More AT Photos


Runtrails Home Page




Appalachian Trail Conference


Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club


Fueled by:




























Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
JANUARY 18, 2006
"Knowledge of other people's beliefs and ways of thinking
must be used to build bridges, not to create conflicts."
- Kjell Magne Bondevik

Probably my very favorite bridge along the AT is this magnificent suspension bridge over Kimberling   Creek in southern Virginia.  There is another photo below in the text.  June 6, 2005.

In the last essay I said I had to choose from among sixty-one bog bridge photos. Well, I must have been even more  fascinated by pedestrian (foot) bridges along the AT because I took sixty-seven photos of them!

No, I didn't photograph all the bridges I crossed (there were a lot more than sixty-seven), just the ones that interested me for some reason. Some are just magnificent structures, engineering marvels. Most are in scenic locations - I don't remember any ugly creeks along the AT. A few bridges were just plain fun, the swinging ones in particular.

And I didn't deliberately take a variety of shots because I knew I'd be doing these photo essays, either - I didn't get that idea until a couple months after the trek ended.

Nope. Jim and I took these photos just because we like bridges!


There are just two ways to cross a creek or river on the AT - by fording the stream (through the water or rock-hopping) or by some type of bridge (pedestrian or vehicular).

After a rainstorm, there will be more streams in the mountains and valleys than on dry days. There are innumerable "dry creeks" without bridges, so hikers should expect to get their feet wet in the spring or after a sudden summer downpour.

Most of the bridges that are built just for people - and sometimes bicycles -  allow hikers to cross creeks, rivers, ravines, and roads more safely. They were a frequent sight until I got to New Hampshire and Maine. Those are the bridges I'll highlight in this essay. (I will cover stream crossings in Maine separately in Photos #11).

A.T. foot bridges come in all shapes, sizes, and materials from primitive to elegant. Most appeared to be quite safe. I was grateful for every one of them.

There were only a couple bridges missing on my trek that had washed out and not yet been replaced, as in the example below in Virginia on Day 39 where I chose to ford the 30-foot wide Stony Creek instead of taking a road by-pass around it.

There was an official sign at the beginning (south end) of the detour explaining that the bridge two miles up-trail was washed out in 2004 by rain from Hurricane Jeanne. That was some raging creek, because the steps and pilings that remain are made of substantial railroad ties that had been bolted together!

Someone had hand-written on the sign, "Ford it! It's not bad. Preview for Maine."

Indeed. It was only about fifteen inches deep, but one of the widest creeks or rivers I'd ever forded. It took about a minute for me to cross carefully so I didn't fall on the slippery rocks. Since the creek was at normal flow it was definitely more fun than running on the road. I would not want to do it at "high tide," though.

Little did I know what was ahead of me in Maine.

Quite a few bridges on the Trail were washed out by at least two post-hurricane downpours in the summer of 2004 but were replaced by the time I went through on my adventure run several months later. Thanks to all the clubs, including our own Roanoke AT Club, for repairing or completely rebuilding them so quickly.


In this essay I will organize hiker bridges from the most basic to the most complex, with many degrees in between.

Some bridges on the AT are simply rounded logs placed singly or side-by-side, gaps and all, through or over a creek, such as the one log over the little creek below in north of the Nolichucky River in Tennessee on a sunny morning in May (Day 24):

Most of the really primitive "bridges" like the one above I by-passed and just walked through the water. I quickly learned that I had more balance and agility on slick rocks in the water than on narrow logs several feet above it - and I didn't have as far to fall if I slipped!

At the other extreme were substantial wooden and metal structures that looked sturdy enough to carry vehicles, like the longest foot bridge on the AT (625 feet) across the James River in Virginia.

This is the magnificent James River Foot Bridge, dedicated to the memory of Bill Foot, an AT thru-hiker who was very active with the Natural Bridge AT Club and was the driving force behind construction of the bridge.

The Foot foot bridge (clever, eh?) was built in 2000 on piers left from an 1881 railroad bridge. Jim, Cody, and I all enjoyed crossing this attractive bridge, admiring the wide river and surrounding mountains.

Jim took the dramatic photo below from the north side of the bridge:


OK, the solitary log and the Foot Bridge are the two extremes you'll see along the AT. Let's look at some other examples of the varying degrees of complexity of foot bridges on the Trail.

The next step up from one or more logs laid from one bank to the other is to lay one or more flat boards from one bank to the other.

