The Magic of Midwest Covered Bridges
Madison County, Iowa
Six of Madison County's original 19 covered bridges remain today -- enough to have inspired a best-selling novel and movie. A covered bridge festival in October features music, a quilt show, local artists, a parade and guided bus tours of the covered bridges. Winterset, the county seat, is about 40 miles southwest of Des Moines. Pictured at left is the Hogback bridge, built in 1884.
Getting started: Visit the Madison County website for information on the bridges.
While you're there: Fans of John Wayne may want to visit the four-room home where he was born May 26, 1907, the son of Winterset pharmacist Clyde Morrison and his wife, Mary Brown Morrison. Head to Des Moines for a variety of lodgings, restaurants and activities. Be sure to wander through the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines, dotted with 24 sculptures worth an estimated $40 million.
Amnicon Falls, Wisconsin
A 55-foot-long covered footbridge crosses the Amnicon River at the Lower Falls, leading to a small island at Amnicon Falls State Park (about 15 miles southeast of Superior). The bridge, which was not covered at the time it was built, was moved to its current location in the 1930s; the roof was added in 1939 and has been replaced twice since then. The unusual bowstring design uses arched beams secured with hooks and clips rather than rivets and bolts.
Getting started: Visit the Amnicon Falls State Park website for more information about the bridge as well as the park, which is known for its series of picture-perfect swimming spots.
While you're there: A 30-minute drive takes you to Duluth, Minnesota, an appealing bluffside city of 85,000. Watch freighters come and go under the 1905 Aerial Lift Bridge and gawk at giant sturgeon at the Great Lakes Aquarium. Lake Avenue Cafe offers a fresh take on urban fare including Thai chili and eggplant pizza; the upscale Canal Park Lodge features rooms with lake views and easy access to downtown.
Parke County, Indiana
Thirty-one covered bridges punctuate Parke County's landscape like the miniature buildings in a model train set. Here, 55 miles west of Indianapolis in the Wabash River Valley, you'll find the nation's highest concentration of covered bridges. Often built near mills, bridges such as the 1915 Bowsher Ford (left) once connected farmsteads separated by squiggling streams. In autumn, tour buses roll in for the half-century-old Covered Bridge Festival. In winter, though, visitors have the quiet to themselves.
Getting started: Stop by the visitors center in Rockville, pick up maps and set out on a self-guided trip through time.
While you're there: In any season, the rock cliffs of Turkey Run State Park provide places to hike and reflect. The inn at Turkey Run State Park offers inexpensive lodging. Browse for gifts at the Covered Bridge Art Gallery in downtown Rockville, and try the chicken noodle soup with cheddar-garlic biscuits at Clabber Girl in Terre Haute (about a half-hour southwest of Rockville).
South Haven, Michigan
Walk or bike across the Donald F. Nichols Bridge, part of Kal-Haven Trail State Park. The 108-foot-long bridge crosses the Black River about 1 mile east of the South Haven trailhead. From there, you can continue more than 30 miles through the Michigan countryside to the northwest suburbs of Kalamazoo.
Getting started: Visit the Kal-Haven Trail website for maps and directions.
While you're there: South Haven has beaches within walking distance of downtown and inns, plus fresh foods at the edge of wine country. The European-style Hotel Nichols offers bikes for rent; fuel up for your trip with irresistible treats at Chocolate Cafe. For adventures of another sort, set sail on the replica schooner Friends Goodwill.
Long Grove, Illinois
Long Grove's covered bridge adds to the historic charm of this German town 35 miles northwest of Chicago. Nearly 80 shops, many in restored Victorian homes, line cobblestone walkways in Long Grove. Festivals are a big draw as well: As many as 50,000 visitors come to check out big annual events such as the Chocolate Festival in May and Strawberry Festival in June. Winter holiday festivities include horse-drawn carriage rides.
Getting started: Visit the Long Grove Information Center website.
While you're there: Enjoy some of Long Grove's dozens of shops, then try home-style soups and hefty half-pound burgers at the 1847-era Village Tavern. Spend the night at Old Victorian Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast, an 1860 home 9 miles northwest of Long Grove in Wauconda.
Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
A covered bridge made by Amish craftsman is one of many attractions at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, a 10,000-acre area that straddles the Missouri-Arkansas border, about 30 minutes southwest of Branson, Missouri. Explore the park by foot, bike, horseback, kayak, tram or Jeep tours. Waterfalls, trout streams and large herds of buffalo and elk dot the rolling terrain.
