Late fall portends plenty of sunny and crisp days with California’s year-round scenery showing off its fall-finery. The reopening of one of the state’s hallowed covered bridges reminds me that historic and covered bridges make for fine road-tripping destinations. So pack a picnic lunch and let’s head out seeking some of the north-state’s coolest bridge-worthy destinations.
The reopening of one the oldest, and by design, one of the classiest old covered bridges in the state just took place, with the end of extensive repairs to the Bridgeport covered bridge, on Pleasant Valley Road, Penn Valley, spanning the South Yuba River (about 105 miles, 2½ hours north of San Joaquin County).
Originally built in 1862, it spans 226 feet and is 16 feet wide, the only remaining single-span Howe Truss-Burr Arch covered timber bridge of its size in the nation. In its day, it carried traffic to the nearby Sierra gold fields, and later to the silver strikes in Nevada. The Virginia Turnpike Company charged $6 for a wagon with an eight horse or oxen team, $1 for a one horse buggy, $.25 for a single person on foot and a nickel for a hog or sheep. Almost $7 million was raised to rehab the old bridge since the project got underway almost 10 years earlier.
In the same Sierra foothills area, tour to the Oregon Creek Covered Bridge, spanning 105 feet across the creek of the same name, just above its confluence with the Middle Yuba River. Near the gold rush town of North San Juan, the bridge was built in the 1860s and still carries auto traffic to this day. Shortly after it was built, a 1881 flood knocked the bridge off its moorings, spun it 180 degrees; it was moved back into place, with original ends now reversed!
Heading south down the Sierra foothills will take you two several historic bridges of different sorts. From Interstate 80 near Colfax, follow the winding Iowa Hill Road down to the North Fork of the American River to find the Iowa Hill Bridge, built in 1928, a wire suspension bridge with steel lattice towers, reminiscent of the Brooklyn Bridge, flanked by a small campground.
Continue a few miles further east on the road to reach the old gold rush town of Iowa Hill, where over $20 million in gold was mined in the 30 years after 1853.
Venture up Highway 50 to El Dorado Hills, go north on El Dorado Hills Boulevard, then Salmon Falls Road to the South Fork American River, Here, a scenic four mile hike from the new Salmon Falls Bridge will take you to the old Salmon Falls Bridge — now known as “Hidden Bridge” since it is often deep underwater when Folsom Lake reservoir is near capacity. Built in 1925 of poured concrete, the stout, two lane bridge carried folks from the now-vacated gold rush town of Salmon Falls, across the river to timber and gold rush country above. We hiked there just a few weeks ago; it will take many more heavy storms before Folsom Lake rises to once-again inundate the bridge and old townsite under Folsom Lake.
Two classy historic bridges can be found along the renowned American River Parkway and Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail. In Discovery Park, just north of Old Sacramento, is the Jibboom Street Steel Bridge, circa 1931, a metal truss swing bridge designed to swing open to allow freight ships to go up the American River to Sutter’s Landing and other destinations. Spanning almost 1,000 feet, it’s a memorable old bridge important to Sacramento’s early history.
Twenty miles up the American River is the old Fair Oaks Bridge, another steel truss bridge originally built in 1901, washed out by floods in 1907, and rebuilt in 1909. It carried auto traffic into the 1960s, and now ushers foot and bike traffic up the hill above the bike trail to the quaint old town of Fair Oaks, lined with fine restaurants, coffee and bake shops and the Fair Oaks Brew Pub — perfect for a midday stop.
Finally, closer to home is the historic Knights Ferry Covered Bridge across the Stanislaus River. The town sprang up when gold was discovered; in 1849 Dr. William Knight (a member of the 1844 Fremont party) returned and established a ferry. Within a few years, a toll bridge was built though the huge flood of 1862 washed it away. A new bridge was finished in 1864, higher and built to last, the longest covered bridge in the state at 333 feet.
The bridge is now part of a lovely state park, its trails perfect for exploration in the river’s riparian plain. The park boasts the old Mill House, circa 1854, and the Tulloch Mill, a gristmill built after the big flood, adjacent to the bridge. The town grew to include several hotels and taverns (one of which still stands, dating to 1856), and the International Order of Odd Fellows hall, circa 1870, still in use today for community events.
So, pack that lunch and some soft drinks and prepare to enjoy a fall road trip!
Contact Tim, email@example.com; happy travels in the west!
This article originally appeared on The Record: Several Sierra foothills historic bridges are a short road trip away