Still rustic, but these are easier to negotiate than round logs.  I don't consider these to be real "bridges" but they're safer than rock-hopping (I'm as inept at that as I am at balancing on skinny logs).

Next, volunteers get out their hammers, nails, and measuring tools to build real wooden structures, usually with some type of handrail on one or both sides. I photographed only one site-built wooden bridge without rails; it will be in the Maine essay. There were numerous nice wooden bridges on the AT with handrails, as shown in the photos below.

The first is a fairly simple little bridge commonly seen along the AT with horizontal boards nailed on top of long stringers (if this terminology isn't correct, please tell me what is!) and a single handrail. This one spans Antietam Creek in Pennsylvania (Day 62) and is about 25-30 feet long. Some of these basic bridges are only six to eight feet long.

The next one is more complicated, spanning beautiful Laurel Fork Creek in Tennessee (Day 28). The bridge is about 50 feet long.

Note the substantial rock pilings underneath. I imagine the water gets pretty deep in this whole gorge after copious rainfalls because it can't spread out between the rock walls.

Look at the bridge from the angle below, and what do you notice?

This clearly shows two different ways of constructing a foot bridge with handrails - it's very odd to find both methods on the same bridge, however!

The older side has deteriorating boards running vertically, the new side horizontally in a "box" shape to make it sturdier. The older hand rail is timber straight from the tree, probably found nearby and simply cut to length. The newer hand rail is treated lumber, likely 2-by-4s. Interesting, huh?

The photo below from Day 32 in southern Virginia illustrates a well-built, double-railed wooden bridge over a pretty creek. I don't know what you'd call that bracing on the railings, but it looks sturdy (flying buttresses, maybe??).

The span and hand rails on the bridge shown below look pretty rustic, but look at the substantial rock "anchor" at this end. I wonder how many times it washed out before this version was constructed? I found it on Day 58 in northern Virginia.

The bridge below is in New Hampshire (Day 117), spanning a very boisterous creek with lots of cascades and waterfalls. I'd guess the water is pretty hard here on bridges during snowmelt and summer storms. The bridge was very new, as was the trail relocation cut to accommodate it.

What is most interesting about the bridge is the materials from which it is made (there was a sign to tell hikers about it): plastic "boards" made to resemble wood but be impervious to moisture in this very wet sub-alpine environment, and non-rusting metal hand rails.


The bridges I enjoyed the most were the suspension bridges that bounced or swayed slightly as I crossed streams high above the water - very cool, even elegant in their engineering. There are at least three of these in Virginia, two in Vermont, and one each in New Jersey and New Hampshire that are firmly anchored by cables at both ends.

You might be visualizing the narrow little swinging bridges with rope hand rails that you've seen in jungle movies, but these are much sturdier.

The simplest one I saw is this cabled bridge in New Hampshire on Day 121 over the rugged West Branch of the Peabody River between Mt. Madison and Pinkham Notch. When I saw the huge boulders and rushing water in the river I was very grateful for the bridge. By the time I got to New Hampshire, bridges were becoming more and more scarce.

The bridge above doesn't have the elaborate framework at both ends like the other suspension bridges on the AT.

My very favorite bridge of any kind on the Trail is this dramatic suspension bridge near the Rt. 606 crossing in southern Virginia. The bridge was built by the U.S. Forest Service in the early 1990s because of serious flooding in Kimberling Creek, one of the main tributaries of the New River. It extends 150 feet between 34-foot tall pine towers set in concrete abutments. The framework is so tall I couldn't get it in this picture.

I loved walking across this bridge, swinging slightly above the wide creek. The photo at the very top of this essay shows the straight-on view of this bridge. Here is a side view in the mist on Day 38:

Below is a shorter suspension bridge that is farther north in Virginia between the James River and Hwy. 60, just past Little Ottie's memorial. I'm guessing it's 80-90 feet long. The neat little wooden sign to the left says "AT Relocation," about the only such sign I ever saw on the Trail - although there were dozens of "relos" end to end. This bridge was very new when I crossed it on Day 49.

A third suspension bridge in Virginia is a little north of this one, across the Tye River. It is probably as long as the one across Kimberling Creek. I didn't get a good shot of it.

The bridge (below) in the Pochuck Swamp in New Jersey is another fine example of a suspension bridge that is built to last decades. I don't think it moved under my feet when I crossed it on Day 92. This is part of the extensive-and-expensive one-mile series of boardwalks and bridges through the Vernon Valley quagmire that really impressed me.

