48 Hours Of Urban And Rural Hiking In Richmond And Williamsburg Provides Walks To Remember Close To Home
Cross-town Trek Through Virginia and Williamsburg
Though the mountains always beckon, for our third annual hike, my cousin Earl and I chose to spend less time in the car and more doing what we love. As the host, my solution was a hybrid urban hiking-state park experience that took us to the James River Park in Richmond—one of the great river cities, as it turns out—and back to Virginia Beach by way of the York River State Park in Williamsburg.
Day 1: Getting There
Departed Virginia Beach bound for Richmond International Airport to meet Earl. The easy, 1:45 drive presented nothing more challenging than some slowing on the HRBT.
Claimed Earl curbside and made the short, painless rush hour drive to the Museum District bed and breakfast, a charming, 1920s two-story home in the Fan District directly across Grove Avenue from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) with private off-street parking. We were graciously welcomed by proprietor Anna Currence and shown to our spacious suite: two tastefully decorated bedrooms, a half-bath, full-bath, and day room (all for only $75 each/night). With a dining table full of convivial guests, and sensitive to our unspoken desire to unplug and reconnect, she asked if we would prefer happy hour on our private balcony. Yes, please! After a half-hour or so of catching up, we changed clothes and set off on an hour-long walk along stately Monument Avenue.
Drove to nearby Pasture, now one of my favorite dining venues. Vintage-modern, spare and nonchalantly hip, it serves up some of the most appealing small—and a few large—plates of Southern/local food (including vegan), beverages and hospitality around (think rice grits with smoked tomatoes and black eyed peas).
Day 2: James River Park
Following coffee on our private balcony at 8:30, Earl and I joined fellow guests in the sunny dining room for a leisurely breakfast of thoughtfully selected and prepared basics. Afterwards, we packed up our hiking necessities and headed for the Reedy Creek park entrance (the other Riverside Drive entrance is closed weekdays) on the south bank of the James. Be sure to have 70 cents for the toll.
After studying the map and questioning fellow hikers (in addition to advance research), we set off east along the river on a trail parallel to the service road, crossing the picturesque wooden footbridge to the aptly named Belle Isle. After making the enjoyable wooded mile loop with spectacular views of the rocks and rapids, we crossed the hanging footbridge beneath the Lee Bridge to the north river bank at Tredegar Iron Works. The well-maintained James River trails are not especially well-marked, and we came to rely, in part, on the kindness of strangers such as the hospitable resident who helped us locate the head of the North Bank Trail, which we followed west along the river, passing famous Hollywood Cemetery and lovely Maymont, as well as traversing lush kudzu meadows, deep woods, and a short section through a residential neighborhood. A walk across the fairly long and sunny Boulevard Bridge, with impressive views of the rocky river in both directions, brought us back to the south bank and the shaded (at least in summer) Buttermilk Heights Trail, notable for its hills, switchbacks, rocky outcroppings, and verdant ivy and moss. Total hike: about 9 miles.
Ravenous and thirsty—“urban hiking” doesn’t necessarily mean you will pass a convenience store—we tailgated in the parking lot, inhaling our late picnic lunch. The short drive back to the B&B left us just enough time to shower and dress before enjoying happy hour, once again, on our private balcony. Afterwards, we strolled over to Cary Street, wandering in and out of inviting shops.
Remembering a tasty lunch in a funky setting enjoyed years ago, I chose Millie’s Diner for dinner. The restaurant was packed and doesn’t accept reservations for small parties, but we were seated almost immediately near the closet-sized open kitchen where we became engrossed in the pas de deux performed by two somewhat unlikely-looking, but immensely talented, chefs as they produced plate after generous plate of beautiful, hardy, rich and deeply flavorful food. Back at the B&B, we once again found ourselves on the balcony with a glass of wine, engaged in conversation until fairly late.
Day 3: VMFA and York River State Park, Williamsburg
After coffee on our balcony and the lovely breakfast and engaging company we had come to expect, we packed our bags so that we could visit the VMFA and still check out by the gracious hour of noon.
Browsed the pristine and beautifully re-installed modern, contemporary and Indian miniatures collections at the VMFA, with a nip into the gift shop.
Loaded the car and wistfully bid farewell to our B&B, making our way to the University of Richmond, Earl’s father’s alma mater (class of ’49), for a photo and picnic by the serene lake.
Arrived at York River State Park in Williamsburg to find a tiny, but surprisingly well-stocked, ranger’s station where we inquired about favorite trails. We were directed to three loops made up of the Mattaponi, Woodstock Pond, Beaver, Backbone and Taskinas Creek trails, which together afforded about 5.5 miles of well-maintained paths through forests and along river and marsh shoreline, including beautiful Fossil Beach.
Departed the park en route to Virginia Beach, running into a half-hour back-up at the HRBT and arriving home at about 6 p.m.
This trip proved that, like the “Go RVing” commercial asserts, “Away is closer than you think.”