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14 of America’s Most Beautiful Lesser-Known Bridges

You know about the Brooklyn and the Golden Gate—now get a look at America's most picturesque bridges you've never heard of before.

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Covered Bridges of Blount County, Alabama

Lovers of old-fashioned covered bridges can find a trove of these historic spans on the back roads of Alabama, where 10 19th- and early 20th-century examples are still in daily use. Each wooden bridge is unique in style and size, and the oldest predate the Civil War.

A good place to start a tour is Oneonta, the county seat of Blount County and Alabama’s Covered Bridge Capital. From Oneonta you can easily drive to three scenic bridge sites. Easley Bridge (1927) is a single-span 95-foot-long tin-roofed bridge over Dub Branch creek in the community of Rosa. Swann Bridge (c. 1933, shown here), originally named Joy Bridge, crosses the Black Warrior River; at 324 feet, it’s the longest of the covered bridges remaining in Alabama. Horton Mill Bridge (1935) also spans the Black Warrior. Rising 70 feet above the river gorge, it’s not only the nation’s highest covered bridge over water but also the first Southern bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Arizona

A fluke of nature created by millennia of rock melting, shifting, settling, and finally eroding away, Tonto Natural Bridge is a 400-foot-long tunnel cut through by burbling Pine Creek. It is the world’s largest bridge formed of travertine (calcareous rock deposited by mineral springs), measuring 183 feet tall and up to 150 feet wide and looming over a picturesque canyon.

The canyon and its star attraction were discovered in 1877 by a Scottish prospector named David Gowan, who hid in one of the area’s many caves while on the run from Apaches; he later moved his family here. Today visitors take in the canyon and bridge from lookouts as well as the trails. Check out these stunning photos of America’s national parks.

californiaVia Off the Beaten Path pg 43, iStock/Tang's NatureLight Photography

Natural Bridges State Beach, California

The formations that explain this beach’s name once numbered three, but only one has stood up to time and tides. Over many years the hollowed-out sandstone cliffs that gave the park its name were turned into islands by the powerful waves of the Pacific, and today only one natural bridge survives.

A Monarch butterfly grove at Natural Bridges State Beach protects over 100,000 butterflies each winter. The butterflies come from somewhere west of the Rockies (no one is sure just where), but every September they return to the same spot. When the magnificent Monarchs move on, usually in late December, plenty of marvels remain: shore birds diving and soaring, whales plying migratory passages, and seals and sea otters amusing themselves just offshore. In the spring native wildflowers bloom in the coastal scrub meadows along Moore Creek as it winds its way toward the sea. Low tides reveal sea stars, crabs, and sea anemones. These 10 beaches have the clearest water in the world.

delawareVia Off the Beaten Path pg 61, White Clay Creek State Park

White Clay Creek State Park, Delaware

You can look into Pennsylvania and Maryland from this pleasant park nestled in the northwestern corner of Delaware, where the three states come together. The park has a spacious 3,384 acres, rising to about 300 feet—which is high for Delaware—and offering long views of the surrounding countryside.

A pedestrian bridge spans a stream in a park where hikers and mountain bikers find 37 miles of serene and scenic trails. Hikers can explore valleys and impressive rock outcrops on those trails. The Millstone Trail shows where grindstones were once quarried from the exposed boulders. In the spring, fishermen like to cast for trout from the banks of a creek that runs alongside the park. And in the winter, the slopes provide fine tobogganing.

hawaiiVia Off the Beaten Path pg 83, National Tropical Botanical Garden

McBryde Garden, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaii

This bamboo bridge is one of the pathways to the 252-acre McBryde Garden, home to the world’s largest collection of native Hawaiian plants, the most endangered group of plants in the 50 states. Adjacent to McBryde Garden is Allerton Garden. Guided walking tours of this enchanting estate are offered by reservation. Here are some other things you should know before you take a vacation to Hawaii.

maineVia Off the Beaten Path pg 147, Shutterstock /Zack Frank

Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observation Deck, Maine

In 2003, engineers discovered severe corrosion in the cables of the old Waldo-Hancock Bridge across the Penobscot River and determined that the bridge would have to be replaced. In just three short years, a new bridge was designed and built right next to the old one, its two granite towers soaring 420 feet above the river. To take advantage of this height, an observation deck was constructed at the pinnacle of one of the towers, providing spectacular views of the river and its surroundings. The bridge over the Penobscot River stands next to the aging original. The lookout atop it is the world’s tallest bridge observatory open to the public.

Next door, Fort Knox State Historic Site showcases a well-preserved example of a 19th-century stone fort, and the nearby town of Bucksport has shops and restaurants as well as a good view of the bridge spanning the river.

missouriVia Off the Beaten Path pg 193, Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Bollinger Mill State Historic Site, Missouri

A picturesque scene from America’s past is captured here. The four-story mill stands by a wide millpond and weir along the Whitewater River, and just beyond is one of Missouri’s four covered bridges. The Burfordville Covered Bridge is the oldest of four remaining covered bridges in Missouri.

The present-day mill dates from 1867 and was built by Solomon Burford on the site—and atop the original foundation—where George F. Bollinger had first built a mill in 1800.

The 140-foot-long Howe truss bridge, originally built of yellow poplar, was be gun in 1858, but completion was delayed by the Civil War. The bridge was restored in 1998 and is open to pedestrians only. Grounds and covered bridge open daily year-round.