Getting started: Visit the Dogwood Canyon website for details about activities in the park, or the Branson, Missouri, website for more general information about the area.
While you're there: Lounge the day away at Table Rock Lake, or head to Branson for shopping and more than 50 theaters with family-friendly shows. Silver Dollar City theme park mixes history and crafts with cool rides. Among the many overnight lodgings is Big Cedar Lodge, an upscale full-service resort along a quiet part of the lake south of Branson.
This small covered walking bridge is tucked away on a walking path around quiet Lake Atwood, about 30 miles north of Colby and I-70 in the northwest corner of Kansas. The Lake Atwood Ten Mile race, held since 1972, draws running enthusiasts to the area each summer.
Getting started: Visit the Atwood, Kansas, website for information.
While you're there: Explore small museums, forts, cabins and other reminders of pioneer days in northwest Kansas. In September, more than 1,000 vendors participate in the U.S.-36 Treasure Hunt, a 400-mile yard sale stretching along the state's northern tier, including Atwood. Check the Northwest Kansas Travel website and the U.S. Highway 36 website for activities, events, lodging and shopping.
Adams County, Ohio
In the rolling hills on the edge of Appalachia, you can drive through the 1855 Harshaville Covered Bridge (left) or walk on the 1890 Kirker Covered Bridge. The Harshaville Covered Bridge, the last covered bridge still used in Adams County, was once traversed by Confederate General John Morgan and his Raiders when they passed through the county during the Civil War.
Getting started: Visit the Adams County Travel and Visitors Bureau for information.
While you're there: Adams County, 60 miles southeast of Cincinnati, offers a dozen-plus parks and preserves, a fledgling Amish community and surprisingly upscale bed and breakfasts. Hike the heavily wooded terrain of The Edge of Appalachia Preserve, snack on a cream-filled coffee cake at Amish-run Miller's Bakery, and relax overnight in a comfortable cabin at Murphin Ridge Inn.
Brown County, Indiana
A winding two-lane road leads to Bean Blossom Covered Bridge north of Nashville. Built in 1880, it's the only original covered bridge in Brown County and is a popular subject for photographers and artists. Just an hour south of Indianapolis, Brown County offers a serene vibe at state parks, artists' colonies and small towns.
Getting started: Visit the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau website for information.
While you're there: Wander on secluded paths at Brown County State Park, explore the area's artistic heritage at T.C. Steele Historic Site, and spend some time in Nashville, which has fewer than 1,000 people but more than 150 shops, galleries and artists' studios. Overnight visitors can settle into a cozy cabin at Brown County State Park's Abe Martin Lodge or relax in the Victorian-style Cornerstone Inn in Nashville.
Greenfield Village, Michigan
The Ackley Covered Bridge, built in 1832, originally resided near West Finley, Pennsylvania. By the 1930s, when Henry Ford was looking for a covered bridge to add to his collection of historic buildings at Greenfield Village, the Ackley bridge had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled to be torn down. Ford had it dismantled and trucked more than 300 miles to Dearborn, where it was reassembled.
Getting started: Visit The Henry Ford website for an interactive map of Greenfield Village.
While you're there: Spend at least a day at The Henry Ford, one of the nation's top historic attractions. Ford's remarkable collection of buildings and artifacts fill Henry Ford Museum and neighboring Greenfield Village; you can also take an auto-factory tour at the Ford Rouge Plant. At the Village, a Michigan stagecoach tavern serves authentic circa-1850 foods such as chicken fricassee. Spend the night in the nearby Georgian-style Dearborn Inn.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Of more than 2,000 covered bridges that once existed in Ohio, only a handful remain today, including Everett Road Covered Bridge in Cuyahoga Valley National Park (a half-hour south of Cleveland). The bridge spans Furnace Run and is believed to have been built in the 1870s, around the time that a local farmer drowned trying to cross the treacherous waters in winter.
Getting started: Visit the Cuyahoga Valley National Park website for a history of the bridge and tips on photographing it.
While you're there: The 33,000-acre Cuyahoga Valley National Park includes spectacular rock formations and waterfalls, 160 miles of tails, golf courses and a living-history settlement. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad travels through the park. Just to the north, Cleveland has more than enough activities to round out a weekend, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the exotic Cleveland Botanical Garden.