Virginia’s bustling city centers are world historic and world renowned, but it’s our natural wonders that make the state stand out. Visitors from all over the globe come to Virginia to see many of the hidden gems listed below. On your next road trip, make sure to stop by and check them out for yourself.
The Luray Caverns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley are a natural wonder. They are the largest caverns in America and a world-renowned natural landmark. First discovered in 1878, the underground cavern system is famous for the Great Stalacpipe Organ. Everywhere one looks, stalactites and stalagmites call back to a prehistoric time. Stepping into the caves is like stepping into Mother Earth herself.
Natural Bridge is a bridge formed over the course of millions of years as Cedar Creek gushed through the surrounding limestone. The bridge is 215 feet-high and 90 feet-wide. The bridge has been the subject of several famous paintings, and was once a sacred site of the Native American Monacan tribe. Thomas Jefferson once owned the bridge, and it was alluded to in “Moby-Dick.” Today, it is designated as a Virginia Historic Landmark and a National Historic Landmark, but is still open to the public.
The Natural Tunnel is, you guessed it, a naturally formed cave that is used as a railroad tunnel in the Appalachian Mountains. The tunnel is over 200 feet-wide and 80 feet-high. The tunnel formed over the course of many millennia and has been the site of several fossil findings. Legend has it that two lovers from warring Native American tribes jumped to their deaths at the highest peak of the Tunnel when told they couldn’t marry at the site now known as Lover’s Leap. The 41st Secretary of State named the Natural Tunnel the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Warning: Only for the most experienced and daring of hikers. The Devil’s Bathtub is what awaits those who brave the 7.2-mile round trip through the Fork Loop Trail. The Trail has no facilities and is described as “perfect for the true backcountry enthusiasts who are willing to get their feet wet.” Streams and boulders stand in your way, but if you can make it to the end, you might have a chance to take a dip in the Devil’s Bathtub, “a naturally smooth swimming hole.”
Tangier Island on Chesapeake Bay hosts a town of roughly 700 called Tangier. Famous among linguists for the unique English dialect, the natives live surrounded by land almost entirely on the National Register of Historic Places. Tangier Island is actually comprised of many smaller islands connected by wooden bridges. The island is isolated due to its distance from the mainland, and has very few shops or restaurants. If you’re interested in visiting a time-gone-by without all the trappings of modern life, you might consider a weekend on Tangier Island.
The Light of Truth Universal Shrine, otherwise known as LOTUS, is an interfaith shrine built to celebrate the “unity behind the diversity of world religions.” Their mission is “to practice, live, and impart the Integral Yoga teachings of Sri Swami Satchidananda, to experience Supreme Peace and Joy, and to share that Peace and Joy with one and all.” LOTUS offers regular programming, residential programs, and retreats.
The Westmoreland State Park is one of the oldest and most underrated state parks in Virginia. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 as a national historic district, the Westmoreland State Park is one of six original state parks founded in the early 1900s still in existence today. Attractions include camping, cabins, and seven different hiking trails, including the “Beach Trail,” which leads to the shore of the Potomac River where fossils of whales, sharks, and porpoises remain.
“God’s Thumbprint.” “Vanderbilt’s First Choice.” “Garden Spot of the World.” All are nicknames for Burke’s Garden in Tazewell, Virginia, which is Virginia’s highest valley and largest rural district. The bowl-shaped valley is carved out of the top of a mountain, offering “breathtaking scenery…verdant farmland, abundant wildlife, rare bird watching, peaceful biking, and adventurous hiking on the Appalachian Trail.”
The Great Dismal Swamp stretches over one million acres across Hampton Roads and North Carolina. It is a wildlife refuge, established to protect the swamp from logging and to preserve the unique natural ecosystems present in the swamp. The swamp has been a fixture in the Virginia area since at least the 1600s, when Native American tribes called it home, and as a key location in The Underground Railroad. Today, it is a tourist site, in which fishing and animal watching are the main attractions.
Known as the “Grand Canyon of the South,” Break’s Interstate Park is a five-mile gorge, 1,650 feet deep. Formed over 180 million years ago, Native American tribes have called it home, as have cartographers and treasure hunters. Today, the park is open to the public for biking, hiking, animal watching, and camping.
The Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia is a smaller park centered on the Great Falls. Access to the waterfalls is available by walking only. The park has three unique overlooks, two of which are handicap and stroller accessible. Besides viewing the falls, visitors can hike, climb, and enjoy the weather.
According to the Crabtree Falls website, the park is “Virginia’s best Kept Secret. Just west of nowhere, straight South of Heaven.” Crabtree Falls’ offers the various campsites. Tents, pop-up/ RV sites, and cabins are all available. Of course, the titular Crabtree Falls waterfall is the main attraction. The falls “is the tallest waterfall East of the Mississippi,” consisting of five major cascades, totaling a fall of 1,200 feet. Waterfall enthusiasts, make sure to stop by.
The Great Channels of Virginia are within the Channels State Forest. The Great Channels are formed from 400-million-year-old sandstone. Feast your eyes on the various types of forests as you make the climb to see the channels for yourself. You’ll need to brave elevations that range from 1,800 feet to 4,200 feet, so prepare yourself accordingly before seeking out The Channels.
The Natural Chimneys near Mount Solon in St. Augusta County are a 500-million-year-old natural rock formation forged from limestone. The chimneys are towers that jut up over 120 feet from the ground. Visitors occasionally stay overnight in the surrounding campground to take advantage of the recreational activities on site.
You may have seen McAfee’s Knob and not known it. The Knob is one of the most frequently photographed spots on the Appalachian Trail and is often featured on post cards and calendars. To reach the Knob to see it for yourself, you’ll need to climb about 4.4 miles up. But if you make it, you’ll have some of the most impressive views of the Shenandoah Valley available. Overnight hikers often camp nearby so they’re able to witness the sunset and sunrise.