As the summer vacation season gets underway, you don't have to go to an exotic location to make lasting memories with your friends and family. All this week WSLS 10 is highlighting some of the unique places you can visit right in your backyard -- including Natural Bridge.
The Ferrell family is on a mission to visit all 50 states before their kids graduate from high school. And on their road trip through Virginia, they decided to stop at Natural Bridge.
"It's really a lot bigger than I expected," said Brandy Ferrell. "It's wonderful."
And she's not just talking about unique rock formations.
"We did not realize how much we had to do here," said Ferrell. "The wax museum and all the other things that are here, there's a lot to do."
"We were expecting you stop beside the road and look at it," said Gary Ferrell.
Natural Bridge General Manager Don Henk says that's a common misconception people have when they come to the park for the first time. But they quickly learn this is no roadside attraction -- it's a destination.
"We're just looking to become more and more family friendly," said Henk. "Families are our number one market."
In addition to the bridge, visitors can enjoy a butterfly garden with butterflies from around the world, picturesque trails and waterfalls, a wax museum that tells the history of Natural Bridge, a replica Monocan Indian village, the deepest caverns on the East Coast, a full service hotel, and as of this week, a brand new kids area called Jefferson's Playground. It features dozens of arcade games, a gemstone panning river, and a playground modeled after the cabin Thomas Jefferson built when he owned Natural Bridge.
"Nature is not for everybody," said Henk. "Sometimes the parents really enjoy the nature part, but the kids, not so much. So we just wanted something extra."
Henk says the extra amenities help to enhance the magic and allure of Natural Bridge and gives guests an experience they can't get anywhere else.
"There are a lot places where you can go to a park -- but how many parks can you go to that were once owned by Thomas Jefferson?" said Henk. "Where can you go and see George Washington's initials carved in stone? The combination of the history of the property along with the feel of nature we have here, I think, does a lot for our guests."
The Ferrells say they agree.
"The kids will really remember some of the other things that are here," said Ferrell.
Natural Bridge is located just off I-81 (Exit 175) in Rockbridge County and is open daily from 9:00am - 6:00pm.
Tickets include access to the Natural Bridge, the butterfly garden, Cedar Creek nature trail, Monocan Indian Village, Wax Museum, and Jefferson's Playground (arcade games and panning river are extra). For an additional fee, you can also take a guided tour of the Natural Bridge Caverns.
Tickets are $20.99 for adults and $11.99 for kids 12 and under. For more information about Natural Bridge, visit www.naturalbridgeva.com.