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So many natural wonders surround the DC area and this week we ventured to Natural Bridge, VA to visit one of the most well known. Natural Bridge has a ton of family friendly attractions nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the town’s namesake being the most famous.
At 3.5 hours from DC (we had 5 kids ages 2-7 with us, so obviously it took us what felt like twice that), you could easily make a day trip of it, but we didn’t want to rush since this would be our first time exploring the area. The Natural Bridge Historic Hotel & Conference Center provided overnight accommodations for our adventure crew.
We fell in love with the hotel at first sight and knew that making it an overnight trip had been the right choice! After stopping for 642,467 bathroom breaks along the way, it felt amazing to step in to such a beautiful building and know that we were going to have a chance to relax! The lobby of the hotel is elegant and welcoming and I immediately felt the insanity that is road tripping with 5 kids slip away. The hotel’s classic colonial design and decor, along with the mountain views gives the sensation of being in a different time.
THE VIEW!! The Natural Bridge Historic Hotel sits at the base of the mountains providing picturesque views. I think my daughter said it best- while standing on the balcony overlooking the mountains she exclaimed “I feel like I’m in a fairy tale!” The staff at the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel & Conference Center was warm and welcoming. They suggested family friendly activities in the area including the Natural Bridge State Park next door and the Natural Bridge Caverns down the road. The close proximity to these attractions allowed us the perfect getaway with equal parts adventure and relaxation!
Natural Bridge State Park
After a long drive from DC we wanted to stretch our legs with a walk over to the Natural Bridge State Park. It was an easy, two minute walk from our hotel to the entrance of the Natural Bridge State Park (a large, indoor visitor center has a huge gift shop, water fountains, clean bathrooms, and cafe). Admission per person is $6 for ages 6-12 and $8 for those 13 and older, but if you plan on visiting The Natural Bridge Caverns as well (we highly recommend you do!) you can save a few bucks by purchasing combo tickets at the Natural Bridge State Park ($14 for ages 6-12 and $20 13 and older).
The bridge is amazing. Once owned by Thomas Jefferson and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 215-foot tall Natural Bridge is a limestone gorge carved out by the waters of Cedar Creek over a span of millions of years.
You can’t see the bridge by doing a driveby; it is about a quarter mile walk from the state park entrance. We did the entire main-trail “hike”. Once you make it down almost 100 uneven steps, is a wide, dirt/gravel path that is pretty stroller friendly. The hike is one mile ending at a little waterfall (two miles round trip total). Along the way we were able to visit The Monacan Indian Exhibit, which is a Native American living museum (open 10a-4:30p), the Saltpeter Cave (my favorite part- don’t stop at the mouth, duck under to into the cave for a really cool -literally- experience) and a view of the falls. It took us 40-50 minutes each way with 5 kids, including the time it took to stop and watch a snake slither up a tree/ collect sticks and pet bugs, etc. It was a beautiful and serene experience that we would highly recommend!
The Natural Bridge Caverns
Pro tip- this is a beautiful adventure that you don’t want to miss, so make sure your kids use the bathroom *before* the tour starts. Rookie mistake on our part, and we ended up with one of our kiddos declaring she needed to use the bathroom *NOW* once we were 34 stories underground. #notalladventuresgosmoothly.
Both the kids and adults in our group loved the caverns tour. We saw stalagmites and stalactites, a huge column, soda straws (they are like baby formations), a mirror pool and a cave salamander. Our guide, Selena, was a wealth of knowledge and jokes and knew more about those caverns than my son does about dinosaurs, and that is saying something! We learned so much while touring the majestic caves about how they were formed, the different types of formations and the history of the caverns. We learned that there are no bats in the caverns during the summer, but you can see them hanging on the walls from December to March. You should go just to learn about the hilarious antics of the protected Allegheny woodrats found in the caverns, if for no other reason. It really is a can’t-miss if you’re in the area!
Dinosaur Kingdom II
When you’re driving and come across a highway attraction featuring 50 foot dinosaur you have only one choice, and that is to stop. Which is exactly what we did when we spotted Dinosaur Kingdom II.
In all my years of adventuring, I’ve never seen anything quite like this. The park is a reenactment of the comic book ‘The Legend of Professor Cline’s Haunted Monster Muesum‘ by lifesize dinosaur/monster creator Mark Cline. Your walk through the woods tells the “true” tale of how the Yankees resurrected dinosaurs during the Civil War and used them as weapons against the Union. Pages of the comic are mounted throughout the trail so those of us who aren’t familiar can keep up. While they did hurry through the creepy first part of the park (a seemingly haunted town in the wild, wild west) our kids LOVED seeing the life-size dinosaurs! Seeing these one of a kind pieces of art up close was exciting for the adults, too! We would definitely recommend checking out this once in a lifetime experience if you’re in the area! Prices are $10 for ages 13+, $6 for ages 3-12. Tickets can be purchased on-site at the ticket booth. A small gift shop and clean porta-potty are also on-property.
Let’s be real. Road trips with a bunch of kids are a lot of work for us parents. We have found that embracing the mayhem is the most fun! We had countless bathroom stops and some epic carseat battles, but sharing this wild world with our little ones is worth that cost. We had snack negotiations, played eye spy, tried to get truckers to honk at us, played I am thinking of a movie character and some very interesting conversations along the way. We love the opportunity for growth (for kids and parents alike) as we adventure together!
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