Located just an hour from Charlottesville, and 45 minutes from Richmond, Powhatan State Park (named for Wahunsenacah, aka Chief Powhatan, of the Powhatan People) contains over 1,500 acres of verdant Virginia piedmont scenery. About 12 miles of trails crisscross the park, but if you’re short on time, you can see the best of it in a single swoop: Stroll along the historic James River, skirt wildflower-strewn meadows, and weave through hardwood forest on a 2.4-mile linkup of the Turkey, River, and Gold Dust trails.
The whole loop tackles just 200 feet of elevation gain and generally takes one to two hours, making it a perfect way to start the weekend (or squeeze in a hike after work).
Start from the parking area for the Turkey Trail. Head north, then veer left (west) at the first fork to trace the edge of an open field, where you’ll find wildflowers blooming through much of the summer. Continue along the Turkey Trail, and keep straight (west) at the next junction to connect with the River Trail. At this point, the path begins to drop down to the river; turn right (northeast) to skirt along the shore. (Keep an eye out for blooming dogwoods, bluebells, and violets in the spring.) After just shy of a half-mile of riverside hiking, the trail heads uphill, where it links up with the Gold Dust Trail going east; after a third of a mile, hang a right and follow the trail (south) back to your car.
Because it hosts so many different ecosystems, Powhatan State Park is home to a wide variety of birds, mammals, and other wildlife. Look for deer grazing along the edges of the meadows, and chickadees, cardinals, and bluebirds flitting through the trees. Above, red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures soar on thermals, and below the James River’s surface, catfish and smallmouth bass roam the depths. Plan your hike for the early morning for a better chance of glimpsing birds and deer. (Be sure to come with a fishing license if you plan to cast a line in the river, and consider bringing a canoe or kayak for more access options around the shoreside bluffs.)