The Natural Bridge State Park
Where: Located in the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
Address: 6477 South Lee Highway, Natural Bridge, VA 24578
Coordinates: Latitude, 37.6288872. Longitude, -79.5451583
Journey to the Natural Bridge
State Park enthusiast or just driving through, this Natural Wonder of the Modern Era is one that you don’t want to miss!
Okay, to be 100% honest, I have passed through this area countless times while traveling on the road and could never find the “Natural Bridge”. I started to wonder what all the hype was.
Every time I stopped to check out this so-called 8th Natural Wonder of the World, it seemed to be a mystery of where this ‘Natural Bridge’ is located… little did I know, it’s the 37th State Park in the United States!
Originally in 1988, it was listed as a National Historic Landmark and later became a state park on Sept. 24, 2016. The Natural Bridge is one of the oldest geologic features on the East Coast and is one of the Nation’s most visited Natural Wonders!
I could never have guessed the bridge’s location from the main road (even if I happened to drive over it – lol!); it’s honestly a hidden gem. I mean, the freakin’ peak of the bridge is 1,160-feet above sea level; how could I miss it?
Standing 215-feet tall (55-feet higher than Niagara Falls), 100-feet wide, 40-feet thick, with a 90-foot span between its walls, I’m convinced that my eyes wouldn’t overpass a bridge this massive.
Locating the Natural Bridge
I followed multiple signs along the highway directing visitors towards the “Natural Bridge;” however, once I ‘unknowingly’ arrived, trying to locate the bridge was like a guessing game (unless you already know it is a state park).
I drove on the bridge, over the bridge, and past the entrance on several different occasions without even realizing that there’s a trail below the state park’s Visitor Center to access the bridge! The view from above (covered in bushes, trees, and a fence) is NOT the same as below!
I came across a large brick building labeled “NATURAL BRIDGE STATE PARK”, almost resembling a museum and a large parking lot in front of it; this is the entrance to the Natural Bridge and its Visitor Center.
Inside this Visitor Center, you can buy tickets, browse in the gift shop, explore the interactive classroom, or grab a snack(s) at the Outpost Café.
If you find yourself getting hangry throughout the day, be sure to locate one of the picnic shelters available in the park to relax and enjoy a bite to eat surrounded by the beauty of nature.
I also managed to find a few other gems while searching for the Natural Bridge, so if you’re looking to explore a little further into the outskirts of this state park, be sure to check out my Unexpected Destinations Near the Natural Bridge State Park blog!
Know Before You Go
When I explored the Natural Bridge State Park, I was unaware of a couple of things:
(1) The park is 1,540.22 acres, nestled in the middle of a town (assuming the Natural Bridge may be visible from the road and has more nature surrounding it; I guess that was the confusion).
2) The park requires an entry fee to access the Natural Bridge.
Unaware, I walked onto the trail before paying for my admission ticket.
Later, I also learned that a park ranger is supposed to check tickets outside Cedar Creek Pavillion, where the Trail Store is; you can also purchase tickets, browse, and grab refreshments here too.
I must have lucked out because I didn’t have an admission ticket, and there was no park ranger to check for my ticket.
Please don’t make the same mistake I did, and forget to grab your admissions ticket(s) before heading down to the bridge!
Exploring the Natural Bridge State Park
As I made my way down the 137-steps into the State Park, I passed the oldest and largest Arbor Vitae tree known in the world, Vires-Acquirit-Eundo. This ancient arbor vitae tree left me in awe!
Vires-Acquirit-Eundo died in 1980 and was more than 1,600 years old, measuring 56 inches in diameter; can you imagine the size of this sucker?!
Growing up with my dad owning a landscaping business, I thought I knew all about different trees and plants, but I’ve never seen such an astounding Arbor Vitae like this before!
If you’re an avid tree lover, this is a unique sight to see!
Finally, I found the bridge!
As I approached the Natural Bridge, I couldn’t help but notice its magnificent 450,000 cubic feet of rock throughout the archway, weighing 72 million pounds (36 thousand tons).
Overlooking Cedar Creek and Cedar Creek Trail, the Natural Bridge is composed of grey limestone, compressed by ocean organisms from the Ordovician period during the Paleozoic era.
The Natural Bridge is estimated to be over 500 million years old; It makes you wonder how the heck did it get here? Well, believe it or not, Cedar Creek itself carved it out – talk about mind-blown.
Cedar Creek flows under the Natural Bridge and continues southeast, entering the James River about a mile away.
Approximately 200 million years ago, the Natural Bridge was part of a cave system underground.
Over time, the water changed courses, collapsing the cave and leaving what’s left of this natural rock formation. Well done, Mother Nature; simply spectacular!
I don’t know about you, but I’m all about hide-and-seek; as you pass under the bridge on your way in, see if you can find and capture a picture of George Washington’s initials along the Natural Bridge (look for a rectangle outline – inside will read “G.W.”).
