Are you looking for an unusual road trip that will leave you feeling like you have accomplished something? If so, I have an idea for you.
On this road trip, you can visit one of the smallest incorporated towns in Alabama while also seeing one of the largest stone bridge formations in the country, known as Natural Bridge of Alabama.
This natural wonder is located in the tiny town of Natural Bridge, population 36, making it the state’s fourth smallest incorporated town.
Natural Bridge: Big Rock, Little Town
The park is a little-known Alabama treasure but it should be on your bucket list. The park entrance on U.S. Highway 278 is well marked. As you pull through the gates beneath the canopy of trees, it’s as if you’ve stepped back in time.
The parking area is gravel and the office/gift shop is a throw-back to early American roadside attractions, mostly because it has changed little since it was built in 1954.
Picnic and sitting areas are located near the office, surrounded by picturesque woodlands and streams.
Venturing into the shop, you will find fossils, animal, and plant specimens from the area, in addition to the common trappings found in southern tourist gift shops. Expect lots of southern sayings, southern pride, objects made from wood or rock, as well as a selection of fridge magnets I found sadly lacking.
A small fee is required to enter the park and get to the main attraction.
The short walking trail to the bridge reveals some stunning wonders. There are more than 27 varieties of ferns, and some hemlock that date back to the Ice Age, giving it a very primordial feel. Just before the bridge is a giant rock face called Indian Head Stone because of its similarity to the profile on the Indian Head Nickel. Researchers say the rock may have been formed naturally or carved by Native Americans who lived in the area for hundreds of years. Some experts speculate it is the carving of a particular chief.
The bridge formation itself is a double-span bridge formed of natural rock, with the longest section being 148 feet long and 60 feet high. You can walk under the bridge but be careful because the path beneath is often wet. In earlier years, the public was allowed to walk over the top of the bridge, but it is now closed for safety reasons.
If you look closely on the walls and rocks under the bridge, you will find some historic graffiti. Just be sure not to leave any of your own.
From the bridge you can easily head back to the parking lot or the more adventurous types can keep hiking. The trail offers a fun jaunt through some of the most beautiful and stunningly green scenery Alabama has to offer. The foliage and make-up of the land is quite similar to nearby (and more well known) Dismals Canyon. There are also some gorgeous streams that you will pass and cross while hiking. Be sure to stop and make a wish at the Wishing Well, and when you are finished, take a sip from one of the artesian well fountains.
A visit to Natural Bridge is a wonderful way to spend a day, but I have to say the bridge formation – although quite remarkable –wasn’t my favorite part of the park. My favorite part was the natural beauty along the trails. I really felt that I had stepped back in time or into a different world.