Just below Balanced Rock hikers will see this the entrance to this interesting feature known simply as "The Cave." When Karen and I were here we encountered a troup of boy scouts emerging, flashlights in hand. They had followed The Cave all the way through from the other end where it intersects with the Original Trail.
I ventured into The Cave for at least 50 yards, going slowly to allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The ceiling became so low I would have had to crawl to go any further, and I still could not see any light coming from the other end. Needless to say, we turned back. During the railroad days, electric lights were strung through this cave to aid visitors in the dark interior.
This extraordinary rock formation sits along the side of the .75-mile Balanced Rock Trail. This is the steepest trail in the Park, beginning behind the Hemlock Lodge and leading up to Natural Bridge.
From the trailhead hikers are immediately faced with a steep series of limestone steps, past a cave, and on up a series of switchbacks to the Balanced Rock, a large limestone block on the left side of the trail. From there the pathway gets even steeper, until hikers reach the top of the cliff at Rocky Point. Then the trail follows the ridgetop, descending slightly before reaching Natural Bridge.
Because of the steep grade most hikers prefer to reach Balanced Rock on the downhill part of a loop trail.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park offers numerous ammenities which should be of special interest to families with children. These include self-propelled personal watercraft on Hoedown Island Lake (pictured). Tucked between the lake and the massive cliff beneath Hemlock Lodge, is a swimming pool designed with a meandering river theme. There is also a miniature golf course and a snack bar.
A Nature Center offers exhibits about the Park. Interpretative programs on native plants, animals and local history are conducted year round under a full time naturalist and summer activities are directed by seasonal recreation staff. There are also several scenic picnic areas and two picnic shelters with restrooms, grills and playgrounds.
This shelter along the Original Trail was built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC program was started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to employ young men from the ages of 18-25-years-old. The work included soil erosion projects, planting trees, building bridges, fighting forest fires, and improving State and National Parks.
Civilian Conservation enrolees were paid $30 per month of which $25 was sent home to their family. Room, board, clothing and tools were provided by the government. The enlistment period was 6 months, with an option to renew up to 2 years. Hundreds of thousands of young men got their start in the CCC before it was dismantled in 1942, during the Second World War.
Seems to me such a program today would be far better than some of our current welfare programs which pay people for doing nothing.
From the top of the Sky Lift, it is 1,200-feet by way of the Laurel Ridge Trail to Lookout Point which affords one of the best views of Natural Bridge. When you stand on the Point with Natural Bridge on our right, the exposed rock outcropping across the valley and directly in front of you is Rocky Point. The Balanced Rock Trail skirts around this point and follows the ridge behind it. As you look left into the valley of Middle Fork, part of the small lake in front of the lodge is visible, although a view of the lodge is usually blocked by trees.
Be careful here, and especially watch your young children. There are no guardrails.
To get an idea of the scale click to enlarge the picture and you will see people standing atop Lookout Point.
It's been 100 years since the hillsides around Natural Bridge were logged, and the forest has had time to regain much of it's original magnificence.
The forest at Natural Bridge is not just a stand of trees, but a community of plants and animals dominated by trees. The Mixed Mesophytic Forest is one of the richest and most complete ecosystems in the world. Typical species of trees include yellow poplar, basswood, red maple, sugar maple, white oak, chestnut oak, white ash, black walnut, cucumber tree, red oak and yellow buckeye. These hardwoods make the forest especially appealing when they turn into a kaleidoscope of colors in autumn.
The large number of evergreens here also add a special quality to the forest. Hemlock, white pine and rhododendron are abundant in the coves. Pitch pine, short leaf pine, Virginia pine, and mountain laurel grow higher on the ridges.
Another significant feature of Natural Bridge State Park is the diversity of ferns, herbs, wildflowers and shrubs that grow in the understory.
The 1.75 mile Rock Garden Trail starts along the Battleship Rock Trail just above Hemlock Lodge. It follows the ridge out above the lodge and takes the long way around. ending beneath the Natural Bridge. This is an enjoyable walk, just long enough to keep the crowds away, and is said to be one of the best routes in the Park for bird watchers and plant lovers.
Fondest memory: We loved the fantastic cliffs along this trail and also the profusion of rhododenron, mountain laurel, and ferns. The views from the cliffs where the trail passes under the Sky Lift were also rewarding.