You’ve heard the wise advice: “Spend your money on experiences and not things.” We outgrow things. Things break. Things collect dust. Instead, find things to do with your family to build memories. Memories last.
It’s true; I can’t remember most of the stuff I had when I was a kid. I can’t even remember the stuff my kids had when they were little, and I’d bet they don’t remember most of it either. But ask us about the times we’ve spent exploring together, and we’ll have plenty of fun memories to share.
So I wondered; of all of the great memories we’ve created through the years, what would the kids say is the #1 thing to do in Richmond? What’s the best thing about growing up in the RVA?
I asked my kids and some of their friends. I reminded them about many of the cool parks, playgrounds, and museums we’ve explored in the Greater Richmond Region. And one experience stood out above the rest.
#1 Kids’ Favorite: Rock Hopping in the James River
Rock Hopping Hot Spots: Pony Pasture and Belle Isle
I remember the first time we went to Pony Pasture. It felt like we’d arrived at a remote vacation spot. It was hard to believe that we were just a few miles up river from downtown Richmond. I also remember the feeling of regret; we had waited so long to check it out.
We started our family river experiences there. We’d take the kids and sit on the steps that lead to the water. We’d take in the view and explore the trails and river banks. When the James would hit flood stage, we’d stop by to marvel.
Then, we discovered the hanging pedestrian walkway under the Lee Bridge that connects the RVA mainland to Belle Isle. The bridge alone is a treasure; the views are spectacular.
The hanging bridge leads to hiking trails and serious rock hopping on both sides of the island. We explored with our kids on our backs. And as they grew older, it wasn’t a surprise that the rocks became an irresistible attraction.
4 Reasons Rock Hopping is Irresistible
1. The freedom: You did it! You broke free free from the walls of school, home, and office. You left your responsibilities and worries behind. You’ve got sunshine on your face. You’re breathing in the fresh air. And best of all, you’re with the people you love most.
2. The sights: You’re taking in beautiful and sometimes other-worldly views (check out this 360 pic from New Years Day, 2017 at Belle Isle). Big sky. Swirling water. Giant rocks. Wildlife. People of all shapes and sizes. There’s so much to take in.
3. The sounds: When the river is low, the water bubbling and swirling over the rocks soothes like a gentle mountain stream. When the river is high, the raging water is a total beast, and the roar and raw power leaves a lasting impression.
4. The sense of of accomplishment: Rock hopping is a little risky — a little daring. Success after risk creates feelings of exhilaration and accomplishment. You’re standing on top of a monster rock in the middle of a river. You strategized and problem-solved and risked to get there. Now you feel empowered, competent, and strong.
The Downside of Rock Hopping
I was a daring kid. I have the scars and stories to prove it. But as a mom, I’m more cautious than I thought I’d be. Remember that risk we were talking about? I’m aware of the risks of rock hopping, and it puts me on constant guard.
The kids love to climb up and down the rocky river banks. They’re drawn to the rushing water. They love to land a risky jump. When the kids were little, my husband would swing them from one giant rock to another when the jump was too big for them to make. Older kids want to risk bigger jumps on their own, and they want the freedom to explore.
What you do and don’t allow as your kids get older will be based, as usual, on what makes you comfortable. You know your kids. Go with your gut. And reduce risk by planning ahead.
Satisfy Your Control Issues: Plan Ahead
Before you go:
Dress appropriately: Wear shoes with good treads, and for Pete’s sake, don’t wear new shoes or clothes. Rock hopping is dirty work, and no matter how much you tell your kids not to get wet or dirty, it’s going to happen. Have your kids wear bright shirts so that it’s easier to keep an eye on them.
Plan to fall in: What would you do if you fell in? What about your kids? Read up about the proper way to recover from a fall into moving water.
Talk to your kids: What should they should do if they fall in?
Share the experience with friends: Our kids love hanging out with us, but let’s be honest, they love hanging out with their friends more.
Bring bottled water: Hiking and rock hopping makes you thirsty. I always forget to bring water, and I always regret it. Learn from my mistakes. And speaking of water…
Avoid the pools of water. Because it will stress me out, promise me you won’t let your kids play in the pools of stagnant water, especially in the summer. And don’t let your dogs drink stagnant water, either. Here’s why: Pets Lovers Beware of James River Algae.
Pack snacks or lunch. Definitely pack snacks for smaller children. Or go all out and bring a picnic lunch. But remember that somebody has to lug all of that stuff.
Protect your phones. You’ll want them for safety and because you’re going to want to take pictures. Think ahead about how you’ll make sure that your phones don’t fall into the river while you’re hopping around.
Grab hand cleaner, wet wipes, and basic first aid. Adhesive bandages and alcohol wipes for minor scrapes are enough.
Pack towels, extra socks/shoes, and a change of clothes for younger kids. We’ve needed all of those at one time or another. We leave those items in the car.
While you’re there:
Watch your kids like a hawk. Younger kids are understandably drawn to the water, and you can’t take your eyes off of them for a minute. Higher water levels and swift moving water will require extra focus.
Skip swimming. If you or your kids have open cuts, stick to the rocks.
Use the buddy system. Nobody goes off alone. My kids are older now, but I still don’t let them explore without a parent. Other moms are cool letting their older kids explore on their own or with a buddy. Again, whatever makes you comfy.
Kids love the James. For many of them, it’s their favorite part of growing up in Richmond. Take them, have fun, be safe, and build great memories.
I’ll share more awesome things to do in Richmond with your family. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts, questions, or suggestions, let me know.