Dutch Gap Conservation Area – Hiking Near Richmond
There’s a marker for the Citie of Henricus on the attractions sign along I-95 just south of Richmond that I’ve often wondered about. Turns out there’s an entire conservation area surrounding the living history museum. The Dutch Gap Conservation Area has awesome hiking trails with water views. Recently I took our dog, Gimli, there for a hike.
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Located south, and slightly east of Richmond, Dutch Gap Conservation Area (park link) is less than 30 minutes out of the city. The drive there is a little strange. Driving past the Dominion power plant and solar panel fields feels industrial and not at all like a conservation area. Keep going. Google wasn’t wrong.
Driving down Henricus Park Rd. the scenery starts to match the destination. Along the road were a few people parked, photographing birds in the wetlands. There’s some marked parking by the wetlands, but keep going if your plan is to hike the 4.5 mile loop. There’s a decent sized parking lot further on.
Dutch Gap Conservation Area
When you get to the parking lot there is a visitors’ center with restrooms, as well as the Citie of Henricus. Because I had Gimli boy with me (and due to COVID) we didn’t check out any of that. There’s no fee for parking or admission for the trails. Behind the visitors’ center is a half mile trail that leads to the loop I wanted to do (and really the only trail here). This portion was decently busy, and there were several folks carrying serious camera gear. Dutch Gap Conservation Area attracts lots of birdwatchers.
Where to Start
One we hit the trail loop (marked with white blazes) we started in the direction of the Channel Bridge. I didn’t plan this. That way looked more interesting and that’s how I would go again too. The last mile or so of the loop was beside Dominion’s land and not pretty. By that point Gimli and I were tired, so we focused on finishing our hike. Start with the pretty option while you have the energy to admire the views.
Trails & Views
The trail itself was wide, and gave plenty of room for physical distancing from other hikers. The park allows bikes too. As Gimli and I went on there were less people. It seemed like most people walked a mile or so out then turned around rather that do the full loop. Much of the trail is paved. The rest was gravel road. It was flat and easy.
For about 2 miles in the middle of the loop Gimli and I were completely on our own. It was calm and wonderful. We saw partially sunken barges, small sandy beaches, lots of birds, evidence of beavers, and lots of trees. The Oxbow Point Spur is worth the extra tenth of a mile. Lovely views of the water, plus a bench to sit and enjoy them from.
We hiked on a warm (for January anyway) day. However, it was windy by the water. My rain jacket served as a windbreaker (and insurance against the rain). This was more comfortable than if I had worn fleece. I made sure I had plenty of water for Gimli and I, plus his travel water bowl. I took a small battery pack for my phone too. Wear good shoes and pack a snack for the trail. A small backpack helped me carry everything. There are a few trashcans towards the beginning of the trail. Be sure to take your trash with you if you aren’t near one.
While the trail isn’t hard, it is long. Gimli and I were both quite tired at the end. This was the first trail I’ve hiked on my own; normally my husband goes too. Having my dog with me, I didn’t feel like I was alone. There was cell reception (AT&T) for the whole loop which is reassuring from a safety standpoint (although I didn’t feel unsafe at any point).