On the Road in America: Natural Bridge, Virginia
An American Treasure
Have you ever wanted to see one of the natural wonders of the world? If so, think about adding Natural Bridge State Park in Natural Bridge, Virginia, to your next road trip itinerary. One look at this American treasure will take your breath away as you contemplate this majestic and beautiful stone masterpiece.
Before the Bridge
Natural Bridge State Park has not always been part of the Virginia State Park system. Before colonization, the bridge and the surrounding land were considered sacred to the Monacan Indians--the area's first settlers. It is easy to understand why this site was considered sacred land. The large quantity of limestone and sounds from the waters of Cedar Creek create a tranquil and soothing environment. Flat rocks along the trail provide excellent places to stop for a moment of quiet meditation. However, If meditation in nature is your goal, be prepared to visit the bridge around 8:00 A.M. before the crowds arrive!
After colonization, the area was surveyed by George Washington and later purchased by Thomas Jefferson in 1774. Jefferson drew inspiration from the land and never ceased to feel wonder when in the presence of the great stone giant. Later the bridge continued to pass through private hands and eventually she was opened to public access. Recently, the Virginia State Park system took over the administration of Natural Bridge, and she is open to the public daily from 8 A.M.until dusk.
The center of any trip to Natural Bridge State Park is (of course) the bridge. It is truly a natural work of art formed by the hands of mother earth out of limestone and the running waters of Cedar Creek. However, the bridge is but one part of the trip. Natural Bridge State Park affords her visitors with more than a look at the bridge. There are many activities to entertain families and nature lovers as they travel along the 1.8 mile trail along Cedar Creek.
The first stop is the Visitor Center and Gift Shop to purchase tickets. Admission to the trail is $6 for children ages 6-12 and $8 for visitors 13 and older. The trail itself is an easy walk, but there are several sets of steps visitors must use in order to access the trail. It may be difficult for some people to manage the steps, so be sure to ask the docents about alternative ways to reach the bridge.
After the Bridge
Passing through the bridge is an incredible experience as the visitor is struck first by the size and stature of Natural Bridge, but the trail does not end there! Once the visitor passes through the bridge, he or she embarks on the journey along the Cedar Creek Trail
Along the way, visitors to Natural Bridge are treated to a mix of natural and historical exhibitions. One of the first stops is Saltpeter Cave. Saltpeter Cave was formed by thousands of years of stream erosion. It is one of many natural caves in Natural Bridge State Park. In the early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson leased the cave to miners who mined the cave for potassium nitrate which was used at the time in the production of gunpowder.
Moving along the trail, the visitor will encounter a interactive reproduction of a Monacan Indian Village. The village is open from April to Thanksgiving and gives the visitor a chance to see what life was like for the first inhabitants of Natural Bridge, Virginia. The exhibit contains reproductions of longhouses and wigwams long with workstations displaying the day-to-day activities of the Monacan people.
If the visitor follows Cedar Creek, he or she will reach the end of the trail and find Lace Falls and its 30-foot cascade. The entire hike from the Visitor Center to Lace Falls and back to the Visitor Center takes about 30 minutes to an hour depending on hour long the visitor stays at each exhibit.
The Trip Doesn't End With the Bridge!
No trip to Natural Bridge would be complete without a visit to Natural Bridge Caverns. The journey to the caverns affords each visitor with an opportunity to see what the earth looks like 130 stories below its surface.
Admission to the caverns is approximately $18. Tours are conducted in groups and led by a guide. The guides are well-informed and are able to answer questions about the history and geological features of the caverns.
If you plan to visit the caverns, bring a jacket. Temperatures in the caverns are typically 57 degrees or cooler year round. The rocks are slippery and there are some low-hanging formations. There are several sets of stairs and changes in air pressure, so be mindful of these things while visiting the caverns. The tour lasts about 45 minutes. Have fun and enjoy!
All Good Things Must End
A trip to Natural Bridge State Park is a great place to visit when you're on the road. Add it to your next road trip itinerary! See you at the next stop.