When it comes to gorgeous views, we’re not sure which one closes the deal. Sunlight flickering across Natural Bridge. The Maury River tumbling beside the Chessie Trail. Or maybe it’s the misty Blue Ridge Mountains, keeping watch over family farms and college campuses. In every direction, Rockbridge County is ridiculously pretty. And with country roads and the Blue Ridge Parkway crisscrossing the landscape, it’s also easy to explore.
For those who want a "Wow!" when they explore the outdoors, your first stop should be Natural Bridge. Rising 215 feet and spanning a stream-carved valley, this limestone wonder was one of America's first all-star attractions. Even the eloquent Thomas Jefferson, who purchased the bridge in 1774, couldn't express its beauty in mere words. As he wrote in his book Notes on the State of Virginia:
"It is impossible for the emotions arising from the sublime, to be felt beyond what they are here; so beautiful an arch, so elevated, so light and swinging as it were up to heaven, the rapture of the spectator is really indescribable!"
For quieter contemplations, stroll the woodsy Cedar Creek Trail , which unfurls beneath the arch and ends at a waterfall. Great blue herons loiter in the adjacent creek, red-bellied woodpeckers hammer the hardwoods, and yellow-billed cuckoos trill their distinctive calls. This riparian walk is part of the Peaks of Otter Loop on the Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail. In warmer months, Virginia bluebells, trillium, and wild columbine add splashes of color and contrast.
Visit the Natural Bridge website for the latest winter events.
Blue Ridge Parkway
What sights await on a winter drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Foraging wildlife, crowd-free trails, and sunsets that replenish the spirit. What you won't find? Stoplights. There's not a single traffic light on this 469-mile byway, which links Virginia's Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
Along the Parkway, lofty overlooks share gob-smacking views of the Shenandoah Valley. Parkway officials like to snap their marketing shots at Chimney Rock Overlook, just north of Route 60 at Buena Vista. Check out those expansive southern views!
The parkway closes when snow or ice covers the road, so check the Blue Ridge Parkway website before setting out to confirm that the road is open (www.nps.gov/maps/blri/road-closures).
Boxerwood Gardens, City Trails & Birdwatching
You’ll find a few plants blooming in winter at Boxerwood Nature Center & Woodland Garden a short drive from downtown Lexington. Its 15 acres of wetlands, gardens, and meadowland are crisscrossed by easy trails. The gardens are also home to more than 2,500 specimen of trees. As you wander, look for dogwoods, magnolias, rhododendrons, and azaleas. The Rockbridge Bird Club leads bird walks here the first Saturday of the month at 7:30am.
For outdoor inspiration within walking distance of downtown Lexington, slip down to the Woods Creek Trail, which runs the length of W&L and VMI, or to the Chessie Trail. If you’re staying in Buena Vista, walk to the Buena Vista River Trail, which tracks the Maury River.
Birdwatchers and animal lovers can check out several wildlife hotspots on the Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail. The trail’s Rockbridge River & Ridge Loop includes the Chessie Trail, Boxerwood Gardens, and the paths climbing Brushy Hills, which is a short drive from downtown Lexington.
Golf & Scenic Diversions
For golfers, the Blue Ridge Mountains are the backdrop at the stunning Vista Links course in Buena Vista.
Final suggestions for low-key scenic activities? Fly fishing in local creeks, driving Route 39 through Goshen Pass, and looking for treasure on the Gems of Rockbridge Geocaching Trail.