Virginia’s Natural Bridge Hike

At the end of March, Andy and I headed to a beautiful waterfall hike on Cove Mountain. What we discovered when we got there was that we, in fact, had already been to Cove Mountain and did not remember the waterfall because the view was extraordinarily limited. I’ll spare you more on how we ventured off trail to hike down the mountain for an opportunity to see the waterfall, but know that I have updated our Cove Mountain post to include better pictures of the cascade so hop over there for that trail story. However, this story is on a different trail . . .

Deciding not to re-hike Cove Mountain, we were on our way back home when we approached signs directing travelers to the Natural Bridge.

“Interested in going there instead?” I mused to Andy. We had passed the signs countless times going to or coming from hikes but had never stopped and so this day seemed a perfect opportunity to see how the town of Natural Bridge, Virginia got its name.

Note: Every state in America has a slogan and Virginia’s is (in my humble opinion) the best: “Virginia is for lovers.” Therefore, dotted across Virginia sites, wonders, cities, and counties, different “LOVE” signs fitting to that area can be found.

For starters, the town holds Natural Bridge State Park, which was made the thirty-seventh — and newest — state park in Virginia in 2016. Despite being new though, the park is one of the oldest tourist destinations in America, and in 1988 the park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to having a Virginia and National Historic Landmark — the Natural Bridge.

Slipping into the visitor’s center, Andy and I purchased our rights to romp the grounds, and then set off on the nature trail — which is a concrete path that starts with several steps leading to the glen (or narrow mountain valley) where the bridge stands . . .

Standing 215-feet tall, forty-feet thick, and 100-feet wide, it is hard to describe the beauty and uniqueness of the natural arch, and that is possibly due to the allure that has almost made the bridge into a fable. Interesting notes on the bridge show in 1774 Thomas Jefferson owned over 100 acres, including the bridge, and that he used the area as a retreat before it became a top attraction for Europeans. In fact, he was quoted as saying the bridge was “The most sublime of Nature’s works.” The popularity of it continued so that it appeared in famous paintings and writings — For instance, Herman Melville mentioned the structure in Moby Dick when writing the massive whale “formed a high arch, like Virginia’s Natural Bridge.” Today, the bridge is named one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World,” which brings forth anywhere from thousands to one million visitors a day, depending on the season.

There was a sign saying the Lee Highway (U.S. Route 11) passes overhead but beyond that, people can only walk through — and not across the bridge today. This was not always the case though — Rangers say past images show they once walked and rode on horseback and in carriages over the top as a way to navigate over Cedar Creek, which is responsible for carving out the gorge for at least 500 million years.

As we walked closer, the bridge’s grandeur seemed spotlighted by the sun, which hung slightly above in a picturesque way . . .

and Andy and I moved under the bridge to take in the limestone rock formations cut out by that creek. Signs told us the arch has a ninety-foot span between the walls and that it is 450,000-cubic feet of rock, which weighs in a 72,000 pounds (36,000 tons). . . .

Once through this natural wonder, we continued on the paved path because while the bridge is the main attraction here, it is not the only point of interest . . .

Seven miles of hiking trails weave through this part of the Shenandoah and James River valleys so that our next stop was the remains of a Monacan Indian exhibit . . .

Signs told of how this was not an Indian village (as many claim online). Instead, researchers took twenty years to research the village’s regional archaeology, ethnohistory, primitive technology, and oral traditions from 1699 so that they could authentically reproduce this exhibit/museum. Included here are homes and gardens; and — while there are no crops today — signs did tell of the original food that was grown, which consisted of corns, beans, tobacco, gourds, pumpkin, and squash, along with other edible plants, including sunflower, artichokes, pig weed, lambs quarter dock, sump weed, and more. Reportedly, there are only 2,000 Monacan people alive today and a few of those tribe members actually work for this museum and pass along awareness and knowledge of their culture to visitors.

Moving past the village, we continued following Cedar Creek and its trail because what was ahead was a waterfall.

It was a beautiful spring day, and the sun warmed our skin while the temperatures remained cool. Little flowers leaned their faces towards the sun, too, and I couldn’t help but stop to take pictures . . .

Beside our path, the clear creek flowed over tiers of rock and, to be honest, it was beautiful to see how nature has cut a course through such rocky terrain naturally . . .

Sadly, the end of our path rendered only a very distant view of Lace Falls, which I say is sad but again — It is illustrates how humans did not continue to carve and build and pave a natural sight in the middle of the forest and for that, I am extraordinarily grateful. Regardless, here are the “best” pictures we could get of the cascade, which has varying reports of being thirty to fifty-feet tall . . . but let’s be honest — from this view, it could be one-foot or 100-feet and we’d have no clearer vision . . .

With that Blue Ridge Mountain beauty tucked away, we turned one last time to follow the water back . . .

this time to our last sight — a little saltpeter cave . . .

Park signs said the cave was also formed through stream erosion over thousands of years ago. When Thomas Jefferson owned the land, the cave was rich with bird and bat droppings, which formed potassium nitrate. Because of the desire to excavate this, the area was leased out and from there, the chemical compound was used to produce saltpeter, which was further used in gun powder.

With all sights seen, it was now time for Andy and I to go and so we walked towards the unique, natural arch again before crossing under it . . .

It is strange — Andy and I live in one of the oldest states in America, and yet we rarely venture on historic outings. However, in one small stop here we were able to sort of step back into time by walking on land once home to Monacan Indians, later owned by Thomas Jefferson and surveyed by George Washington, then travelled across by Civil War soldiers. I found myself contented when we left so that, while this was a different hike for us, it turned out to be one I am tremendously thankful to experience.

* * * * *

Note: If you are looking for more of an outing in the Natural Bridge area, stop by the Natural Bridge’s caverns, which was reportedly discovered by four college students in 1960. Later, the caverns opened to the public in 1977 so that people can now see two different cave systems as they descend a distance of thirty-four stories.

Author: L

Hi there! I am the impulsive do-er, the jumper, the one tugging to move past comfort zones to embrace a life of sheer surprise. I am a writer -- a pursuer of stories -- because I believe in the destination over the journey. I am a chaser of sunrises and sunsets and cherisher of the moments between. I have an overwhelming curiosity, an insatiable desire travel, and an obsessive yearn to turn dreams into realities. For all of these reasons, the word that best summarizes who I am is "seeker" -- I am forever a seeker.

4 thoughts

  1. Hi Midaughter, Another very informative write up with excellent photo’s ! This sounds a very interesting hike and the Bridge looks “Tozzin” ! (that’s Yorkshire for Great !) Haha…

    1. hahaha Midad! Thank you for the new British word as I haven’t heard it yet. I’m going to try to use it in a sentence today hehe
      Meanwhile, I’m very excited to now convince you, mimum, and Andy to go to Dorset to see the Durdle Door — *That* would be tozzin!
      L (and Andy)

      1. Hi.haha.. excellent, you won’t have to convince me.!! It is a fair old drive to Dorset though.!! Hope you’re well. XX

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