Guide to the Bridges of Madison County
I’m sure you’ve seen, if not merely heard of, the famous film The Bridges of Madison County, and the book by the same name written by Robert James Waller. This romantic movie stars Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep and is about the love story between photographer Robert Kincaid and housewife Francesca Johnson. The book and film feature picturesque covered wooden bridges in Iowa.
Six of the original 19 covered bridges in Madison County, Iowa have been preserved. Come see these lovely historic wooden bridges for yourself on a self-guided tour through the area.
Why are the bridges covered? The bridges were covered to help prevent weather from damaging the expensive thick wooden timbers of the bridge flooring.
If you have your own vehicle it is not too difficult to access these six bridges, however a few of them are located on gravel roads. Drive carefully, and try to plan your visit on days with clear weather.
The Six Covered Bridges of Madison County
Cedar Covered Bridge is the bridge featured on the cover of the book and is the only bridge you can still drive across! It’s actually a replica of the original since the first one was destroyed in a fire in 2002.
Roseman Covered Bridge is one of the most popular to visit, due to its feature in the film. It was built in 1883 and is 107 feet long.
Imes Covered Bridge is the oldest of the existing bridges. It has been moved from its original location over the Middle River and now sits in St Charles. Actually it was moved twice!
Holliwell Covered Bridge is over the Middle River and is the longest remaining bridge at 122 feet in length. It was built in 1880 by Benton Jones.
Hogback Covered Bridge was also built by Benton Jones in 1884.
Cultler-Donahue Covered Bridge is located over the North River and was built in 1871 by Eli Cox. This bridge has also been moved from its original location on the North River.
Getting to the Bridges of Madison County
Madison County is located in central Iowa about 30 minutes south of Des Moines. The center of Madison County is the town of Winterset which is easy to reach from Interstate 80 or Interstate 35.
As mentioned above you can tour the bridges on your own if you have your own vehicle and don’t mind driving on gravel roads.
You can also take a guided tour through the area with lots of interesting information about the construction and history of the bridges. The guide will join you in your own vehicle and lead you along the way. Check with the Chamber of Commerce for more information.
Follow the recently designated Covered Bridges Scenic Byway to discover the area including the famous bridges and other places of interest.
Places to Stay in Madison County
Cobblestone Inn & Suites is located in the heart of Winterset and offers comfortable rooms with microwaves and mini-fridge. Book your stay here.
Heavenly Habitat is a bed and breakfast housed in an old church located just steps from Winterset’s famous courthouse.
Covered Bridge Inn is just a few minutes from Winterset’s center and is an excellent option for visitors to the area.
White Lions B&B is a historic building situated in the heart of Winterset. There is also a country home surrounded by greenery where you can relax with your whole family.
There is also camping for RVs, trailers and tents in the area. Check out Middle River Forest Park, Pammel Park and Winterset City Park.
Other Things To Do in Madison County
Madison County is a picturesque place. Aside from the romantic wooden bridges there are other places to explore.
- Visit the Winterset Town Square, designated as a National Historic District. Winterset was established in 1849 and was supposedly named by a drunk fellow.
- Did you know John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa? Visit the John Wayne Museum and tour his childhood home. Check out the largest exhibit of artifacts and items related to the actor including his custom cars.
- Go kayaking or canoeing on the Middle River or North River and see the bridges of Madison County from the water. Bring your own boat or rent one locally at Middle River Rentals. The Middle River water trail begins at the Middle River Forest and spans more than 45 miles.
- Stop for a drink at the Winterset Cidery where you’ll find handcrafted hard apple cider. There are also a few local wineries in the area.
- Check out the amazing handcrafted quilts at the Iowa Quilt Museum.
- Experience a tribute to Iowa’s agricultural history in Winterset City Park. You’ll find the monument to the Delicious Apple.
- In October you can attend the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival, a celebration of local history and heritage.
I hope you enjoy your visit to this historic part of the midwest. For more things to do in Iowa check out these articles:
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