Adventure Us: Natural Bridge
In Virginia, natural beauty takes many forms, and none is more striking than a majestic rock formation in the Blue Ridge Mountains which has historically been considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Natural Bridge, a 215 foot tall limestone arch with a 90 foot span, is nature’s finest architecture on display. Humans have known and been awed by the great arch for hundreds of years. George Washington, who explored the area in 1750, is reputed to have carved his initials in the arch. Thomas Jefferson purchased the land in 1774 and visited it often, calling it “sublime”. It has been referenced in many works of art and literature, and is a designated National Historic Landmark. Before European eyes saw it, the American Indians revered it as a sacred place.
Today, this wonder resides within Natural Bridge State Park. Owned by the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund (which prevented the property from going to auction in 2013), and under state management, Virginians now can enjoy the view at the rates of the state park system. The park offers a variety of natural and historical attractions. The main trail, Cedar Creek Trail, takes a hundred or so stone stairs down to the creek from the visitor center. An easier accessibility option has traditionally been provided with shuttle buses, but the bus service has been suspended for the pandemic; call ahead to make other accessibility arrangements. Those with energy can take the stairs, but be prepared for a workout on the return journey! Once you reach the smooth, paved trail, you immediately encounter the soaring archway (over which Rt 11 still passes). Early morning visitors can be treated with a view of the sunrise through the mighty arch. The trail passes under the archway and continues along the creek to the Monacan Indian village. Though unfortunately closed due to the pandemic, we have visited this living history exhibit in the past and our family has enjoyed the re-created community of the American Indian tribe that first occupied this area. Watch for news of its re-opening! Continuing on down the trail, you pass a cave where saltpeter was mined in frontier days, and finally arrive at the trail’s end where you are treated with a view of the 30 foot Lace Falls. The total trail length is 1.6 miles roundtrip, and (other than the stairs) it is quite level.
Natural Bridge is a geological wonder too, with its limestone base containing many ancient fossils. It is the remains of a prehistoric cave system, long ago collapsed. The nearby Natural Bridge Caverns explores the underground side of this karst terrain. The park encompasses a few other trails as well, with opportunities for mountain views and wildlife sighting. Also, you can experience the wonder in a different way by attending the Drama of Creation, a light and sound show that is presented in the evenings after the park is closed. This presentation relives the biblical days of creation with the massive arch as the backdrop.
We’re blessed that such a natural treasure can be found only a short trip from our hometown!
Name: Natural Bridge State Park, 6477 South Lee Highway, Natural Bridge, VA 24578
Time from Roanoke: 45 minutes
Activity Options: Natural wonders, hiking, wildlife
Nearby Food: Local places like Natty B Cafe, Pink Cadillac Diner, Foot of the Mountain Cafe; many options in Lexington 20 minutes away
Nearby Attractions: Natural Bridge Caverns, Virginia Safari Park, Natural Bridge Zoo
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