Hike Location: Three Lakes Park and Nature Center
Geographic Location: north of Richmond, VA (37.61817, -77.43009)
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: May 2018
Overview: Three flat circumnavigations of three lakes.
Park Information: https://henrico.us/rec/places/three-lakes/
Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=734727
Directions to the trailhead: On the north side of Richmond, take US 301 to Wilkinson Road. This intersection is located 1.5 miles north of I-95 exit 82 or 1.5 miles south of I-295 exit 38A. Go east on Wilkinson Rd. Drive Wilkinson Rd. 0.9 miles to the signed park entrance at Sausiluta Drive on the right. Turn right to enter the park, and park in the large paved parking lot in front of the Nature Center.
The hike: Owned and operated by Henrico County, tiny Three Lakes Park and Nature Center consists of 118 acres in densely populated suburban Richmond. As its name suggests, the park features three lakes, unimaginatively named Lake 1, Lake 2, and Lake 3 in increasing order from east to west. The park also has a play area and two picnic shelters, but perhaps the park’s best amenity is its Nature Center. Open only in the afternoon, the Nature Center features an unusual aquarium viewing area that is located below the water line, some live animal exhibits featuring lots of snakes and turtles, and an interesting bird song exhibit that helps you associate a particular bird with its tune.
In terms of trails, the park features three trails open to hiking, and each trail forms a tight loop around one of the lakes. All of the trails are wide and almost completely flat. While there are many ways to combine all or parts of the three loops, the route suggested here does a complete circumnavigation of each of the three lakes while minimizing the distance that is hiked twice.
|Trailhead near Nature Center|
Start on a wide gravel trail to the left (east) of the Nature Center marked by a wooden sign that says “Trail, Dogs Must Be Leashed.” Although no signs indicate such, this trail is the one that circumnavigates Lake 2. The trail heads south with Lake 2 immediately to your right and Lake 1 visible to your left. Look to the right for nice views of the Nature Center across placid Lake 2.
|Nature Center across Lake 2|
In less than 500 feet, you reach a wooden bridge on the left that leads to the Lake 1 loop. Turn left to cross the bridge, then turn left again to begin a clockwise trip around Lake 1, which is the largest of the three lakes. The trail surface briefly turns to asphalt as it shares the wheelchair-accessible path that leads to picnic shelter #2. Picnic shelter #2 occupies a very scenic spot on a peninsula in Lake 1, but the bugs were terrible on the muggy mid-May afternoon that I came here. Soon you pass the fishing pier on Lake 1, and a couple of small wooded islands can be seen in the lake. The three lakes are surrounded by dense forest that feature some juniper and hornbeam trees in addition to the usual tree species for eastern Virginia.
|Island in Lake 1|
As the trail curves right to head around the east side of Lake 1, you begin walking on an obvious dike that separates the lake from a wetland on your left. Nice views of the picnic shelter appear across Lake 1. I saw a few frogs and turtles near the lakes, but this area is too developed for good wildlife viewing. Just shy of 0.8 miles, you complete your circumnavigation of Lake 1. Turn left to recross the wooden bridge to Lake 2, then turn left again to continue your journey around Lake 2.
After tracing the south bank of Lake 2, you reach an area where the trail has been rerouted to the left along Lake 3’s east bank due to erosion. Continue north on a narrow dike between Lakes 2 and 3, but a short detour down a peninsula to the left may be in order because it gives the best Lake 3 views. 1 mile into the hike, the trail to the Nature Center exits right. Stay left to continue your journey around the final lake.
|Trail around Lake 3|
At the northwest corner of Lake 3, you cross Lake 3’s main water source on an iron bridge with wooden deck. Many roots protrude through the trail around Lake 3, and therefore it has the roughest treadway of the three trails. Nevertheless, the going is still very flat and quite easy. Interpretive signs help you identify some of the trees in the lakeside habitat.
After hiking across the dike at the south end of Lake 3, the trail coming in from Lake 2 enters from the right, thus completing your circumnavigation of Lake 3. Head north between Lakes 2 and 3 on the same trail you trod a few minutes ago, but this time turn right on the trail that leads back to the Nature Center. Quickly you reach the front of the Nature Center and the parking lot to complete the hike. If it is open, make sure you stop in the Nature Center after your hike if you did not do so before.