Beyond the Beltway: Natural Bridge

Photo courtesy of tsmyther
Natural Bridge, courtesy of tsmyther

We’re starting a new series that we’ll post twice a month, looking at various locations, attractions and other fun spots to hit that exist within a half-day’s drive from the Beltway. It’s a way to give you ideas for some fun outside our little circle of asphalt here on the East Coast, without costing you any more than a tank (or less) of gas. Well, aside from tickets, food and the inevitable souvenir, that is.

I figured I’d kick off our first entry with a place that involved good ol’ George; you can never go wrong with our first President. So where in Virginia did George leave his mark early in his multi-faceted career?

Natural Bridge, Virginia.

Located three-and-a-half hours from central DC down I-81, Natural Bridge is the site of one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World” (though realize there’s a lot of differing lists out there) and touted as the oldest tourist destinations in the U.S. (It’s also a commemorative license plate available through the VA DMV.) It’s a fascinating formation that has to be seen to really appreciate it.

The arch was a sacred site to the Monacan Indians before settlers arrived; the site remained popular as a tourist site after George Washington ‘discovered’ it in 1750 when carrying out surveying work for Lord Fairfax. You can still see his (supposed) initials and the original surveyor’s mark in the side of the bridge. Jefferson later purchased 157 acres of land, which included the bridge, from King George III for 20 shillings. It has, to this day, remained privately owned.

Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, guests could be lowered over the edge of the arch in a steel cage; fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your personal risk level) that activity isn’t offered anymore. Instead, there’s a pathway that goes underneath it and meanders along Cedar Creek River for a short distance. US Hwy 11 still runs across the top, so don’t be alarmed at the car noises overhead.

In 1927, the sound and light show The Drama of Creation was inaugurated by Calvin Coolidge. The light show, set to classical music, depicts the seven days of Creation as recorded by the Bible. You can still enjoy the show after dark most days of the week – check the website for times.

Now, there’s a lot more to do in the immediate area, so if you’re not a nature lover, take note.

Photo courtesy of beebrisk
Foamhenge, Natural Bridge, VA, courtesy of beebrisk

The Natural Bridge Caverns are nearby for those who aren’t claustrophobic. More fun, however, is the Wax Museum, which also includes a self-guided factory tour. There’s also Professor Cline’s Haunted Monster Museum and Dino Kingdom (WaPo called these “one of the seven weird wonders of Virginia), Foamhenge (yes, you heard me), and the Toy Museum. Of these, the Toy Museum was my favorite because being an avid geek, it’s just great fun to reminisce among the museum’s huge collection of toys and memorabilia.

There’s a lot in the Natural Bridge area; plenty for everyone, really. So take a trip outside the city and enjoy getting away from our lovable little town for the day. You won’t be sorry.

Natural Bridge is open every day and is $13 per adult ($8 per child). The other area attractions have seperate hours and costs, so best to check the website for ideas on packages and times.

If you have any suggestions for our Getaway feature, drop us the info by using the “Suggest a Story” button at the top of the page. See you next trip!

Having lived in the DC area for ten years, Ben still loves to wander the city with his wife, shooting lots of photos and exploring all the latest exhibits and galleries. A certified hockey fanatic, he spends some time debating the Washington Capitals club with friends – but everyone knows of his three decade love affair with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A professional writer, gamer, photographer, and Lego enthusiast, Ben remains captivated by DC and doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

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