The Midwest's Largest Concentration of Covered Bridges is in Western Indiana—Here's Where to Find Them
A stately maroon-and-white bridge stands alone in the forest, a sentinel guarding the worn dirt road. Birds chirp softly from the surrounding fall foliage, seemingly hesitant to disturb the peace. Though covered bridges were once just a part of a journey—a pass-through to another place—today, they mark my destination. Marshall Bridge, built in 1917, is one of 31 historic covered bridges (the oldest date to 1856) in Parke County, Indiana. They're scattered around this western chunk of the state like treasure waiting to be found. Out here, it's easy to think of the bridges as portals back in time. I can imagine the clop-clop of horses' hooves on the wooden slats echoing through the trees, punctuating the birdsong. Though I've driven only a few miles, this feels a world away from the bustling scene I've just left—The Parke County Covered Bridge Festival. Held over 10 days each October, the event started in 1957 as a way to both highlight the bridges and unite the county's communities in a tourism effort. Today, it's Indiana's largest festival.
Ten towns host official celebrations, each showcasing special food or attractions. There's apple butter from a Quaker church in Bloomingdale; smoky buried beef (barbecue or regular) cooked in a pit in Tangier; hot, sugar-dusted crullers in Montezuma; a bake sale with pawpaw fruit bars in Mecca—and that's just a small taste. Buy crafts in Rockville's town square or hunt for flea market finds in Mansfield. Bridgeton, which claims the largest concentration of vendors, is also home to one of the Midwest's oldest continuously operating mills. A long bridge funnels people into the vendor-lined streets. Turn right to visit Bridgeton Mill, where you can purchase flour milled on-site or try the festival-famous pumpkin loaf.
Still, the main attraction is the bridges. Buses shuttle tourists along two routes to snap pictures of the architectural celebrities, but I opt to discover them on my own, map in hand. As I make my way to the 1883 Sim Smith Bridge, a pastoral view unfolds before me, a literal light at the end of the tunnel. Though cars can drive through, I park mine outside. An old sign says Cross This Bridge At A Walk, so I do.
Related: The Magic of Midwest Covered Bridges
Town-by-Town Guide to Local Festivals
For a taste of local flavors and community spirit, head to one or more of these towns.
Volunteers serve buried beef sandwiches (shredded, tender beef) in the community building. Proceeds from festival sales pay all the building's expenses each year. Look for gorgeous, colorful brooms from Rush Creek Broomery at the craft market.
At the Friends Meeting House, you can buy a jar of apple butter made by the Quaker church's members. The same recipe has been used and sold at the festival since 1957.
The festival was originally held only in Rockville. Today, it serves as a good starting point. (Get bus tickets here.) Nonprofits sell food like ham and beans, hot chocolate, and bread-bowl soup. Browse the crafts vendors under the tent, where you'll also find Martha Presslor's Original Sassafras Candy.
Billie Creek Village
Step back to the 1900s at this living-history museum with three covered bridges, a general store, schoolhouse and more. Seek out Print Shop Paul, who will demo his 1899 printing press.
The vendors tip more toward classic carnival fare and flea market goods here. Make sure to try a gooey, caramel-covered pecan roll from Dottie's, a staple at Indiana fairs. You can also visit the historic 1875 Mansfield Roller Mill.
Order a grilled cheese made with the mill's wheat bread before wandering Bridgeton's historic district. Find handmade crafts in the Bridgeton 1878 House—once the miller's home—and the 1822 Case Log Cabin.
The civic center hosts a country market selling baked goods, quilts and chicken noodle dinners.
Pick a pumpkin from roadside stalls or snack on a sandwich from the Bellmore Country Store.
Tiny Mecca is home to a one-room schoolhouse, a covered bridge and Mecca Tavern—and during the festival, a cute bake sale under the tent.
Grab a hot cruller or the famous roast hog and hop aboard a wagon for the Wabash and Erie Canal tour.
Plan Your Parke County Getaway
The Parke County Covered Bridge Festival runs October 14–23 this year. Two days are ideal to maximize time, and you'll find fewer crowds on weekdays. Make the most of your visit with these trip-planning ideas.
Reserve a Room
Up to 2 million people come to the festival each year, so lodgings (mostly small B&Bs) book up fast. The Homestead, in an 1829 house in Montezuma, is cute, comfortable and bookable on Airbnb. Another option is the Turkey Run Inn at Turkey Run State Park.
Hike at Turkey Run State Park
Sandstone cliffs loom above 14 miles of trails at Turkey Run State Park. For a fun challenge, Trail 3 traces a riverbed (wear shoes you don't mind getting wet!) and has several ladders to climb in and out of the canyon.
Near Turkey Run, Up the Creek Boat-ique smells like coconut sunscreen and looks like a Key West beach bar. Hit this open-air convenience store-cafe to fuel up (your car) and fill up (your belly) with quesadillas and margs.