State parks are often historic and protected for a reason, and there's nothing more exciting for nature lovers than when a new one is created - Or, rather, protected. Virginia's Natural Bridge State Park was dedicated back in 2016, making it not the newest, but one of the newest to enter the state park scene. Included in its acreage was the Natural Bridge for which it's named; an extraordinary, towering part of Rockbridge County.
The bridge itself has a long history with the area and though it was only dedicated in the last decade, the land surrounding has plenty of stories to tell. Additionally, Natural Bridge is home to some of the deepest caverns on the East Coast and a stunning waterfall, drawing visitors from all over for a multitude of sightseeing ventures.
Here's what visitors to Natural Bridge State Park can expect, and why it's definitely worth the trip.
The History And Dedication Of Natural Bridge State Park
Prior to becoming a state park, Natural Bridge was privately owned with visitors allowed at a ticketed cost. Now, it's a major attraction in western Virginia, and the cost of entry is far lower than it once was. As a state park, visitors now have access to the natural bridge itself, various trails, and educational programs about the region. However, the greatest drawn of Natural Bridge State Park is the allure for visitors who choose to explore on their own - and there's plenty to see along the way.
One of the most common questions that visitors have is regarding the formation of the bridge. How does something so precariously perched get created in the first place? The answer to that lies in the history of the creek that's below it which, now, doesn't look like much. Anyone who may have visited the creek thousands of years prior, however, may have had a very different account of its sheer strength and volume. Similar to any canyon or gorge, it's believed that the Natural Bridge was carved by a tremendous water flow that happened steadily as time went on. There are several different theories, though; a man by the name of Edgar W. Spencer once theorized that the creek was part of an underground water system. He believed that the roof over this creek collapsed, leaving behind the part of the Natural Bridge that can be seen today.
- Fun Fact: While no theories have been proven accurate without a reasonable doubt, there is evidence to back up Spencer's theory thanks to the Lost River, which can be seen a few miles from the Natural Bridge.
Throughout the years, this location has served as the following:
- A safe settlement for Native Americans
- A survey site for George Washington
- A retreat for Thomas Jefferson
- A place of historical significance during the Civil War
- A transportation route for The Great Wagon Road
Thus, in addition to its unique appearance, the Natural Bridge is also steadfast in Virginia's history.
What Can You Do At Natural Bridge State Park?
There are a number of activities that one can do when visiting Natural Bridge State Park. While they range from hiking to visiting apple orchards, these are the most popular tourist attractions within the area.
Hiking Around Natural Bridge
Upon first visiting the park, hikers should stop in at the Visitor Center, which is where they'll find details about the park, its hikes, wildlife, and more. This is also where visitors can inquire about range-led, guided hikes through the park. At the end of the hiking expedition, hikers should make their way over to the Gift Shop and Artisan Center, where they can find locally-made goods, souvenirs, and unique gifts.
The four main trails in Natural Bridge State Park are:
- Buck Hill Trail - 1.8 miles; rated as moderately challenging
- Blue Ridge Trail - 3.3 miles; rated as moderately challenging
- Cedar Creek Trail - 0.8 miles; rated as moderately challenging
- Skyline Trail - 0.6 miles; rated as easy
Additionally, the Monacan Indian Exhibit is another point of interest where visitors can learn the history of the land's indigenous people. It sits just 500 yards from the Cedar Creek Pavillion and is open seasonally from 10 AM - 4:30 PM, as it's an open outdoor exhibit. The Monacan Indian Village is a must-visit for those interested in an inside look at what life was like for the Monacan tribe who first lived near Natural Bridge. The recreation of this 1700s-era village offers visitors lessons in traditional weaving, cooking, hide-tanning, and more.
Just past the Monacan Indian Village, hikers will find Salt Peter Cave. There was an attempt to mine this cave by the south during the Civil War, which is detailed on the plaques that stand at the entrance. Visitors are not permitted inside the cave.
- Fun Fact: The park also hosts various Dark Sky nights throughout the year for those interested in stargazing.
Just slightly further past Salt Peter Cave, visitors will hear the rushing sounds of water as they come upon the Lost River. This underwater stream can be seen from the hillside, and still remains a source of potential proof for Spencer's underwater river theory. Just past this, hikers will find a scenic waterfall - Lace Falls - which has a cascade of roughly 30 feet.
Visiting Natural Bridge State Park: Details
- Cost: $9 for adults, $7 for children age 7-12, children 5 and under are free
- Hours of Operation: Open from 8 AM until dusk, daily