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Take a Drive! Explore the Nation’s Covered Bridges!

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Travel this year is very different. Road trips are becoming more popular as people try to avoid the large crowds in airports and cramped quarters of planes. Many families are taking road trips, both short and long, to have family vacations. Why not plan a covered bridge road trip?

Covered Bridges

covered bridges

As many as 14,000 covered bridges spanned the U.S. at one time, but fewer than 900 remain today.

Many historic covered bridges built in the 1800s still stand today, and a self-guided driving tour from one to the next provides a great opportunity to discover beautiful parts of America you’ve never seen before.

It can be really hard to remember to take in the sites and sounds around us, but the last year, we’ve all been doing that a little more. That’s because most of the big trips that many of us have wanted to take – all those suitcases we’ve wanted to pack and airline tickets we’ve wanted to buy – have in fact been delayed indefinitely. And that can be hard. But it’s also motivated a lot of people to figure out the “can” in their travel and dreams, versus the “can’ts.” That means that many people are looking not only at outdoor adventures, but historic sites, too. Many of these have no need to share indoor spaces (or air). 

Of course, the country has hundreds if not thousands of historic sites that help us learn something about how we used to live and what forces have shaped us. Take the landscape: How did we used to get from point A to point B? Of course, there used to be just foot trails and then there were wagon trails, which in turn were developed into roads. But along those roads were obstacles, of course, in the way of natural elements such as rivers and mountains. Or course, as people began to build in the landscape, they took what they might have seen elsewhere and used it here in America.

One of those unique elements is the covered bridge.

To make wooden bridges last longer, the bridges were covered to protect it from all weather conditions, such as rain, snow, sun, and ice.

While these covered bridges are perfect for photos, they are also a way to track through the country’s development (and spend some unique drive time, too). One of the things that many may not realize about covered bridges is that they were first developed not for beauty, but to keep the bridges below intact. A covered wooden bridge would in fact last longer than one that was always subject to the elements such as snow and rain. In addition, covered bridges had a structure that in fact helped the bridge underneath build strength. 

The first covered bridge was erected over 200 years ago in Pennsylvania; the original structure is no longer standing. The oldest original one still in existence is just under 200 years old. Those two were just a few of the 14,000 or so covered bridges that dotted the country at one time or another. Their numbers have dwindled significantly; now, there are under 1,000 left. That’s because those wooden structures ended up being replaced by the advance in materials, with cast iron and wrought iron proving more durable and long lasting than just wood. When that happened, the need to cover the structure fell away. 

If you’re looking to see a number of covered bridges on a driving trip, there are a couple of different ways to approach the sites. You can try to tackle a region, or you can dive into what’s in just one state. What should you do? This graphic offers some interesting ideas to consider.

A self-guided driving tour of covered bridges will make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. By visiting some of these historic landmarks, you can venture off the beaten path and experience a little bit of living history. Though the number of covered bridges across the country has dwindled, there’s still a great many to see and admire.

Covered Bridge Facts

Based on available reports, as many as 12,000 covered bridges once existed in the United States. 

Pennsylvania has the most covered bridges in the United States of America.

Ashtabula, Ohio is the longest covered bridge in the United States. It is 613 feet long, and has a walkway for pedestrians on both sides.

Hyde Hall Bridge, Glimmerglass State Park, New York is considered the oldest documented covered bridge in America.