This fall, ditch the interstate, silence the cell phone and take a relaxing road trip through small-town America to discover the charms of covered bridges.
For some, it’s a chance to marvel at 19th-century handcraftsmanship. For others, it’s the perfect opportunity to cruise an unfamiliar countryside. Maybe romantics want to see for themselves why they’re nicknamed “kissing bridges.” And to some people, hey, they’re just plain cool. One thing is certain, though: Once you spot your first covered bridge, you just have to chase down more. “Finding them is an adventure,” says Bill Caswell, president of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges. “It’s about getting off the highway and traveling roads through towns that you wouldn’t have otherwise explored, the anticipation of seeing the bridge for the first time … then starting the hunt again to find the next.” These iconic bits of Americana were created out of necessity – to shield a bridge’s wooden boards from rain and prevent decay – and at one time numbered as many as 14,000. Now, fewer than 800 historic covered bridges remain in the United States, and several regions have created specialized driving routes, dedicated maps and even annual festivals to share their treasured heritage. Here we present four can’t-miss destinations to get you inspired for your next road trip.
Woodstock Middle Bridge sits in a charming town in Vermont. Photo: Design Pics / Offset by Shutterstock
South Central, Vermont
Fall in Vermont is something out of a dream. Picture-perfect towns draped in technicolor foliage, cheddar cheese or maple syrup on everything – and some of the most beautiful covered bridges in the world. You could spend the whole season chasing the Green Mountain State’s 100-plus bridges. But for a shorter route that hits 15, start in Middlebury with the 1820 Pulp Mill Bridge, one of the oldest in the country and the only two-lane bridge you can still drive through. Head south through Pittsford’s four famous spans, then jump on the scenic Crossroad of Vermont Byway to charming Woodstock, where you can enjoy acclaimed fine dining with a view to the 1877 Lincoln Bridge at The Lincoln Inn & Restaurant at the Covered Bridge. A visit to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park brings miles of peaceful walking trails, a restored Victorian mansion and a chance to load up on that local cheddar at Billings Farm, a progressive dairy farm dating back to 1871. Cap your trip with a drive across the longest historic covered bridge in the country, the 1866 Cornish-Windsor Bridge, a 450-foot span linking Vermont to New Hampshire.
While most covered bridges in Lancaster County were painted red to match barns, Keller’s Mill Covered Bridge is the only remaining white bridge in the area. Photo: Ken Wiedemann / iStock
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
With 213 still standing, Pennsylvania claims the most covered bridges of any state. If the historic structures alone don’t transport you back to simpler times, a weekend cruising past horse-driven buggies in the rolling hills of Lancaster County ought to do it. The heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, the county is home to 29 bridges and endless old-timey activities to entertain between spans. Cross a covered bridge the old-fashioned way and learn about Amish traditions with Aaron & Jessica’s Buggy Rides, get a hands-on lesson in pretzel twisting at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, founded in 1861, enjoy a local wine and cheese tasting at Waltz Vineyards, and taste-test the world’s best whoopie pies, in the county that is often credited with inventing them, at Lancaster Central Market, one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the country. Make a night of it at the Lancaster Arts Hotel, housed in a converted 1881 tobacco warehouse and bursting with the original work of local Pennsylvania artists.
Bridgeton Covered Bridge in Parke County, Indiana, was destroyed by arson in 2005, but residents bonded together to rebuild it. Photo: Kenneth Keifer / Shutterstock
Parke County, Indiana
If you don’t mind sharing Parke County with some 2 million visitors, plan your trip around the buzzing Covered Bridge Festival (Oct. 12-21, 2018), when quaint communities come alive with arts and craft vendors, entertainment, antique shopping and local delicacies. Start your journey from the Rockville tourist center (housed in an 1883 train depot) with a map of the county’s five signposted 30-mile driving circuits leading to 31 covered bridges. Each route circles back to Rockville, so plan to bunk at one of a dozen B and Bs – for a thrill, try the Old Jail Inn, housed in an 1879 jailhouse. You’ll want plenty of time to sample regional specialties like the buried beef in Tangier, apple butter in Bloomingdale and handmade ice creams in far-out flavors in Bridgeton, home to the postcard-ready Bridgeton Bridge and Mill. Take some time to visit the town’s 1822 log cabin and other historic buildings open only during the festival, and stock up on organic grains stone-ground at the Midwest’s oldest continually operating grist mill.
The historic Chambers Railroad Bridge, built in 1925. Photo: nik wheeler / Alamy Stock Photo
Lane County, Oregon
Oregon boasts the largest collection of covered bridges in the West, and the lush river valley of Lane County is home to 20 of them, the most of any county west of the Mississippi. In a day, a pleasant 20-mile drive or bike ride on the Cottage Grove Covered Bridge Tour Route crosses six special spans, including the 1925 Chambers Railroad Bridge, the only remaining covered railroad bridge west of the Mississippi, and the cute-as-a-button 1930 Stewart Bridge, stretching just 60 feet over a creek. With a little more time (and leg muscle), you can pedal the full 36-mile Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway from Cottage Grove or catch five more covered bridges around Lowell. Oenophiles shouldn’t skip a drive up the Territorial Highway through Oregon’s wine country to sample the famous pinot noirs of the Willamette Valley, named the Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast in 2016.