Relics of Resilience: The Covered Bridges of the Cascade Foothills

By Annelise Kelly

Autumn rains have returned to the Willamette Valley. Have we ever welcomed them with more relief? 

Late summer fires devastated a string of communities along Highways 20 and 22 in the West Cascades. Beloved towns, cabins and campgrounds are gone. Forests and trails will tell the tale of sudden destruction and gradual renewal for decades to come. 

We count our blessings for all that survived the fires. While smoke filled the Willamette Valley, the fires stayed in the mountains, so the rural areas flanking the West Cascades remain intact—including the covered bridges that punctuate the orchards and fields in the foothills of Linn and Marion counties. These historic relics, mostly dating to the 1930s, represent just a sample of the 51 covered bridges around Oregon—the most of any state west of the Mississippi. 

A scenic drive or bike ride to these areas and a tour of the bridges is the perfect autumn outing. In these remote, peaceful areas, it’s easy to balance COVID-19 caution with wanderlust. Be sure to wear a mask, wash your hands, and graciously comply with the policies of any business you visit. Call ahead to make sure they’re open. 

Far from the beaten path, these bridges invite you to pull over and step out. Inhale a deep breath of calm and quiet. Feel the cool fall air rise from the creek, and listen to the burble of the water and the cry of birds and frogs. Run your fingers along timbers locally harvested nearly a century ago. Bring your camera or sketch pad to capture a scene unchanged from decades past. 

Follow this favorite covered bridge route:

  • Hoffman Bridge: Take Hwy 20E from Albany and go left on Hwy. 226. Turn left on Cold Springs Rd. Turn right at the stop sign in Crabtree and left on Hungry Hill Dr. Four miles on, Hoffman Bridge with its Gothic-style windows crosses Crabtree Creek.

Expert advice: Admire the workmanship as you walk the length of the bridge. The massive beams supporting the Hoffman Bridge even show the marks of the adz, illustrating the incredible hand labor required to shape it. Notice their similarities, and how they vary. Some have open sides, some closed, some have arched gothic windows, some louvered. 

  • Gilkey Bridge: From Hungry Hill Dr., turn left on Hwy 226 and left again on Gilkey Rd. At the stop sign, turn right on Goar Rd. Gilkey Bridge has spanned Thomas Creek since 1939.
  • Shimanek Bridge: From Gilkey Bridge, turn right on Robinson Dr. to Scio. At the Main St. intersection, turn right, then left on Hwy. 226. Keep going to Richardson Gap Rd. and turn left to Shimanek Bridge with its red paint and lowered windows.
  • Hannah Bridge: Take the first right on Shimanek Bridge Dr. which rejoins Hwy. 226. From Hwy. 226, turn left and then right on Camp Morrison Dr. to Hannah Bridge over Thomas Creek.
  • Larwood Bridge: Turn around just past Hannah Bridge and backtrack along Hwy. 226. Turn left on Richardson Gap Rd. and left on Larwood Dr. until you get to Larwood County Park. Here, you can view the Larwood Bridge and a partially restored water wheel.
  • Weddle Bridge: Drive through Larwood Bridge and keep going on Fish Hatchery Dr. Turn left on Hwy. 226, left again on Hwy. 20, and continue all the way to Sweet Home. Here, you’ll find Weddle Bridge on 14th Ave., straddling Ames Creek at Sankey Park.

While you are out, stretch your legs in the small towns of the eastern Willamette Valley, where a meal, a bakery treat, or an ice cream cone will fuel your stroll as you window shop or admire classic old homes.

In Stayton, walk the old town center, where Moxieberry serves breakfast and lunch next to the canal; the Covered Bridge Café specializes in classic diner fare; Snow Peak Brewing serves craft beer; the Lovin Oven sells cake by the slice or whole. Antique and thrift shops abound.

Check out the Point Restaurant in Sweet Home, or grab a cone at the Fire Haus ice cream shop, a short walk from the Weddle Bridge. Other options: the Cedar Shack Drive-In, a classic burger joint, and Casa de Reyes for Mexican. 

In tiny Scio, try the home-cooking or a baked treat at the Covered Bridge Coffee House, and visit the classic old hardware store a few doors down. 

While you’re on the road, enjoy a visit to other regional attractions such as the wonderful waterfall hiking trails at Silver Falls State ParkThompson’s Mills State Heritage Site; the Oregon Garden; farm stores like Bauman’s & E. Z. Orchards; and wineries such as Pudding River Wine Cellars, Piluso Vineyard & Winery, and Silver Falls Vineyards