It was quite an interesting drive last weekend. It rained for a good bit of the 4-hour drive to Virginia (and for most of the evening after we arrived). There were lots of narrow, windy roads and plenty of signs restricting tractor trailers more than 65 feet. But we made it. And the rest of the weekend was filled with fun adventures, so it was worth the effort! We found a campsite and a hike that are perfect for dogs who love water.

Where We Stayed

Jellystone Park at Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge Station, VA
June 22 – 25, 2023
Site L108

We had a gravel site. It wasn’t terribly scenic on the fun side of the RV, but we were the last site in the row that faces the river, so the view out the windows on the business side was very nice. It’s maybe 50 feet from our site to the river. We had good evening shade. The sewer connection was poorly designed (much too high), but the one at the site on our right was even worse! If you have a dog who loves water, this is a great campsite (and campground)!

At the site across from ours, the fun side of the RV gets a good view, but you would lose a lot of privacy because the river is right there, and people seem to swim and hang out there.

The campground was nice overall. The pool was really cold, so we only went one afternoon (and didn’t stay long), but there’s a small mini golf course and a pond for swimming. And of course, there’s the river, which was the dogs’ favorite amenity! You can usually rent kayaks there, but they weren’t offering that at the time we visited because the water was high and fast from recent rain.

My one complaint about the campground is the dog park. It’s on quite a slope, and there really isn’t a flat section. Also, one side of the fence backs up to the pool. The other backs up to some stairs. Because of the slope, there’s a spot with a decent gap between the fence and the ground. Max definitely couldn’t fit through it. Corona (40 lbs) might have had trouble fitting, especially while wearing her harness, but if she really wanted to get out, I think she could have managed it. So, if you have small dogs or escape artists, you’ll want to keep an extra close eye on them if you use the dog park.

What We Did

Underground Exploration

Friday morning we woke up to no rain! We took the 10:00 tour at the Caverns at Natural Bridge. It was a pretty interesting tour. The tour took about 45 minutes, and they have a cute gift shop. There are stairs, but the guide gave everyone the option to skip that section if they wanted. Make sure you bring a jacket, as it’s 54 degrees in the caves.

An Animal Adventure

We also went to the Virginia Safari Park. They have a drive-through safari and a small walking section. The driving part was interesting. You’re able to purchase a small bucket of food to feed the animals as you go. And the animals know it. This meant that many of them were very willing to walk right up to the vehicles. It was a little tough to get in the gate because some of the animals crowd around waiting for the cars as they enter.

I was pretty turned off by the crowding at the gate and was prepared to disapprove of the entire experience, but if you’re patient and inch along slowly, the animals step aside and you’ll get through. Once you make it through the initial mob of llamas and fallow deer, it gets better. Let me explain…

I’m very much an animal person, and not just in the yes-I-love-pandas way. I’ve worked at an AZA-certified facility; I have a degree in zoology. So, I was already familiar with most of the species they had…but, because the animals are so completely unphased by cars (and are expecting food), you can get a closer look than you probably have before.

For example, I have never gotten such a good look at an ostrich’s foot. They’re incredible! Ostriches are the only bird with two toes, which I was able to see in person when we saw a rhea (and her three-toed foot) up close later on. I was able to touch an elk’s antlers and feel the soft velvet that covers their antlers in the spring and summer.

[Note: We did not purchase food, but plenty of the animals didn’t know or didn’t care, so we still got to see quite a bit.]

As for the walking portion, that was less exciting, but there were still a few noteworthy things to share. Several of their enclosure house more than one species of animal together. The ring-tailed lemurs lived with a type of tortoise, and the tamarins were housed with iguanas. I’m starting to see more and more mixed-species habitats, but I was pleasantly surprised to see them here.

They claim to be the only place in the U.S. where you can see a king cheetah (same species, but they have a genetic mutation that causes some differences in their coat pattern).

Natural Bridge State Park

Saturday morning we went to Natural Bridge State Park and took the Cedar Creek Trail. The trail was about two miles (out and back), with Lace Falls at the end of the trail and Natural Bridge about a quarter-mile in. There are quite a few stairs, but if you can do them, it’s absolutely worth it! The photos do not do it justice! For the first bit, there’s a rock wall along the creek, but about halfway through, the wall went away and there was easy water access for the dogs.

My favorite part of the hike was all the snakes we saw! (I told you I was an animal person!) There were three on a few rocks close to the edge of the creek. Later there was one swimming in the middle of the creek. Those all appeared to be various species of water snake. Because we had seen so many earlier in the hike, as we were leaving, I went looking for snakes around the small building where you pay your admission fee. A park employee came out and said to be careful because they had spotted several right by the building. She pointed out a copperhead and two or three others that looked like more water snakes.

The dogs thoroughly enjoyed this hike and celebrated with a long afternoon nap.


Tips for this hike:
*Be aware there is an admission fee per person.
*If you don’t like crowds, be sure to go early.
*We didn’t see any trash cans along the walk, and now I don’t even remember if there were any outside the visitor’s center/in the parking lot. So try to have your dog poop at home.
*Keep your eyes open for wildlife!

Happy travels!

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