The forest, farm meadows, ponds and river of this Virginia State Park attract visitors wanting to fish, boat, hike, camp and bird watch.
This 1500 acre public recreation area lies along 3 miles of the historic James River and helps preserve part of the route of the Kanawha canal.
This historic canal was created during the 1800s to make travel and shipping along the river easier.
Around the same time the bateau, a flat-bottomed boat, was invented. Today this heritage is celebrated each June with the James River Batteau Festival.
In addition to the river, ponds and trails the park also has a natural playground, picnic areas and a visitor center/gift shop. And picnic shelters and a large amphitheater are available to rent for large gatherings or special events.
The visitor center has a large aquarium, a replica bateau, displays, information about the area’s natural and cultural heritage and a meeting room. The park offers many educational and fun programs during the summer as well as a few annual festivals.
Here are some of the other activities that you can do during your visit to James River State Park:
Swimming at James River State Park
While there are no designated swim areas inside James River State Park you can cautiously wade into the water in various locations along the river. If you’re interested in lake swimming take a drive over to Holliday Lake State Park, 25 miles southeast of the park.
Boating at James River State Park
The park’s Outdoor Adventures full canoe livery service has canoes, kayaks and tubes for rent as well as shuttle service. They also sell camp supplies, snacks, drinks, apparel and souvenirs.
Fishing at James River State Park
James River State Park has three freshwater fishing ponds – Green Hill Pond, Branch Pond and Taylor Pond – in addition to the river. Catch smallmouth bass, catfish and panfish in the James River or spend a lazy afternoon at one of the ponds and see what might bite.
Fish from shore, boat or the universally accessible fishing pier. Remember to pick up a Virginia fishing license ahead of time. You can purchase one online.
Trails at James River State Park
More than 22 miles of multi-use trails are located within James River State Park. These trails follow along the river, through the quiet forest and across the grassy meadows and wetlands throughout the park.
Explore by foot, mountain bike or bring your horse along and discover the peacefulness of this area. (If traveling with a horse be advised that you will also need to carry proof of a current negative Coggins report).
Here is a trail guide to some of the popular trails here:
- James River Trail – An easy 4.8 mile well-marked trail that runs along the riverside. This mostly shaded path is a great place to view plants, wildflowers and birds, plus it offers multiple spots where you can wade into the river.
- Tye Overlook via Cabell Trail – A moderate 3 mile trail path along the marshlands that allows a spectator’s view from above the James River. It is considered universally accessible because of its wide and well maintained roadway. Also, it’s a great trail for wildlife watching.
- Green Hill Pond Trail – An easy .4 mile wheelchair accessible path along the edge of Green Hill Pond.
- Branch Pond Loop – A moderate half mile trail with beautiful views of the pond and woodlands.
- Burnside Loop – An easy 3.4 mile single track moss trail through the woodlands. Ideal trail for mountain bikes.
Wildlife Viewing at James River State Park
You’ll be certain to see lots of wildlife during your visit to James River State Park. The heavily wooded forest, wetlands and farm meadows offer ideal conditions for many species.
While walking along the water’s edge look for ducks, frogs, snakes and painted turtles. Squirrels and deer will be most noticeable along the trails, and bears, rabbits, beavers and wild turkey may also be seen here.
If you’re hoping to see a few brightly colored birds along your hike then keep an eye out for a cardinal, a purple or gold finch or an eastern bluebird. To discover other birds in this area check out this guide.
Camping at James River State Park
James River State Park has tent and RV camping, cabins, lodges and a bunkhouse. The camping season runs from the first Friday in March through the first Monday in December. Bathhouses, a laundry facility and a camp store are open during that time.
Red Oak Campground has 30 seasonal campsites that can accommodate tents, pop-ups and RVs up to 40 feet. These sites also have water and electric (20-, 30-, 50-amp) hookups and access to hot showers and a sink for washing dishes.
Horseshoe Campground offers equestrian campers 10 pull-through sites that have water and electric (20-, 30-, 50-amp) hookups and fit trailers up to 40 feet. There are also 20 covered stalls and 5 tent pads in this area.
The Bunkhouse, a 3 room climate controlled trailer, sleeps up to 14 and has 7 bunk beds, a refrigerator, microwave, coffeemaker and electric outlets. Outside of the bunkhouse is a deck, fire ring, and picnic shelter.
For those who will be visiting off season, the park offers year round access to the cabins, lodge and primitive campgrounds.
Canoe Landing has 13 primitive tent-only campsites beside the river. The park’s group camping site is also located in this area and has space for up to 42 people.
Branch Pond has another 7 primitive tent-only campsites and Walnut Grove has 5. These tent only campsites are nestled in a wooded area within walking distance of the river.
The park’s cabins sleep 6 to 8 depending on whether you rent a 2 or 3 bedroom. And the 2 lodges each have 6 bedrooms and can sleep up to 16.
Cabins and lodges have bathrooms, fully equipped kitchens and open concept dining and living room areas decorated with rustic mission style furniture. They also each have wraparound porches with rocking chairs (and spectacular views) plus picnic tables and grills.
The cabins and lodge have heat and air conditioning but no tv or linens. Lodges have washers and dryers, cabins do not. If staying in either, you should plan to bring food, dishwashing liquid and towels, coffee and filters, salt and pepper, bath towels and toiletries, and activities such as board games, cards, magazines and books.
The seasonal camp store sells ice, food and supplies. If you’re visiting off season you can drive over to the Country Store at Bent Creek, 7 miles outside the park for any needed supplies. And there are nearby grocery stores and restaurants in Appomattox and Amherst, each about 20 miles from the park.
Pets at James River State Park
Pets are allowed inside the park but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet or in an enclosed area. Please clean up after your pet and do not leave them unattended.
James River State Park
104 Green Hill Dr
Gladstone, VA 24553
Open Daily Dawn to Dusk
Here is a short YouTube video showcasing several attractions at James River State Park: