A Fun-Filled Weekend in Natural Bridge, Virginia
Updated: Jun 24, 2021
Just a 3-hour drive from Washington, D.C., Natural Bridge offers nature, food, history, and even a glimpse of animals from around the world.
Over the past couple of years, I've seen pictures of the famous natural bridge (a 215-foot-high natural arch with a span of 90 feet) at Natural Bridge State Park pop up on my Instagram feed multiple times. It has been on my bucket list of places I want to visit for quite some time. Finally on the first weekend of June, I embarked on the trip to visit the state park with a friend from my DC Fray kickball team.
Wanting to make the most of the short weekend, we left early from D.C. around 7AM and hopped on I-66 to begin the drive. We arrived at Natural Bridge State Park around 10AM and were ready for to hike and sightsee.
Hiking at Natural Bridge State Park
Upon arriving at Natural Bridge State Park, you'll find a large parking lot and Visitor's Center with clean bathrooms, a gift shop, and food options. Parking is free in the main parking lot, but there is an admission fee required to view the natural bridge. The cost of admission is $6 for ages 3‐12 and $9 for age 13 & up. I choose to use my Naturally Yours Passport, Virginia State Parks annual park pass to get in. The annual pass costs $85 per year and covers parking and admission for 12 months to all state parks. Additional annual pass options are also available for seniors, people with disabilities, and veterans.
There are over 7 miles of hiking trails in the state park (view trail guide - PDF), and we decided to walk the moderate-difficulty Cedar Creek trail, since it brings you within the gorge under the natural bridge. To get to the natural bridge from the main parking lot, you'll have to walk down about 5 flights of stairs and then along the trail. If needed, accommodations for accessibility can be made upon request at the park Visitor Center. In addition to viewing the gorgeous natural bridge, while walking along the creek (a small tributary of the James River) you'll also view of a one-of-a-kind replica Monacan Indian Village, the Salt Peter Cave, the Lost River, and Lace Falls.
Choose to believe me or not, but I think the bridge looks even more huge and magnificent in person than is does in pictures. It truly is a beauty worth seeing yourself.
Tubing on the James River
After our short hike in the state park, we headed a few minutes down the road to the Wilderness Canoe Company for an afternoon tubing adventure on the James River. Tubing trips begin at 11AM or 1PM and cost $18.99 per person. The company provides the tubes and transports guests about 4.5 miles upstream on the James River. Once dropped off, we began our 4.5 miles trip, gently floating along with the pace of the river occasionally encountering rapids. If tubing isn't for you, they also offer kayak, canoe, and rafting options.
The water was low on our trip, and the lower the river, the slower the trip. In total, we were on the water about 6 hours. It was a very relaxing trip and with 90+ degree weather, being on the water was ideal. We came prepared using the provided small cooler and brought plenty of sunscreen and water. The staff were very kind and provided clear instructions about what to expect on the trip and where to exit the river.
Viewing Animals at Virginia Safari Park
Sunday morning after breakfast, we headed to the Virginia Safari Park, Virginia's only drive-thru safari park. Located a few minutes from the natural bridge, the park's mission is animal conservation and they allow guests to drive their vehicle through over 3 miles of maintained gravel road to view and feed animals. The animals are free to roam in their specific pastures within the 180-acre property.
It was my first time ever visiting a drive-thru zoo and I enjoyed viewing the animals up close. I also was happy to see how much room the animals had to roam. One of the things I've always disliked about traditional zoos is the small enclosures. My main critique of the safari area was that the animals were thoroughly covered in flies, and many seemed very itchy because of them. The Park also had a more traditional zoo area called the village walk thru. There you'll find animals that are endangered, rare, or would be unsafe to include in the safari portion where guests are allowed to open their windows. We saw animals like rhinos, giraffes, penguins, and a king cheetah (to name a few).
General Admission Pricing
Adult (Ages 13 to 64): Monday-Friday: $23.95 / Saturday-Sunday: $26.95
Child (Ages 2 to 12): Monday-Friday: $15.95 / Saturday-Sunday: $18.95
Senior (Ages 65 and up): Monday-Friday: $22.95 / Saturday-Sunday: $25.95
Infants (Under 2 years old): Free
Swimming at Jennings Creek in George Washington National Forest
We had originally planned to do more local hiking on Sunday, but it was so hot, so we opted for swimming instead. I wasn't familiar with the area and wasn't sure where to go at first. While browsing online I found information for Jennings Creek Swimming Hole. With over 22 5-star Google reviews, I thought it was worth checking out. There was a small parking lot near the swimming hole.
There were 3 other people at the swimming hole. They were lounging on inner tubes, which seemed like the way to go. There was plenty of room to walk or swim around. The deepest part of the swimming hole was probably about 10-12 feet. It was a great place to take a dip and cool off on a hot summer day.
What We Ate and Where We Stayed
We decided to make the trip a weekend trip, so we didn't have to drive over 6 hours round trip from D.C. in one day. With a simple Google search, I was able to view the hotel options in the area. There is limited accommodations right next to the state park, with the majority of the hotels nearby located in Lexington, VA, about 20 minutes away.
Natural Bridge Hotel
We ended up staying one night in the Natural Bridge Hotel, Trademark Collection by Wyndham. The room with 2 double beds cost us $126 on a Saturday evening. The hotel seemed to be fully booked for the night. The hotel had a historic feel to it, and the furnishings were very outdated. Our hotel room had air conditioning, a small bathroom, and mini fridge.
The hotel advertised the food at their Colonial Dining Room and we chose to go there based off their a la carte breakfast menu, only to sit down and find out they only offered the buffet. The buffet was good but overpriced at $16 per person. I am a small woman and definitely didn't eat $16 worth of breakfast food.
Other Places to Eat
In addition to a meal at the hotel, we ate at the following local restaurants:
Scotto's Pizza & Restaurant: Takeout from this local pizza joint before tubing. I chose the cold veggie sub and a pink lemonade.
The Palms: Dinner in nearby Lexington, VA at a local institution for American fare. I shared the deliciously fresh pub pretzels with my friend and ordered the Southern Grilled Cheese.
The Pink Cadillac Diner: Lunch at this nostalgia-themed eatery featuring American comfort food, 1950s decor and a vintage pink Cadillac outside. I tried their mozzarella sticks and got a chocolate ice cream sundae all for under $10 (not including tip).
If you're thinking about making the trip to Natural Bridge, I hope this blog post gives you the extra push you might need to schedule it. I'm sure you will have a lovely weekend.