Fall in the Midwest is the perfect time for a leisurely drive through the colorful countryside. Add some historic covered bridges to the colorful scenery, and you have the makings of a memorable autumn excursion. Each year, Parke County, Indiana hosts the Covered Bridge Festival, a celebration of the 31 remaining covered bridges throughout the county. The festival generally begins on the second Friday of October, and runs for nine days. What began as a small gathering back in 1956 has grown into a county-wide festival attracting over two million visitors each year. And with the fall colors as a backdrop, it’s the perfect time to visit.
Built along The Indiana State Highway in the 1820’s, The West Union Covered Bridge traverses Raccoon Creek. The bridge stands at a point where more water flows by than at any other part of the creek. In years previous, flooding damaged or washed away two inferior bridges at this point, so builder Joseph Daniels used a strong double burr arch design to span the 315 foot distance across the creek.
Located along Towpath Road, the West Union Covered Bridge is the longest of the remaining bridges in Parke County (the Clinton bridge was double its size at over 700 feet long). The bridge is no longer open to vehicular traffic, but the long approach provides plenty of room for visitor parking.
A bit off the beaten path, and along a lonely dirt road stands the Harry Evans Covered Bridge. Built in 1908, the 65 foot long single Burr Arch spans Rock Run Creek in an area where many abandoned coal mines and air shafts still remain - left over from the area’s mining past.
Contractor Joseph Britton built this bridge, along with two others close by. Tucked away near the town of Coxville, this bridge was named after the family who owned land nearby. There is a bypass around the bridge only a few feet west, where a flat concrete road without guard rails crosses the creek. Perhaps built for trucks, tractors, and other large loads that cannot fit inside the historic bridge, this bypass offers a rather clear view of the side of the bridge.
Bridgeton, an old mill town located in the southern section of Parke County, boasts a covered bridge, a waterfall, and a mill just a stone’s throw from it’s downtown area. Bridgeton is home to “Indiana’s Most Famous Covered Bridge,” the Bridgeton Covered Bridge. During the annual covered bridge festival, the bridge is a backdrop to over 400 arts and crafts vendors.
This famous bridge, isn’t old. In fact, it was built in 2006, following a fire that destroyed the historic original. Rebuilt according to the original plans, the bridge spans Big Raccoon Creek at the point where a dam creates a 200 foot wide waterfall. Combine that with the oldest continuously operating mill in Indiana, and one can see why this 261 foot long bridge is a favorite.
Stretching across Sugar Creek at the east side of Turkey Run State Park is the Narrows Covered Bridge. There are many ways to view this historic bridge including a hike from Turkey Run State Park, and a drive along Narrows Road, but the favorite is paddling on Sugar Creek for the most unique view.
Canoe trips are very popular on Sugar Creek, as are kayaks and groups of friends floating along on inner tubes. On hot summer days, dozens of people float by every hour, exploring the lazy creek and the stone canyons it is responsible for cutting.
Known as the “Covered Bridge Capital of the World,” thirty-one Covered bridges remain standing in Parke County, Indiana. They’re beautiful in any season, and visiting during the Covered Bridge Festival in autumn, may be the most picturesque.