It can be difficult to get kids interested in the great outdoors when you're competing with the latest video game or Twilight movie, but the Richmond area offers plenty of outside adventures for the whole family that will entice even the most entrenched couch potatoes to come out and play.
For instance, how about some family tree climbing? Doesn't that sound exciting enough for jaded 21st-century youngsters? Did we mention it's 30 to 50 feet off the ground? Riverside Outfitters (560-0068 or riversideoutfitters.com ) offers guided tours of the treetops for ages 8 and up in the city's James River Park System as well as at Henrico County's Dorey Park.
"We're climbing hardwood trees typically, like oak trees. It's belayed and instructed, and you're wearing safety equipment," says owner Matt Perry. "We teach them the arborist technique, climbing a rope into the tree. That's how you get up to those great heights. It's really neat. That's a great family outing."
For fantasy-minded children, how about some hiking? If it was good enough for Bilbo Baggins and company in The Hobbit , it's good enough for kids with some imagination.
Chesterfield County Parks and Recreation (748-1623 or www.chesterfield.gov/parks ) hosts statewide hiking trips all year long to picturesque locations such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Shenandoah Valley. Closer to home, Poor Farm Park , North Anna Battlefield Park and Cold Harbor Battlefield Park in Hanover County (365-4695 or co.hanover.va.us/parksrec ) offer great hiking and mountain biking. At Poor Farm, "a group of very engaged mountain bikers … has taken ownership of the trails to help keep them clean," says Hanover Recreation Program Director Marcy Durrer. "It's a great place for beginner-level riders."
Or how about an overnight family camping adventure? June 22 to 23 is the National Wildlife Federation's Great American Backyard Campout ( nwf.org/great-american-backyard-campout.aspx ). Or if you'd rather go a little farther afield than your backyard, Pocahontas State Park (796-4255 or virginia
stateparks.gov ) in Chesterfield boasts 129 campsites that can accommodate everything from the largest RV to the smallest tent. Campsite renters also get free admission to Pocahontas' popular water park, which includes water slides for big kids and a huge toddler section. Pocahontas also offers fun campfire moonlight-paddle tours with s'mores and weenie roasts.
And if you like water, Richmond isn't called the River City for nothing. Our local park systems have some excellent family water adventures.
Henrico County Parks and Recreation (501-7275 or co.henrico.va.us/rec ) offers family canoeing trips down Four Mile Creek in Varina's Deep Bottom Park for ages 8 and up. Instructors point out the local flora and fauna such as herons, eagles, deer and beavers.
At Pocahontas State Park, interpreters take guests on guided paddle tours down Swift Creek, where lucky paddlers can spot bald eagles. "We've been very fortunate this year," says Pocahontas spokesperson Zoe Rogers. "There have been quite a few eagle sightings."
Riverside Outfitters has plenty of guided and unguided opportunities for adventures on the James River, everything from whitewater rafting to flatwater kayaking. Some families go tubing from Huguenot Bridge to Pony Pasture, taking a break to have a picnic along the riverbanks, Perry says.
Perhaps one of the area's most popular recent additions to fun on the water is standup paddleboarding. Riverside Outfitters offers guided standup paddleboarding trips on the flatwater sections of the James River, and Chesterfield County hosts paddleboarding trips at the Dutch Gap Conservation Area.
"Standup paddleboarding is a new and exciting way for folks to get around on the water," says Bob Smet, director of Chesterfield's Rockwood Nature Center. "You can see down into the water really well because you have a higher vantage point. You're going to be able to see wildlife and plants you can't see when you're on a boat sitting on the water. It's just a unique experience."