Support Us Button Widget

Know Your City: Pony Pasture Rapids

Over the years, Pony Pasture has been a popular spot for everyone from bicyclists to biker gangs.

Sunset over Pony Pasture

James River Park at Pony Pasture offers canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and these great sunset views.

Photo by RICtoday

Pony Pasture is one of the most iconic stretches of the James — beloved to walkers, paddlers, cyclists, runners, and anglers. This section of the river is a nucleus for outdoorsy folks from all over the Richmond area. But have you ever wondered how it got its name?

In the 1960s, this stretch of riverside property was part of Chesterfield County. Largely undeveloped, there was a meadow in the area that’s now the parking lot, and a barn where the kiosk now stands.

The families who lived above the river kept horses in the grassy stretch along the water — hence the name. Travelers on Riverside Drive could even stop to pet the ponies through the fence.

In 1969, the area was annexed by the City of Richmond. It was integrated into the James River Park System in the early 1970s. Known at that time as “the Rocks,” the spot wasn’t exactly the family-friendly riverside stroll it is now.

a river as seen from the trails

The trails that run through Pony Pasture offer several peaceful riverside views.

Photo by RICtoday

In the 70s and 80s, the Rocks was a notorious hangout for motorcycle gangs known for heavy drinking, violence, and general lawlessness. The second floor above the park bathrooms is actually a former police sub-station, established in hopes of quelling the rowdiness.

As years went on, however, things quieted down. Nature lovers started to overrun the party-seekers, and by the 2000s it was known as a spot enjoy the river rather than a place to get rowdy.

Today, the parks is one of the park system’s most popular properties. Riverside Drive is designated as a Scenic Virginia Byway, and hundreds of walkers, runners, and cyclists occupy its shoulder every day.

This article is part of our “Know Your City” series, where we take a closer look at hidden gems around Richmond. We’re always looking for more suggestions for where to explore. Tell us your favorites.