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Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, Missouri

At 24 feet wide and just more than a mile in length, the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge lays claim to being one of the longest pedestrian and bicycle bridges in the world. Opened to traffic in 1929, this marvel crosses one of the most historic and scenic sections of the Mississippi River, connecting Missouri to Illinois.

Once part of the fabled Route 66, the bridge is famed for a unique 22-degree turn at its midpoint. The bridge was closed in 1968 when a new structure was built to serve I-270. It sat abandoned and decaying until 1999, when it was restored and reopened, thanks to a preservation group.

Today, the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge has a new life as a nature and recreation trail. There you’ll see panoramic views of the St. Louis skyline, and the river views reveal the inspiration for the bridge’s name: a collection of rocky shoals just to the south that create a waterfall-like effect at low water levels.

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ohioVia Off the Beaten Path pg 262, Ohio Tourism Division

Ashtabula County Covered Bridges, Ohio

On a day’s driving trip through Ashtabula, discover covered bridges in Ohio’s wine country. Located on Lake Erie, the county contains 17 historic covered bridges and 15 wineries. The 132-foot-long Olin Covered Bridge, built in 1873 and restored in 1994, spans the Ashtabula River in Plymouth Township.

Though the amount of covered bridges in the nation is declining, Ohio’s number continues to rise, with the construction of the country’s longest covered bridge, in Ashtabula. Because roofs protect the bridges, they are durable enough to survive the damaging effects of time and the elements. Many of the bridges throughout Ashtabula County have survived for more than a century needing only minimal repairs.

A self-guiding driving trail is the best way to see all of the bridges. Maps of the trail are available at the Ashtabula County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Austinburg.

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Natural Bridge, Rogue River National Forest, Oregon

Natural Bridge is seen best during summertime periods of low water but is also a spectacular sight when the Rogue submerges it in swift white water rapids. The bridge is a large, intact lava tube that channels the river underground for about 200 feet before the waters resurface.

Its origins date back to the eruption of Mount Mazama, which formed Crater Lake nearly 7,000 years ago and sent lava flows raging across the surrounding countryside. As their surfaces cooled and hardened, tunnels formed underneath.

Natural Bridge campground has sites for tents and small trailers, each with a picnic table and grill. There are several hiking trails, including one to Woodruff Bridge, which is a favorite spot for catching rainbow trout. Wading in the waters is permitted, but avoid the opening near Natural Bridge; the slippery and smooth surface can be dangerous.

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Bedford Covered Bridges, Pennsylvania

Take a drive through some of Bedford County’s 14 covered bridges, all built about 100 years ago. The romantic spans range from the 56-foot Palo Alto Bridge to the 136-foot Herline Bridge, pictured here. A free booklet from the visitors bureau lists the locations of all the bridges, and another traces a 90-minute route through six bridges, a bison farm, and Gravity Hill, a wacky spot where the laws of gravity don’t seem to apply! Here’s a bucket list item for every state in the U.S.

utahVia Off the Beaten Path pg 333,Shutterstock /Alexey Stiop

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

The three huge sandstone bridges here were first named by prospectors who explored the area in the 1880s. They were given Hopi Native American names by President William Howard Taft in 1909 shortly after the site was designated a national monument. The oldest bridge is called Owachomo (“rock mound”); the longest is Sipapu (“the place of emergence”); and the youngest is Kachina, named for the masked divinities of the Hopi religion.

All three bridges were formed by the erosive action of streams as they flowed through the switchback bends of a canyon. A nine-mile loop road links the starting points of the short trails to the three bridges and provides access to overlooks offering splendid views of the surrounding canyon scenery.

For those seeking longer hikes, nearly six miles of trail traverse the canyons’ floors and connect the bridges. The terrain here, however, may be hazardous, and hikers should be alert for flash flooding. Here are some more of America’s best hiking spots, and the ideal times to go.

vermontJoseph Sohm/shutterstock

Floating Bridge, Vermont

Brookfield is a charming village of white clap board houses and trimmed lawns nestled beside the waters of Sunset Lake. In 1820, Luther Adams built a floating bridge across the lake, and back then people, animals, carts, and cars crossed the water—a journey of about 100 yards—by this curious means.

The present bridge, built in 1978 by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, is the seventh at the site. Made of pressure-treated timber, the bridge is supported by 380 floating polyethylene drums filled with polyurethane foam. At each end is a hinged ramp, and at these points the water can be as much as five inches deep. Driving across the bridge is no longer permitted, but the area is a popular spot for fishing and swimming.

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Ayres Natural Bridge, Wyoming

Exit 151 on Interstate 25 takes you to a small county park with a great big centerpiece: Ayres Natural Bridge, a 100-foot-long, 50-foot-high expanse of red rock looming over tranquil LaPrele Creek. The bridge is named for Alva Ayres, the 19th-century homesteader on whose land it lay and whose son donated it to Converse County. The bridge is one of only three natural bridges in the world with a trout stream running underneath. Wagoneers traveling west often rested in this spot, which sits only a mile or so from the Oregon Trail.

Set in the grassy foothills studded with box elders of Laramie Peak, and surrounded by red-rock cliffs, the diminutive park (just shy of 20 square acres) attracts birdwatchers, campers, flyfishers partial to rainbow and brown trout, and visitors in search of unspoiled scenery. Next, find your next U.S. travel destination with our list of little-known national parks.

For more of the most overlooked must-see attractions of the U.S., pick up Off the Beaten Path.

Originally Published in Off the Beaten Path