whitewater rapids, and urban industrialism all add to the beauty of this concrete nature walk. 


The beauty of nature and the usefulness of city works are harmoniously joined in Richmond’s James River Park Pipeline Walkway, a little known scenic area where fish, birds, and human waste collide. 

Pipeline Park is accessed via a small catwalk on top of a pipeline that cuts across a section of the James River in Richmond, Virginia. The walkway is just above water level most of the time, but occasionally below it when the flow is high. On a small island just across from the pipeline is a large Great Blue Heron rookery, where dozens of herons nest and raise their chicks. It’s rare to get such a close-up view of nesting herons and fascinating to watch them hunt fish in the river, which they do constantly during the shad and herring migrations each spring.   

In addition to the birds, the pipeline parallels and overlooks a section of Class III whitewater that is popular with rafters and kayakers. People also picnic, sunbathe, swim, fish or just hang out on a large sandy beach at the downstream end of the park, which has a nice swimming hole. 

The pipeline itself is actually part of the storm sewer system, carrying street run-off to a storage area downstream. While this does seem kind of gross, it is the pipeline’s very existence that has kept this part of the river so clean and verdant! The James River Park Pipeline Walkway is a really unique way to experience the river and see some nature, literally right in the middle of downtown.  

Know Before You Go

One entrance is on the river side of the floodwall, just west of 14th Street. The other entrance takes a little bit of exploring on the eastern edge of the park on Brown's Island. Look for the trail to duck down to the edge of the river behind the old ice cooler that's kept there for summer concert performance. A dirt path runs through the woods along the water's edge before leading you to the pipeline.

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