Back in 1774 for the small fee of 20 shillings, Thomas Jefferson purchased the Natural Bridge and 157 surrounding acres from King George III, built a two-room cabin on the property as a retreat for himself and his guests, making Virginia’s Natural Bridge one of the oldest tourist destinations in the United States. He described the bridge as “the most sublime of natures’s works” and he was not wrong. The Bridge formation is a true marvel for the eyes.
Today the natural arch of Natural Bridge located in Rockbridge County, Virginia, United States is what gives the name to the town that can be found pass beautiful, unspoiled mountain scenery and tiny valley hamlets to the cusp of the NSW border, at the junction of U.S. Route 11 and State Route 130.
Natural bridge arch is a short walk from the visitor center. Approximately 10 minutes at most going down the 137 stone stairs following the little creek that snakes next to them. Good shoes are recommended as it gets slippery especially after rainfall. A shuttle from the visitor center to the bridge trail is available for those not wishing to take the stairs.
The bridge that formed when a cavern collapsed is often included in the “7 Natural Wonders of the World” list and legend has it that George Washington surveyed the area for Lord Fairfax. If you get close enough and look you might be able to see the “GW” initials curved into the rock.
Today Natural Bridge is privately owned, but you can still visit it for a small fee. Admission per person is $6 for ages 6-12 and $8 for those 13 and older.
There are three trails in the park visitors can choose from. The moderate two mile Buck Hill trail offers spectacular views of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains and gives a unique opportunity to view surface karst features such as sinkholes and ravines. It is great for birdwatchers and the vernal pools along the trail contain diverse populations of amphibians and reptiles.
The Monacan Trail that takes visitors through a variety of habitats (forest transitional zones, forested stream ravines and open meadow) is a 3.3 mile loop moderate hike. An artificial wetland environment ripe with associated bird species has been created withing a man-made dam located along this Trail.
The Cedar Creek trail which is the most popular passes through the arch of the Bridge, and to the restoration-in-progress of a Monacan Indian village, and Lace Waterfalls with a 30-foot cascade. Dogs on a leash are allowed at the premises. Cedar Creek Trail access beyond the bridge is limited during winter so make sure to call before arriving for details.
The geological formation of the Natural Bridge is a 215-foot-high natural arch with a span of 90 feet. It is situated within a gorge carved from the surrounding mountainous limestone terrain by Cedar Creek, a small tributary of the James River.
The stream holds many treasures such as northern water snake and American bullfrog, widow and slaty skimmers patrol the creek bed in sunny spots and great blue and green herons, belted kingfisher, and numerous swallows can be seen flying often here. Woodpeckers, eastern screech owl, white-breasted nuthatch and yellow-billed cuckoo like to nest by the creek. And beautiful blooming wildflowers attract eastern tiger swallowtail, common buckeye, red-spotted purple, red admiral, trillium, Virginia bluebells, columbine and azalea in the warmer months.
Natural Bridge Park is open for visitors daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offers a wide variety of events that are sure to please everyone. For a list of their happenings check here.