Natural Chimneys is a park and natural rock structure located near Mount Solon in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. We found this unique campground during our research into designing an interesting route that would meander us northward. Our research revealed that the rock “chimneys” formed from limestone that began to accumulate and harden into stone about 500 million years ago in the Paleozoic Era, when the region was underwater. Over time, enormous upward pressures of magma and widespread geologic upheaval, which created the Appalachian Mountains combined with erosive forces of water and destroyed weaker layers of stone. Eventually, this created the rock chimneys that tower as much as 120 feet above ground level. It sounded intriguing, so we booked three nights to give us time to explore the park and the general area too.Augusta County owns the property and maintains the facility with the able assistance of Camp Host, Anita who welcomed us and was a delight to meet.
Leaving the Interstate, we drove past peaceful Mennonite farms on a winding road. Okay, let me be honest: Arnie drove, I crocheted. If I keep my eyes down on winding backroads like this, the scream stays stuck in my throat and does not escape out my mouth along with not very well thought out expletives. Try as I might, I am not a good rider and this kind of road just pushes all my buttons. I imagine the sound of the screeching tires and the slow motion roll of the truck and camper as it careens into the ditch. See, I can even obsess just writing about it. I’ll stop now, slow my breathing down and go back to descriptions of peaceful farms, etc.
There are picturesque Mennonite farms, both large and small along the way to Natural Chimneys. During our stay, we had to watch out for speeding buggies and we did enjoy visiting the market. There were lots of old fashioned crafts, food and free wi-fi! Who could ask for more?
The park is located along the North River. Did I mention that we had days of rain while we at this site and the river rose to its banks. There were flash flood warnings issued and I kept waking up at night imagining that the camper would wash away or sink the wheel rims in mud. Oh, here I go again. Deep breath.
Natural Chimneys is home to a very unusual sport. If you were to visit this park on most days you would hear the happy sounds of campers setting up their sites with the sounds of birds chirping in the background. However, if you were to visit on the 3rd Saturday in August, you would be transported to mediaeval times and the sounds of thundering hoof beats of horses charging by as modern-day Knights and Maids compete at the Joust would overwhelm any sounds of the 21st century.
The course was quiet while we visited, but Natural Chimneys has been home to the oldest jousting tournament in North America since 1821. This tradition has made Mt. Solon home to the National Jousting Association and the National Jousting Hall of Fame is housed within Natural Chimneys Regional Park. The giant rock formations of seven “natural chimneys” ranging from 65 to 150 feet give an illusion of a giant castle, which provides the perfect backdrop for the tournament. We are sorry that we missed all of the excitement!
This is a lovely park and it’s Natural Chimney formations draw crowds from all around with or without a joust. These unique structures began as a series of tunnels and underground caves eroded by over 5 million years of wind and water. Visitors can explore the caves at the base of the chimneys or just enjoy a picnic in its shadows.
For those who are a bit more adventurous, there is a ¼ mile hiking trail overlooking the chimneys. The view from above is spectacular but the trail is fairly steep and strenuous. Tree roots and rocks also make the path a bit challenging but the view is well worth the effort. In addition to activities surrounding the chimneys themselves, the park offers other activities such as camping and swimming. Everyone from Lords and Ladies to Knights and Knaves will find something to enjoy in National Chimneys Regional Park.
The town of Mount Solon itself has some interesting architecture. It is a tiny town that clearly is struggling to keep its identity, like many rural American towns.
This little white church, the Post Office and the Library make up most of the tiny downtown. A very small grocery store supplies necessities too.
Arnie visited an interesting museum while I did laundry. (Given that the museum was about Baseball, I felt like I got the better deal.) He chatted with the two gentlemen who keep up the museum and learned that the memorabilia they have collected represents the second oldest organized baseball league in the country, established in 1924. In their collection, they had items from all of the various players who came out the Rockingham County baseball league. This league produced a number of major league players along with other pro-sport athletes including Alan Knicely who played for the Detroit Tigers. Darrell Irvine who played for the Red Sox and Jamie Harris who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The County runs a 28 game season plus play-offs. It was a fun find in a little rural town that was collected with love for the game.
Hana and Wicca really enjoyed this park because there was no need for leashes. Most everywhere we journey there is a 6 foot leash rule. At Natural Chimneys, there were so few other campers and we were so spaced out that the Camp Host encouraged us to let them enjoy their stay off leash. They loved it! They had a good frolic and even enjoyed the children’s playground. Wicca loves to ride on anything that moves, so she explored the playground like a goat and loved to be pushed gently on the swingset.
Even though most of our time spent at Natural Chimneys was wet and chilly for our fair Florida constitutions, we left well rested and glad we could see such a beautiful area of the country