George Washington surveyed the land in the 1750s, and legends say he carved his initials into the bridge’s rock walls.
Kick up your feet, relax, and enjoy the views from the benched seating available near the bridge; trust me, you’ll want to take in this moment.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history behind the Natural Bridge arch, a seasonal light show is performed at dark, presented over a loudspeaker. Be sure to check out the state park’s website for any updates.
I walked along Cedar Creek Trail, which is .8 miles in each direction, beginning at the Natural Bridge and following along the creek until reaching Lace Falls at the end of the trail.
There are approximately 7-miles of easy to moderate hiking trails throughout the state park.
If you want to see the main attractions, I’d recommend sticking to Cedar Creek’s Trail (which is considered a moderate trail; however, it is accessible to all) before exploring further around the park into the caverns, trails, hotel, and wildlife areas!
I came across beautiful locations leading up to the Monacan Indian Village, Saltpeter Cave, Lost River, and Lace Falls along the scenic trail. The journey was well worth the brief hike.
Monacan Indian Village
A greeting from Monacan Indian settlers: Mecoure mechin kihoe
“You are welcome to be here.”
I made my way about 500-yards past the Natural Bridge, following Cedar Creek until reaching my second destination at the Monacan Indian Village.
My first impression of this village was how unique the huts are; I was immediately intrigued.
Years of research have gone into redeveloping what is now this exhibit of the Monacan Village.
A few members of the Monacan Tribe even work at the Natural Bridge Museum today!
The area’s first inhabitants, Monacan Indians, believe the Natural Bridge was once a sacred site known as “The Bridge of God”; rumor has, when you visit the Natural Bridge, you become a part of a distinguished group.
This Monacan Village creates an incredible experience and opportunity to view the beliefs and ways an Indian tribe once lived.
My second impression of this village was the (empty at the time) horticultural area near the Monacan huts.
Approximately 2,000 years ago, Monacan Indians grew a variety of wild edibles and crops such as amaranth, artichokes, sunflowers, squash, pumpkins, gourds, corn, beans, and more!
What a simplistic time to be alive; to be self-sustained seems like the natural flow of life. I’ve always sworn I’m meant to live in a different period – simplicity calls my name.
If you enjoy a little cultural history, be sure to stop in to learn about cooking, gardening, harvesting, and more! Seasonal living history programs show how the area once used its resources for survival.
DISCLAIMER: The Monacan Village was unfortunately closed due to the pandemic when I went, so I didn’t get to explore inside the village. Be sure to check the state park’s website regarding any updates and operations.
Let’s keep it moving; I continued along Cedar Creek Trail until I spotted a wooden deck on my left.
I made my way across a connecting bridge, where my third destination, Saltpeter Cave, appeared.
The Saltpeter Cave formed through stream erosion over many thousands of years and became a rock shelter that Thomas Jefferson leased out in 1806; he used this shelter to excavate potassium nitrate deposits implemented in the production of gunpowder.
Potassium nitrate was exhumed from the deposits in bird and bat droppings in the soil.
Hold up! You mean to tell me that bird and bat crap played a role as ingredients of gunpowder?! I found that pretty comical and highly innovative.
I made my way back onto the trail, and along comes destination numero 4; The Lost River; dang, this is insane.
In 1812, the Lost River was blasted open by workmen from the Saltpeter Cave after hearing running water coming from inside.
After several attempts of using flotation devices and colored dyes to locate the river’s destination and mysterious water source, they are still unknown to this day (hence the name “Lost River”).
The opening of the river standing today is a direct result of that blast over 200 years ago.
This river is one of the most insane concepts that will leave you wondering for years to come.
In the distance, I see running water and a dead-end.
Lace Falls becomes my 5th and final destination with no trail to turn.
Lace Falls is a 30-foot cascade, changing from calm water to rushing white waters throughout the seasons.
Let me put this into perspective; Cedar Creek runs 50-feet to the creek bed, and Cedar Creek’s headwaters begin 180-miles away in the Allegheny Mountains.
Although Lace Falls is such a beauty of nature, its height does not compare, nor do justice to its water-source as a whole.
The park does offer year-round swimming for anyone wanting to explore the creeks, but be cautious of snakes!
I came across this guy swimming along the river of Cedar Creek Trail.
For peace of mind on a warm summer day, I heard the snakes roaming this area pose no threat as long as you don’t bother them. Be and let be.
I also recommend wearing comfortable, closed-toe shoes or water shoes if you decide to explore the creeks/streams off-trail.
BEFORE planning your trip, don’t forget to check out my Unexpected Destinations Near the Natural Bridge State Park blog for a little more adventure along the way!
For updates, hours of operation, prices and fees, rules and regulations, lodging and camping, nearby attractions, and more, visit The Natural Bridge State Park.