Richmond Canal Walk: A Mural-Filled Urban Hike

I love to get out in nature on a wooded trail, but I also love a good urban hike, like the Richmond Canal Walk in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

This in-town hike guides you along the James River, as well as on the Kanawha Canal and Haxall Canal. There are cool sculptures and murals on the way, too.

Power Plant Murals

You can pick up the walking trail at several access points between 5th Street and 17th Street. However, I opted for a start at the Robert E. Lee Bridge.

There is a parking lot east of the bridge on Tredegar Street. This is also the start for the Belle Isle Trail, so this lot can fill very quickly, especially on weekends.

Trail Stats 
Length2.8 miles
DifficultyEasy
Trail TypeOut-and-Back
Elevation Gain85 feet
Duration1.5-2 hours
TerrainMostly paved trails
Dog-FriendlyYes
FeeFree
Driving DirectionsClick Here

Brown’s Island

From the parking lot, walk away from the Robert E. Lee Bridge along Tredegar Street. There is a paved path with some views across the flowing James River.

Walking Path on Tredegar Street in Richmond

At the .1-mile mark, you’ll reach an opening on the right where you can peek across to see Black Bird Island, which was key to the Haxall Mill Dam.

A brown placard educates on what’s above, behind and in front of you, including Belle Isle, which is just to the right as you look out across the water.

Educational Placard on the James River

In a few more steps, you’ll spy a couple of launch areas for kayaks and canoes. In summer months, river outfitters rent out these human-powered watercraft.

The American Civil War Museum is on your left at the .2-mile mark. On the right, cross over the Haxall Canal on a pedestrian bridge to Brown’s Island.

American Civil War Museum

As you walk east, you’ll see a lengthy row of blue porta-potties, then a placard on Brown’s Island, which was acquired by Elijah Brown in 1826.

The name of the island changed several times, but Brown’s Island eventually stuck. In 1987, Brown’s Island became a part of the James River Park System.

Brown's Island Placard

Haxall Canal

At the .5-mile mark, the path goes under the Manchester Bridge. You’re now on the Canal Walk, walking alongside Richmond’s Haxall Canal.

But first, a few rules. Dogs are allowed, but they must be on a leash. Bikes are also okay. There are two RVA Bike Share locations along the Canal Walk.

Brown's Island Bike Share Location

You can rent a bike for the day for $6. Alternatively, a one-way ride of up to 45 minutes costs $1.75. You must be 18+ to rent and ride a bike share bike.

Swimming, skateboarding, fishing and soliciting are not okay. If you keep these rules in mind, you’ll be in for an enjoyable stroll on the Canal Walk.

Canal Walk Murals

Power Plant Murals

At the .7-mile mark, just east of 11th Street, you’ll reach my favorite part of the Canal Walk. There’s a former hydroelectric plant with brand-new murals.

The open-air site has been home to murals for some time, but new murals were painted during the RVA Street Art Festival in September.

Power Plant Murals

The space is home to more than a dozen super-size murals that beautify the space and make the Canal Walk that much more enjoyable on any given day.

In fact, Richmond is home to 150+ murals and works of street art. This Map of Richmond Murals makes it easy to find new and popular works around town.

Power Plant Murals in Richmond

Pipeline Overlook

Once you exit the power plant building, follow the signs for the Pipeline Overlook. From the last mural, it’s less than .1-mile to the viewing platform.

From the overlook, you can see across the James River to the two-mile-long CSX railroad trestle bridge. Under the bridge is the Pipeline Trail.

Pipeline Overlook

The Pipeline Trail is more or less a catwalk that runs over an old pipeline and under the railroad bridge. It can be a little hard to see with full foliage.

Once you’ve checked out the views, re-trace your steps, but keep your eyes open for the black-and-white streetcar mural.

Streetcar Mural in Richmond, Virginia

Kanawha Canal

Cross over the canal and continue on the red-brick path. You’ll see a monument to Captain Christopher Newport, one of Jamestown’s founders.

From here, walk up the red-brick path on Byrd Street and turn right for the Tidewater Locks. The route gets a touch confusing here, at least it did for me.

Christopher Newport Monument

Walk down the steps, then walk up the steps on the other side. Turn left, then right away walk down wooden steps and walk through a concrete tunnel.

On the other side, you’ll reach the Kanawha Canal. At the 1.2-mile mark, you’ll cross under 14th Street, through a mural-filled underpass.

Mural Underpass in Richmond

You’ll reach the end of the Canal Walk at the 1.4-mile mark, but only after crossing over the Kanawha Canal three times via footbridges and tunnels.

In a few more steps, you’ll reach the flood wall and the end of the 52-mile Virginia Capital Trail, a paved multi-use trail that starts in Williamsburg.

Flood Wall on James River

Riverfront Canal Cruises

From here, re-trace your steps, but at the 1.3-mile mark, do not cross the pedestrian bridge. Instead, stay on the opposite side of the Kanawha Canal.

There is an RVA Bike Share location and a taphouse at the 1.8-mile mark, as well as a kiosk for scenic riverfront canal cruises.

RVA Bike Share Location

Historic narrated open-air cruises on the James River and Kanawha Canal run seven days a week from May through September.

In April, October and November, 40-minute cruises are offered Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are $12 for adults ( ages 12+) and $8 for seniors and children.

Canal on James River

Cross the footbridge back over the canal at the 1.9-mile mark and re-trace your steps. This allows you a second opportunity to ogle the colorful murals.

At the 2.3-mile mark, you can cross the canal and walk the path along 7th Street and Tredegar Street to the parking area, but it’s not especially scenic.  

Canal Path in Richmond

I took this route, but honestly, I think your best bet is to re-trace your steps across Brown’s Island and back to the parking area.

Wrap-Up Notes

From my car, this urban hike took me just over an hour. It’s an easy hike and it’s very enjoyable, especially the murals at the one-time hydroelectric plant.

Power Plant Murals in Richmond

Along the route, you’ll see several restaurants, including Southern Railway Taphouse and Casa Del Barco, both of which make nice pit stops on the way.

If you have time, the easy 1.8-mile Belle Isle Trail is also a winner. This hike sets off just west of the parking area under the Robert E. Lee Bridge.