The story goes that George Washington (the later first President of the United States) surveyed the Natural Bridge in Virginia in 1750, commissioned by Lord Fairfax. He is said to have climbed 23 feet up the wall and carved his initials in the rock—G. W. Those initials can still be seen today.
Many years later, in 1774, Thomas Jefferson (another future President) bought the site from the British King George III, calling it “the most sublime of nature’s works.” He had a log cabin built and began using the area as a retreat, as well as a place to host guests, among whom were Henry Clay, James Monroe and Martin van Buren. Jefferson also surveyed the area in 1802, during his presidency.
After Jefferson died, his heirs sold the bridge and surrounding lands to a new owner, who constructed an inn, which would help accommodate the ever-increasing number of visitors to this amazing site. This was in 1833, making it one of America’s oldest tourist attractions. (Another exceptionally popular natural attraction in the United States at that time—and to this day—was Niagara Falls.)
The Natural Bridge was given the status of resort in the 1880s and continues to receive many visitors on a daily basis. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998.
It is unquestionably also worth mentioning that the Natural Bridge was a sacred site of the Monacan tribe long before the Europeans “discovered” it. It played an important role in the story (or legend) about their escape from the pursuing Powhatan tribe.
Visiting the Natural Bridge, Virginia
Situated in the southern Shenandoah Valley and flanked by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Natural Bridge lies within easy reach from historic towns such as Lexington, Staunton, Roanoke and—a bit further—Charlottesville. It lies within the Washington & Jefferson National Forest, a vast expanse of hills and woods ideal for hiking, cycling, boating and fishing.
Admission is $20 per adult, which, honestly, is a bit pricey. The owners definitely take advantage of the site’s popularity and status as a significant historic and natural landmark. That being said; it is absolutely spectacular.
Rising 215 feet above the ground and spanning 90 feet, the Natural Bridge is truly a natural spectacle. It is much more impressive than you would expect and, even though it’s on the expensive side, it is absolutely worth visiting.
The most popular thing to do is walking the mile-long Cedar Creek Trail. After descending more than 100 steps, this trail runs underneath the bridge and continues past a model of a Monacan Village (which I thought was fascinating). It ends at a waterfall (which isn’t worth the hike; it’s better to spend more time around the actual bridge). From the waterfall, you simply retrace your steps toward the visitor center.
Address: 15 Appledore Lane, Natural Bridge, VA 24578
Admission: $20 per adult, $12 per child (in the high season; March 18-November 30)
More info: Website