Southside rocks at Belle Isle for hearty river-goers

Southside rocks at Belle Isle, viewed from 22nd Street towerEverybody knows about the popular north side of Belle Isle in downtown Richmond. It’s a party, a place to be seen — and the views of the river and city are spectacular.

In contrast, the great expanse of granite bedrock and huge boulders on the southside of Belle Isle are more of an acquired taste, but the sun shines just as brightly and the setting is every bit as satisfying to the adventurous soul.

Turtles sunning in the marsh along Southside rocks at Belle IsleIt’s a great place to explore and see nature. On a recent autumn visit after a period of heavy rains and high river levels, the rocks were full of puddles and dotted with driftwood. I saw a great blue heron, a few turtles and plenty more signs of wildlife. The shallow pools held plenty of little water creatures to observe.

When the river levels are below five feet, the southside rocks are mostly dry excepting little trickles of water. But after a big storm it can become flooded. Recently, some students had to be rescued from the rocks as they didn’t realize the water levels were quickly rising and they became trapped.

At normal river levels, water is directed away from the southside by the Belle Isle dam, which was built by VEPCO in 1905 to direct water into a canal to help generate electricity at their power station. There are small leaks in the dam, so there is a small amount of water flowing through. There is also a large debris field collected above dam.

Calm, clear pool of water at the Southside rocks at Belle IsleThe area is for the more hearty river-goers, not the party scene on the north side of Belle Isle, but you are just as likely to find people sunning or picnicking on a warm day. There are endless rocks, holes, nooks, creeklets and interesting driftwood — of which people have been known to illegally pile and burn.

The best way to reach the southside rocks is by the 20th Street tower off Riverside Drive or by crossing the pedestrian bridge to Belle Isle and following the trail to the southside.


4 responses to “Southside rocks at Belle Isle for hearty river-goers

  1. The rocks on the south side of Belle Isle were my favorite playground for years. I would play hide and seek with my dogs as they tried to figure out their own path amongst the labyrinth of rocks. They would thread their way up, over, around and under as they found a path that suited their legs, courage and leaping ability. They always seemed so proud of themselves when they could track me down. These days neither my nor their joints are quite what they used to be and we spend more time on the island than on the rocks, but it’s a great place to go and have fun.

  2. My friends and I LOVE going to “the rocks!”

    We’ll bring a few snacks, reading material, some towels and usually our dogs.

    We also like to trek to other rock islands to catch some sun. It’s really a beautiful area and you’ll also have the chance to meet other awesome people who are out enjoying the same things that you like to do!

    I’ve also taken my visiting friends here also. They seem to enjoy it a lot and always request that we go back the next time they’re in town.

  3. I was on the southside rocks this weekend to help out with a photo shoot. So in addition to hearty river-goers, I can say that the rocks are a good spot for bridal portraits! You’ll appreciate these photos — certainly an homage to Belle Isle and the river:

  4. Pingback: A walk among icy southside rocks at Belle Isle | James River News Hub

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