A Natural Wonder: Summer in Rockbridge County, Va.

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you felt so incredibly small yet so lucky to be present in that moment? That’s how I feel every time I stand beneath Virginia’s Natural Bridge. At 215 feet tall—43 times my height—the arch carved out over millions of years by Cedar Creek towers above all who visit.  

I’ve visited Natural Bridge State Park in every season. Well, except in the winter because I don’t enjoy spending more than ten minutes outside when it’s colder than 50 degrees. So I’ve visited almost every season. I’ve visited on days when the trails were crowded with people from all over the world and days when I saw only park rangers. I was there the day the property, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, became a state park in 2016.

I can say, without a doubt, summer is my favorite season to visit. In those early mornings before the sun rises over the mountains or in the evenings as everything begins to cool off again, the shadows are dramatic, the moving creek feels cool to the touch, and everything is so gosh darn green. As I stand beneath the bridge, I get lost in the sensation of understanding my place in a world filled with natural wonders. 

All told, the park includes access to six miles of hiking trails around this natural wonder. The accessible Cedar Creek Trail connects the bridge to the Monacan Indian Village and the 30-foot cascade of Lace Falls. If you find the heat is wearing on you, explore the nearby Caverns at Natural Bridge. Throughout a 45-minute tour, you’ll descend 34 stories underground into much cooler temperatures. Like Natural Bridge, the cavern structures you see were formed over millions of years. 

You can even return to the bridge after sunset for one of the park’s Dark Sky Nights. As an International Dark Sky Park, Natural Bridge is open for self-guided tours every Tuesday from April through October, plus special astronomical events throughout the year. From dusk until 11 p.m., walk Skyline Trail and use star charts provided at the information kiosk to orient yourself in the night sky. Away from city lights, it’s amazing how much you can see beyond our atmosphere. Yet the charming towns of Lexington and Buena Vista are only 20 minutes away. It’s hard to beat access to spectacular natural sights and dining at some of the region’s best restaurants without having to drive for hours. 

Via the pedestrian tunnel beneath Route 11, walk a few feet from the park to the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel, a convenient spot to relax after a long day exploring the area. Grab a bite to eat from the Colonial Dining Room or Red Fox Tavern before heading out on another adventure the next day. If you prefer to camp, Jellystone Park at Natural Bridge and several national forest campgrounds nearby provide ample space to spread out beneath the stars. 

A visit to this slice of Virginia isn’t complete without a stop at Rockbridge County’s namesake. Discover the wonder of Natural Bridge for yourself this summer on a trip you won’t soon forget. 

Ellen Kanzinger is a travel writer and photographer based in Charlottesville, Va.

Places to Go, Things to See: