Virginia has long been renowned for her natural beauty. Long before the first Europeans set foot in what would be called “The New World,” Native Americans knew of many natural wonders and built their cultures, customs and legends around these places. As explorers, settlers and colonists came to Virginia’s shores, they, too, stood in awe of sights and sounds that the new land offered.
Over time, there are a few places that have stood out above the rest, drawing tourists, curiosity seekers and adventurers from all over the world. And for those of us lucky enough to call Virginia home? These are the places that continue to fill us with pride and wonder – no matter how many times we’ve seen them.
1. Natural Bridge, Rockbridge County
Natural Bridge, considered one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, is a 215-foot arch with a 90-foot span. Although it most likely formed when a cavern collapsed, local Monacan Indian folklore claims it appeared as an escape route during a battle. The bridge was first seen by Europeans in the 1740s and surveyed by a young George Washington in 1750. Today, it serves as one of Virginia's most popular destinations.
2. Luray Caverns, Luray
As it turns out, not all of Virginia's beauty is above ground. Discovered by local men in 1878, Luray Caverns is the largest cavern series in the East. Filled with grand halls of stalactites and stalagmites, reflecting pools and eerily lifelike formations, the caverns are a favorite stop for visitors traveling through the Shenandoah Valley.
3. Natural Tunnel, Duffield
Natural Tunnel, once called the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, is a nearly 300-yard tunnel running through the Appalachian Mountains. The opening is so large that it has served as a railway tunnel since 1893. While Native Americans knew of the tunnel long before Europeans, Daniel Boone is thought to be the first European to see it in the 18th century. Tours and events are held at the surrounding park year-round – including an annual Christmas lights celebration inside the tunnel.
4. Crabtree Falls, Montebello
Crabtree Falls is a series of cascading waterfalls totaling nearly 1,2000 feet (with the highest dropping 400 feet), making them the highest vertical drop waterfalls east of the Mississippi – and one of the most popular in Virginia. Called one of Virginia’s “Must-Do Waterfall Hikes,” the trail to Crabtree Falls Trail Loop is located 6 miles off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 27 in Nelson County.
5. Break Interstate Park, Breaks
Hailed as the “Grand Canyon of the South”, Breaks Canyon is the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi and is, without a doubt, the highlight of Breaks Interstate Park in southwest Virginia. Located within the Jefferson National Forest, the canyon ranges from 830-1,600-feet in depth and stretches 5-miles in length.
6. Great Falls at Great Falls National Park, McLean
Encompassing 800 acres along the banks of the Potomac, Great Falls Park is a National Park and a national treasure. The park is home to Mather Gorge, a river gorge located at the lowest part of the Potomac River directly on the border of Virginia and Maryland. While the river itself falls on the Maryland side, Mather Gorge offers beautiful hiking trails on the Virginia side, as well as some of the best steep-face rock climbing in Virginia.
7. Burke's Garden, Tazewell County
This lush valley in Southwest Virginia is encircled completely by Clinch Mountain and sits like a bowl or basin in the middle. As the highest valley in Virginia, it is also the largest rural historic district in the state, with the entire valley named to the National Register of Historic Places. Nicknamed "God's Thumbprint," Burke's Garden offers some of the most fertile farmland in the Southeast.
8. The Channels, Hayter's Gap (near Abingdon)
The Channels (also known as the Great Channels of Virginia) are located in the Channels Natural Area Preserve at the summit of Middle Knob on Clinch Mountain. These stunning sandstone structures create craggy mazes from deep crevices worn into the stone walls of the mountain. The Channels can be reached from Brumley Mountain Trail, a relatively moderate trail that ascends about 3 miles (one-way) to the summit. After exploring the maze-like rocks, enjoy breathtaking of the surrounding mountains from an elevation of more than 4,200 feet.
9. Great Dismal Swamp, Suffolk
This beautiful refuge features Lake Drummond (one of Virginia's two natural lakes) and offers over 200 species of birds and wildlife including deer, black bear, bobcats, river otters and more. Encompassing 112,000 acres, the swamp is now the largest remaining intact piece of land left from a habitat that once covered more a million acres. Today, the carefully preserved forests and mist-covered marshlands create a world unto themselves, offering you a look at life as it might have been hundreds of years ago.
10. Natural Chimneys, Mount Solon
Located at Natural Chimneys Park in Augusta County, these "chimney" shaped rocks formed from limestone. Historians believe the stone structures began forming as many as 500 million years ago in the Paleozoic Era at a time when the entire region would have still been under water. Today, the chimneys rise up to 120 feet.
11.Chincoteague and Assateague Islands, Eastern Shore of Virginia
Chincoteague and Assateague are narrow barrier islands that lay off the coast of Virginia. The islands have long been known for their wild ponies, believed to be descendants of horses that survived a Spanish shipwreck and swam ashore nearly 400 years ago. The islands are home to countless species of wildlife, as well as pristine beaches and some of the most well-preserved wetlands in the state. Today, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge welcomes roughly 1.5 million visitors each year, making it one of the most visited wildlife refuges in the country.
12. McAfee's Knob, near Salem
It's no wonder McAfee's Knob is the one of the most photographed spots along the Appalachian Trail. With panoramic views of Catawba Valley and North Mountain to the west, Tinker Cliffs to the north and the Roanoke Valley to the east, this peak makes you feel like you are sitting on top of the world.
I am well aware that a list of 12 places doesn’t begin to cover the state’s beauty. So I would like to hear your thoughts on what sites are the most remarkable here in Virginia. Do you have a favorite “Natural Wonder of Virginia”? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!