Early this summer, my husband and I drove the entire length of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway from Front Royal, VA to Cherokee, NC. Virginia’s Natural Bridge State Park was my favorite “detour” along the way.
The Natural Bridge is approximately 16 miles off the Parkway. Exiting at Milepost 63.7, we followed U.S. 501 west to the Natural Bridge State Park.
The Natural Bridge is open 8 am – dusk. We got an early start and were the first to arrive. We paid our admission fee inside the visitor’s center and then followed the trail down the hill. The trail to the bridge is 1/4 mile. If you can’t walk down the uneven steps, there is a shuttle that will drive you to the bottom of the hill. You really should walk it if you can. It is a lovely trail beside a stream. The walk is not far or difficult. and once you reach the bottom of the steps the trail is flat, wide, paved, and level. At the bottom of the steps there is a snack bar with limited hours. This is where the shuttle will drop you off and also where you can catch the shuttle for a return ride up the hill. The entire trail is cool and shady.
From the bottom of the hill/shuttle drop off, you will walk the rest of the way to see the natural bridge or you could simply view it from a distance. Be sure to pick up a trail map at the visitor’s center before you begin. Numbered markers tell some interesting history including stories of George Washington carving his initials into the rock below the bridge and Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of the bridge in 1773.
The bridge is a spectacular sight. At 215 feet high, the limestone structure supports a highway which fortunately, can’t be seen from below. Once you reach the natural bridge and have spent a few moments gazing up in awe, you will be tempted to keep walking. The Cedar Creek trail continues below the bridge and on to a recreated Indian village (which wasn’t open until 10 AM) and then to a cave and a waterfall. It is listed as .8 mile. The trail is flat and wide and fairly level the whole way and could be followed by just about anybody.
We took our time, stopping to rest and read the trail guide along the way. The early morning was a beautiful time to visit. When we arrived, there was a slight fog hanging in the air. In mid-May there were only a few other people on the trail and we had much of it to ourselves. It was peaceful and beautiful and we spent more time than we would have needed to. All total we were at the park for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
There are also some other trails that can be hiked if you are making a day of it. Also, at 8:30 p.m. each evening the park offers a light and sound show called “Drama of Creation” below the bridge. It is a biblical story of the seven days of creation and an additional fee applies.
We spent a night at the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel and Conference Center which is right across the street. The name of this hotel is a bit misleading. This is not the building that first housed early visitors to the Natural Bridge. That hotel burned to the ground. The hotel you see today was rebuilt in the 1960’s. I assume it was rebuilt in the same location as the original but that still doesn’t make it “historic” as most people would define the word. That being said, the AREA is full of history. The hotel is a lovely building and our room, although nothing special, was clean and comfortable. With a bar and restaurant on the premises, it was a convenient place to spend a night.