In the James River, near the heart of the city, Belle Isle is a de rigueur Richmond outing, augmented here by a short stroll around Brown’s Island, itself a popular, parklike destination on the north shore of the James with an amphitheater that hosts summer concerts. For newcomers and lifelong Richmonders alike, these islands reveal much about the city’s industrial and wartime past.
One of five waterside parcels jointly managed as the James River Park (see also James River Park Main Section and Pony Pasture Rapids, pages 39 and 48, respectively), Belle Isle is one of Richmond’s most historic and most popular outdoor destinations. What hard-trammeled Belle Isle lacks in wilderness, it compensates for with views of the James River and the downtown skyline across the water.
"Since colonial times, farmers have tilled the fields of Belle Isle; parts of this state park are farmed even today. Bird watchers, hikers, horseback riders, and cyclists in the mood for wide-open spaces find this an ideal destination.
Trails trace cornfields, cross tidal marshes, and wind through pine and hardwood filter strips—ribbons of woodland that separate fields from sensitive wetlands. Well-marked and easy to follow, trails feature interpretive boards explaining Chesapeake Bay ecology. Depending on the season, there’s a better-than-average chance of spotting a bald eagle or two, flocks of wintering tundra swans, and in summer, maybe a dolphin cruising the wide Rappahannock." Read more
"An Indian village, a Civil War prison camp, an iron foundry, a rock quarry, and now a city park... Belle Isle, on the National Register of Historic Places, is a history museum unto itself, smack-dab in the middle of the James River. Today you can visit the locales where it all happened, and see relics of the past on trails that lead to and through the island, all set in natural beauty amid the rapids of the James. Interior paths extend beyond the described loop, allowing for extended rambling and additional discoveries." Read more
"Surrounded by water on three sides, Belle Isle State Park is a boon for anyone looking to cast off or cast a line into the Rappahannock River and its tributaries. However, at 733 acres, the park is also rich with agrarian history and ecological diversity, and easily accessible via wide, level trails.
Belle Isle State Park, on the northern shore of the Rappahannock River, is not to be confused with the Belle Isle of downtown Richmond (see page 16), though, like the latter, it was once home to a Powhatan Indian fishing village. Specifically, the Moraughtacunds tribe inhabited the area concurrent with the earliest English colonization." Read more
"An Indian village, a Civil War prison camp, an iron foundry, a rock quarry, and now a city park in the middle of the James River, Belle Isle has been through many incarnations. Today you can enjoy hiking trails that lead to and through the island, exploring its natural beauty amid the rapids of the James as well as the historical points listed above. Interior paths extend beyond the described loop, allowing for extended rambling." Read more