Once again, the framework was too tall to capture everything in one photo from the limited vantage points I had on the boardwalk, so I took two shots of the tower and included them here with the original text.

I mentioned that I had forgotten how to "stitch" two photos together in PhotoShop but would come back later and combine them into one picture. Well, one of our faithful readers, Eric in Maine, quickly did all the work for me and sent us the merged photo above. What a nice surprise!! Thanks, Eric!

There are two more nice suspension bridges over rugged creeks and rivers in Vermont between Baker Peak and the VT 103 trail head. The one near Baker Peak, shown below, crosses Big Branch, with its large boulders and cascading water. It is in a dense hardwood and hemlock forest that made getting a sideways shot difficult. (Day 109).

A larger suspension bridge (which also swings more wildly) is at the very end of this section, only a tenth of a mile from VT 103, over the Mill River in Clarendon Gorge. The bridge is dedicated to hiker Robert Brugman, who drowned crossing the river before there was a bridge across it.

I don't have a picture of the bridge itself, but this is a photo of the gorge that I took when I crossed the bridge. I wish there was a little person down there so you could see the grand scale:


The next two foot bridges are less common along the AT.

The first one took me up and over a busy freeway (I-70) in Maryland on Day 61. This is the only foot bridge I remember over a four-lane road (I could be wrong). Most times AT hikers are routed over freeways via vehicular roads and their bridges, and have to cross other roads simply by dodging cars and trucks..

Coming out of the quiet wilderness and crossing a noisy road shocked my system every time, but I thought this foot bridge was very thoughtful and even artistic. It's safe for pedestrians (and the vehicles below) with all the chain-link fencing material. There was at least an attempt made to provide shade, although the vines were dead when I crossed in June.

There was a residential neighborhood at the south end of this walkway and busy US 40 on the other side. The AT crosses under that road in a tunnel.

I was also pleased with the attractive concrete and sage-colored metal double-decker bridges (below) in the town of North Adams in Massachusetts on Day 105. Hikers pass through a mostly residential area of town, then cross the Hoosic River on the foot bridges before heading up the next quiet mountain toward Vermont.

I took this photo from the second level of the bridge, looking back south from whence I'd come:

Several other foot bridges along the AT also accommodate cyclists and start to resemble bridges used by passenger vehicles. I'll show three examples.

The first is in at the popular Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), which sees a lot of white-water enthusiasts as well as hikers. The AT crosses the Nantahala River on this attractive bridge near Wesser, North Carolina. I didn't see any cyclists, but they could easily use it, too. Jim took another shot of the bridge straight on as Cody and I hiked over it; you can see it on Day 12.

The AT crosses a couple hiking/cycling/equestrian bridges on the Virginia Creeper Trail north of Damascus. You can barely see a cyclist about two hundred feet in front of me in the photo below.

There is another photo of this bridge in the journal on Day 31, and further information about the popular Creeper Trail on Day 30.

OK, just one more foot bridge that I really appreciated, this one across the wide Potomac River between West Virginia and the Maryland state line.

It is called the Goodloe Byron Memorial Footbridge and it links the historic town of Harper's Ferry to the lengthy C & O Canal  Towpath, widely used by cyclists, hikers, and runners. We took the first photo of the foot bridge from the Harper's Ferry side:

This is the view ON the bridge when Jim and I crossed it together on Day 61:

As you're heading north on the AT, the view to your left from the bridge is obscured by a rail road bridge close to this one. We waited until a train had passed before we crossed on our bridge and we suggest others do this, too. This foot bridge almost looks like it was converted from an old rail bridge.

The view to the right is just beautiful - it's the confluence of the mighty Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, shown in two different photos on Day 59 and in Post 3.

Wow! That's a bunch of bridge types, isn't it?

In its 2,175-mile journey north and south, the Appalachian Trail covers a lot of varying terrain. Sturdy bridges are certainly the safest ways to cross the numerous streams and busy roads. When bridges are also attractively designed, as many of these I've shown, it just adds to the pleasure of hiking the Trail. Thanks to everyone who designed, financed, and built them!

Next up: an assortment of bridges that hikers share with motorists along the AT. The most interesting part to me is the surrounding scenery, as most of these bridges span wide rivers. I will also include covered bridges on or near the Trail.

Happy bridging,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

Previous       Next

Send an e-mail message to Sue & Jim  

2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil