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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
FROM RUSTIC TO ELEGANT
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).
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
don't think it moved under my feet when I crossed it on
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,
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.
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
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:
OTHER INTERESTING FOOT BRIDGES
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
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
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
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
and further information about the popular Creeper Trail on
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
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
59 and in
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.