RVA Pipeline, Capital Trail, and Canal Walk

  • Highlights: River views, Great Shiplock Park, Pipeline, Brown’s Island 
  • Distance: 5.4 miles, out and back
  • Elevation change: 143 feet
  • Difficulty level: moderate
  • Website: James River Parks
  • Parking: Great Ship Lock Park, 2803 Dock St, Richmond, VA 23223 
  • Beer pairings: Triple Crossing Brewery-Nelson Triangles IPA & Triple Crossing DDH Falcon Smash

The Hike:

Parking can often be a problem on summer weekends near Brown’s Island so this hike begins at the other end at Great Ship Lock Park on Dock Street. Great Ship Lock Park has a short loop trail which circles Chapel Island. On the loop you can see some great river views plus several historic sites: the Kanawha Canal lock built in the 1850s, the ruins of the Trigg Shipyard from the late 1890s, and the unique 28th Street draw bridge.

After a loop of the island, return to the mainland and take a left on the Capital Trail heading north to Brown’s Island. The Capital Trail is a paved bicycle and pedestrian trail from Richmond to Williamsburg, a distance of 52 miles. The Capital Trail runs parallel and then underneath the CSX train tracks. Between the road traffic on Dock Street and an occasional train, this part of the hike can be noisy. 

The Richmond floodwall soon appears with an opening for vehicle traffic on dock Street and with I95 traffic on the bridge above. Two openings in the floodwall ahead mark the end of the Capital Trail and the beginning of the Canal Walk: 1.25 miles to Brown’s Island. The Canal Walk runs on both sides of the canal with several pedestrian bridges connecting each side of the walk.

At the first pedestrian bridge, note the two railroad bridges on your left. Cross the bridge and you will see a third railroad track at ground level. This is the famous Triple Crossing, the only site in the world where three train tracks cross. The Triple Crossing Brewery takes its name from this site.

The Canal Walk passes the Turning Basin keep walking until you reach a stone arch and metal gate. Take the stairs up to street level and turn right on the cobblestone road and then take the first left down the stairs. You will be on the west bank of the Kanawha Canal. The walk then bears to the left at the site of the Christopher Newport Cross on your right. This marks the site where in 1607, Newport arrived at the site of modern-day Richmond and planted a cross in honor of King James I of England.

At this point you can either take continue on the Canal Walk to Brown’s Island or, if you are looking for an adventure, take the Pipeline trail to Brown’s Island. If you want to continue on the canal walk, cross over the canal and pass through the RVA Street Art outdoor gallery along Richmond’s James River Power Plant Building and Floodwall. The walk continues to Brown’s Island. Take a loop, enjoy the surroundings and retrace your steps back to your vehicle.

If you want some adventure, consider the hiking Pipeline trail. Warning: part or all of the Pipeline trail may be closed due to high water on the James River. We have completed this hike several times and in February the second half of the Pipeline was under water. Check water levels at the Westham Gauge. The Pipeline may be underwater if the water levels at Westham Gauge are over 10 feet.

To get to the Pipeline, follow signs to the Pipeline Overlook. There is a small parking lot here which is almost always full. The first part of the Pipeline has railings and a metal grid footpath and is pretty safe. The second part of the Pipeline is a large exposed cement pipe with no handrails. During busy times in the summer, you may encounter people coming the other direction from Brown’s Island and passing then can be a little tricky. It is best to hike the Pipeline early in the morning.

From the Pipeline Overlook, follow the paved trail along the floodwall to the left, down some wooden stairs to a metal ladder leading down to the Pipeline. Note the warning signs. The first part of the Pipeline passes by the Blue Heron Rookery just west of the 14th Street Bridge. The rookery provides a breeding and nesting habitat for blue herons and egrets in late winter and early spring.

Just past the rookery, the fun begins. The railings end and the Pipeline is the trail. You can see Brown’s Island a few hundred yards ahead and if you can’t see the entire length of the Pipeline, turn around here and retrace your steps. If you can safely continue, you will soon reach Brown’s Island and you can either retrace your steps on the Pipeline or take the Canal Walk back to the Capital Trail and then to Great Ship Lock Park and your vehicle.

Beer Pairing:

Triple Crossing Brewing-Fulton (5203 Hatcher Street) has long been a favorite of ours and they make some of the best IPAs in Richmond. They have two locations and the Fulton location is 5 minutes from Ship Lock Park. The brewery is named after the famous triple crossing railroad bridges so it is an appropriate visit following this hike. Plus the beer and pizza are both fantastic. Falcon Smash IPA is one of our favorites and on a visit in February, they had a limited edition double dry hopped version of Falcon Smash: DDH Falcon. The DDH version has an extra hit of Mosaic, Citra, and Strata hops. It was excellent. However our favorite was another new variety Nelson Triangles, made with rare Nelson Sauvin hops. This beer has an incredibly unique character and was in limited release during our visit. Triple Crossing plans to make more of it in the future if they can source a quantity of the hops. I took a 4-pack home and wished I had bought a case.

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe and be responsible.