America's Most Beautiful Covered Bridges
A covered bridge played a supporting role in one of Hollywood’s most intense and fleeting love stories: The Bridges of Madison County, which still inspires visitors to seek out Iowa’s Roseman Covered Bridge: it ranks higher on TripAdvisor than John Wayne’s nearby birthplace.
Embodying a simpler time in American life, wooden covered bridges like Roseman began springing up across the country in the early 1800s. You’ll find them in state and national parks, amid the rolling hills of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and in popular leaf-peeping corners of New England.
The structures are often referred to as “kissing bridges,” since the enclosed domes provide lovers with just the right amount of privacy. Yet it was practicality that inspired their construction. Covered bridges made it possible to cross rivers, lakes, and valleys with horse-drawn carriages (often agitated by rushing water) and, before the advent of air-conditioning, they provided local residents a cool break from summer heat.
Only about 10 percent of covered bridges have stood the test of time, among them, Wawona Covered Bridge in Yosemite National Park and Maine’s Artist’s Bridge—one of the state’s most photographed and painted sites. It’s worth taking the scenic route to find them.
West Cornwall Covered Bridge, Cornwall, CT
Leaf peepers flock to Housatonic Meadows State Park—Connecticut’s only stretch of the Appalachian Trail—for riverside camping and hiking amid 10,000 acres of foliage. As you drive past the park, keep an eye out for West Cornwall Covered Bridge, a red wooden landmark designed by Connecticut native Ithiel Town.
Humpback Covered Bridge, Covington, VA
The center of Humpback Covered Bridge makes an unusual arc shape, reaching four feet higher at its middle than at either end. Built in 1857, Virginia’s oldest still-standing covered bridge has become a popular photo-op for tourists and wedding parties alike. Other historic attractions in the Shenandoah Valley include two Civil War battlefields.
Roseman Covered Bridge, Winterset, IA
Meryl Streep fans will recognize Roseman Covered Bridge from The Bridges of Madison County. Photographer Robert Kincaid, played by Clint Eastwood, seeks out this 107-foot crossing (one of six countywide) while in town for an assignment. And Francesca Johnson (Streep) invites him to dinner by tacking a note on the bridge—igniting one of Hollywood’s most memorable love affairs.
Artist’s Bridge, Newry, ME
Maine’s covered bridges first appeared in the mid-1800s to pave the way for horse-drawn caravans. Before fire, flood, and ice took their toll, the state counted 120 of these historic structures: only nine still stand. While Artist’s Bridge—constructed in 1872 above the Sunday River near the town of North Bethel—is no longer open to traffic, it remains one of Maine’s most photographed and painted sites.
Flume Covered Bridge, Franconia Notch, NH
With walls of granite rising up to 90 feet high, the Flume is a natural gorge and waterfall formed nearly 200 million years ago. During the Ice Age, it was masked by glaciers that later melted into a bubbling brook. Large rock formations mark the Pemigewasset River, which is ornamented by the distinctive Flume Covered Bridge (est. 1886) and its adjacent footbridge for hikers.
Wawona Covered Bridge, Yosemite National Park, CA
Spanning the South Fork of the Merced River, Wawona Covered Bridge features Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir but initially lacked one key element: a roof. In the 1880s, the Wawona Hotel’s owners—a trio from Vermont supposedly homesick for a bit of New England—covered the bridge. At the time, it provided a direct route to Yosemite Valley for local horse and pedestrian traffic; today, visitors can walk the stretch once traversed by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
A. M. Foster Covered Bridge, Cabot, VT
Vermont’s cheese trail offers roughly 280 miles of sharp cheddar, creamy Gorgonzola, and herby chèvre. Hit the road, and you’ll likely end up near the Cabot Creamery and A. M. Foster Covered Bridge, which spans a ravine in the middle of farmland. It’s a comparative newcomer to these parts, designed in 1988 by resident Richard Spaulding to replicate the 19th-century Orton Bridge.
Horton Bridge, Amnicon Falls State Park, WI
A trek through Amnicon Falls State Park delivers a close-up perspective on geologic arrangements formed by earthquakes half a billion years ago. Prehistoric rocks mix with volcanic material along the scenic River Trail, winding past mini pools, cascades, and waterfalls. For the best view, take to the Horton Bridge over the Lower Falls. And keep a lookout for deer and coyote.
Campbell’s Covered Bridge, Landrum, SC
South Carolina’s only remaining covered bridge is short and sweet—a cheery red pinewood structure measuring 38 feet across Beaverdam Creek. Bordered by the Greenville County Recreation District, the bridge makes a romantic backdrop for picnics, especially come autumn. It’s named for the former owner of a nearby corn gristmill.
Weaver’s Mill Bridge, East Earl, PA
German-influenced Lancaster County is known for its family farms, markets, and frozen-in-time tableaux. Case in point: red-and-white Weaver’s Mill Bridge is regularly used as a buggy crossing by the local Amish community.
Stark Bridge, Stark, NH
The Ammonoosuc River has gotten the better of Stark Bridge a few times, beginning with an 1890s flood that uprooted the wooden structure and washed it downriver. A team of unwavering townspeople and oxen set the bridge back into its place, and a few failures and a restoration later, Stark Bridge is standing tall.
Newfield Covered Bridge, Newfield, NY
Of the 29 covered bridges that accent New York State, Newfield Covered Bridge (est. 1853) is the state’s oldest that remains open daily to car traffic. It spreads 115 feet across Cayuga Lake, part of the Finger Lakes wine region and not far from the college town of Ithaca.
Harpersfield Bridge, Harpersfield, OH
Ohio’s Ashtabula County looks like an oil painting come to life thanks in part to its 18 picturesque covered bridges. They show off five architectural styles, including the Howe truss technique embodied in the Harpersfield Bridge. William Howe’s innovative 1840 design was the first to incorporate iron rods into a bridge’s framework. Harpersfield Bridge, which remains open to cars, survived a 1913 flood and gained a walkway as part of a 1990s renovation.
Sachs Bridge, Gettysburg, PA
Assembled in 1854 for roughly $1,500, Sachs Bridge quickly proved itself useful. During the Civil War, Union Army soldiers used it to access the field hospital set up at Black Horse Tavern. General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army also retreated across this bridge after a Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg. The 100-foot span across Marsh Creek is now officially pedestrian only.
Meem’s Bottom Bridge, Mount Jackson, VA
Built with materials cut and quarried from the scenic Shenandoah Valley, Meem’s Bottom Bridge opened in 1893. It conveyed cars 204 feet across the North Fork River for more than 80 years—until vandals set it on fire on Halloween 1976. The original timbers were salvaged, and the rebuilt bridge was fortified by steel beams and concrete piers. Meem’s is an easy detour off Interstate 81.
Arthur A. Smith Covered Bridge, Colrain, MA
Dating back to 1870, the last surviving Burr arch truss in Massachusetts initially crossed the North River between Shattuckville and Griswoldville. It’s a survivor indeed: this bridge has been relocated and reconstructed, and was nearly left to rot. A recent overhaul included a fresh coat of red paint and a new name that honors a local Civil War captain.