The Bridges of Madison County

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Everyone loves bridges. They combine humanity’s greatest passions (architecture, river-forging, general transportation…) into charmingly unified structures. This is what we thought as we prepared for a leisurely 10:30 a.m. departure for Madison County, Iowa, home to some of the world’s most famous covered bridges.

The journey was two and a half hours. We drove. Eventually, we got there. Although we had stocked our vehicle with ample supplies of Cheez-Its and Izzes, we were peckish when we disembarked in the town of Winterset (population 5,094), so we walked a harrowing two blocks to the Northside Cafe, which appeared in the iconic film The Bridges of Madison County (we haven’t seen this film). At the cafe, we dined on quesadillas and a chicken-pesto sandwich, respectively. The restaurant was cute and pleasant, the food was good, and we received good service for a reasonable price.

Appetites sated, we headed out of town with only our GPS-equipped smartphones in hand. We used our expert navigation abilities to locate three of the five bridges which appear on the National Register of Historic Places: Roseman Bridge, Holliwell Bridge, and Cutler-Donahoe Bridge. The bridges are beautiful and solidly constructed. Each is covered with a red tunnel made from cheaper wood to protect the thick, valuable logs that make up the deck, with latticed planks supporting the walls and ceiling. The bridges are not open to motor vehicles, but they are accessible by foot. Each spans a stream; in the summer, canoeing and kayaking, as well as hiking, is available under and around several of the bridges. If you visit in winter, as we did, you can enjoy a scenic walk, but not much else. The interiors of the bridges are also heavily graffitied with years of love notes and other sentiments.

Overall, this trip is one best undertaken in the warmer months. However, it’s a relatively easy half-day trip that includes good food, lovely scenery, and time with friends no matter the season.