As I mentioned in my last post, earlier this month my family decided to take a weekend trip to the Shenandoah Valley. After a fun day at the Frontier Culture Museum, we headed to the town of Lexington for the night. Why Lexington? I picked it for a couple of reasons: 1. At a little over 30 minutes south of the Frontier Culture Museum and a little less than 20 minutes north of Natural Bridge State Park, it was the closest I could get to a half-way point between our two destinations, and 2. I love the feel and atmosphere of college towns, and as the home of both Washington and Lee University and VMI, Lexington definitely qualifies.
Following a comfortable night in our Lexington Airbnb, we woke up refreshed and ready to go to our next destination. One thing that I did not plan for was a significant dip in temperature, so we made sure to grab all of the layers we brought with us before heading out to Natural Bridge. Natural Bridge, Virginia is home to the park that I will discuss in a moment, as well as a zoo, cavern, safari, hotel, and other attractions (Note that all of the aforementioned places are owned privately and are not maintained by the park. We did not visit any of them and cannot vouch for their safety, cleanliness, or entertainment value).
Natural Bridge State Park has actually only been a Virginia State Park since 2016. Prior to that, it was privately owned by a variety of organizations, families, and people, including Thomas Jefferson. Here’s some bonus presidential trivia: according to legend, George Washington surveyed the land in and around Natural Bridge, and his initials can supposedly be seen carved into the rock below.
Of course, the park’s most defining feature is the 215-foot tall stone bridge that spans the gorge carved out by Cedar Creek.
When you arrive at the park, you will need to purchase your entrance fees from the Visitor’s Center. My daughter and I waited outside and took pictures – I am a sucker for the LOVE signs that can be found all over the state in homage to its cheesy tourism tagline – while my husband went in to buy our tickets.
The ticket prices are $6 for children ages 6-12 and $8 for ages 13 and up (children under 6 get in for free). If you have an annual VA state parks pass ($75 for the year), it covers admission for up to four people at this park.
There are several trails that run through the park, but the Cedar Creek Trail, which starts right behind the visitor’s center, will take you directly to – and through – the main attraction. It is important to note that while Natural Bridge is not a far walk, upon entering the trail you will have to go down a long, steep staircase. Shuttle rides are offered for those who are unable to take the stairs, and the remainder of the trail is smooth-sailing for all ages.
As soon as you get to the bottom of the staircase and round the corner, you will see the park’s beautiful namesake. There are rows of socially distant benches on either side, and the walkway is plenty wide enough to pass around and by other people. Said walkway passes right under the bridge, allowing you to really appreciate the magnitude of this gorgeous landmark.
Once you have made it under the bridge, the trail continues along Cedar Creek for about a mile or so. We found a stretch along the creek that was socially distant enough from the trail to be a suitable picnic spot.
After lunch, we viewed the Monocan Village, which under normal (read: non-pandemic) circumstances would have living interpreters, but we were happy to read the posted plaques and apply the information to what we were seeing.
We then followed the trail across the creek to a cave that Jefferson mined for saltpeter ingredients.
We continued following the creek to the Lost River, the mysterious and beautiful underground waterway whose source is still unknown.
Finally, the trail culminates at an overlook of Lace Falls, a pretty little waterfall that feeds into the creek.
Since this is an out-and-back trail, we returned from whence we came, pausing along the way to admire the scenery.
Overall, we spent about two hours in the park. In spite of the very chilly temperature, we had a great visit. It’s a fantastic spot for people of all ages to explore Virginia’s natural beauty and history. Two thumbs up from the Yates clan!
After warming up for a little while at our Airbnb, we decided to venture out into Lexington’s downtown area. Normally I would jump at the chance to pop into shops, bakeries, etc., but we were too cautious to do anything more than window shop. I will say that our Airbnb host left these peppermint chocolates on our pillows from Cocoa Mill Chocolatier on West Nelson Street, and they were quite possibly the best mints we’ve ever had. We also ordered takeout from The Palms – also on West Nelson Street – and were all quite happy with our meals.
While in town, we wandered along the sidewalks for a bit before heading up the hill onto Washington and Lee’s campus, which is adjacent to the historic downtown area. As I mentioned before, I adore visiting college campuses. They are usually big, open spaces with pretty landscaping, interesting-looking buildings, and the occasional historical sign or plaque (plus they have awesome bookstores, even though that wasn’t what we were looking for this time around). In these respects, Washington and Lee did not disappoint. There were some students on campus, but they were all masked and socially distant. As she usually does on a college campus, my kiddo had fun exploring the various nooks and crannies, especially the tiny little gnome we found hiding in a tunneled walkway. It was definitely a nice way to spend the afternoon.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Natural Bridge State Park and Lexington. We think they make a great weekend getaway that is not too far from Northern VA. They also were the perfect companion destinations to our stop at the Frontier Culture Museum. There were definitely plenty of outdoor, socially distant options to keep our family busy, but I hope to return post-pandemic for some additional hiking and activities. Have you ever been to this part of Virginia? What are your favorite weekend trips? Please share in the comments!