Many of us cross bridges every single day on our way to work or school. They are an essential and ever-present aspect of American infrastructure. Unless you have a crippling fear of bridge crossings, I doubt you even notice every little highway overpass or creek crossing you drive over.
Nevertheless, certain spans are worthy of our attention. Some earn this honor through their historical significance, like the stately Brooklyn Bridge. Others earn it through spectacular scenery, like Florida’s Seven Mile Bridge. And then there are the bridges that demand our attention because of the heart-stopping, palm-sweating, bone-shaking terror of driving over them. These perilous bridges require white-knuckle driving over creaking spans that are liable to plunge you into the river at any time, or are surrounded by unforgiving terrain that spells disaster should the driver make a mistake. No sane person would ever cross these if any other possible options were available.
They’ve all immediately gone onto my bucket list.
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Kuskulana River Bridge
A single road leads from Alaska’s Route 4 to the remote outpost of McCarthy, located in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This 100-mile drive winds through pristine wilderness, subjecting travelers to imposing mountain vistas the adrenaline-spiking curves that come with them. However, the so-called “biggest thrill” on the road to McCarthy is the storied Kuskulana River Bridge.
The bridge (see map) was constructed in 1910 in temperatures as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit. It was originally intended as a railroad bridge, but after copper mining operations in the area shut down the rails were replaced with wooden planks to allow for vehicular traffic. The hair-raising span lasts a relatively short tenth of a mile, but offers a dizzying drop into the Kuskulana gorge to the river roaring 238 feet below.
Kuskulana River Bridge. Photo by Abhijit Kamerkar on Flickr (cc)
The bridge is narrow enough to effectively only have room for one lane – after all, it was originally designed to accommodate trains, not RVs or pickup trucks. Although the entirety of the road to McCarthy shuts down for the winter, the wooden planks of the bridge are liable to ice over before the surrounding gravel road. And remember, if anything goes wrong you’re in one of the most remote areas of the entire country. Enjoy the crossing!
Unbelievably, the Kuskulana river bridge is actually many times safer than it used to be. Guardrails weren’t added until 1988!
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Wabash Cannon Ball Bridge
When crossing the Wabash River between Illinois and Indiana, you could take one of the two bridges in the local hub of Vincennes for an uneventful jump of the border. Or, you could decide that you haven’t feared for your safety enough today and take a 5-mile jaunt south to the Wabash Cannon Ball Bridge.
Wabash Cannon Ball Bridge. My own (terrible) photo.
This bridge, which connects the tiny village of St. Francisville, Illinois to Indiana (see map), also began its life as a rail bridge. Built for the first time in 1897, sections of the bridge were repaired piecemeal until its abandonment by the railroad in the 1960s. The bridge sat unused until a farmer named Frank Stangle bought the bridge in 1970. Not one to waste an economic opportunity, Stangle set about converting the road to vehicle traffic for use as a toll bridge. His method was simple: He laid two sets of planks down directly over the old railroad ties, not even bothering to cover the gaps in the middle of the bridge. After all, his bridge, his rules, and safety be damned!
The bridge remained in Stangle’s possession until the state of Illinois bought it in 2009. Since then, nothing, including the $1 toll, has changed. The bridge, which spans close to 1,500 feet, remains a one-lane test of courage. The original planks still rattle under your car as you cross, daring you to lose focus and slip a tire into the void of the center span. I would know – I crossed it in 2016, and it became one of my most memorable (and admittedly intense) experiences behind the wheel.
On top of everything, there are rumors that the bridge is haunted. Locals report seeing a ghostly purple fog in the vicinity of the crossing, going so far as to nickname it the Purple Head Bridge. I may have to get back there to visit at night!
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La Linda Bridge
The first two bridges made this list due to their shaky spans and narrow lanes. The La Linda Bridge has neither of these – rather, it’s the consequences of lingering around the bridge too long that earn it a treacherous reputation. Hidden in the most remote part of Texas (see map), this is the only bridge that I honestly don’t recommend anybody cross for now.
Constructed in 1964, the La Linda Bridge was used as a way to transport fluorite between Mexico and America. The bridge was the only vehicular border crossing for over 100 miles in either direction, linking the miniscule town of La Linda on the Mexican side to the uninhabitable Heath Canyon in the US. However, the extreme remoteness of the bridge proved to be its eventual downfall. When smugglers killed a US customs official in 1997, the border station and the bridge were deemed too unimportant to merit the risk and closed.
Now, the La Linda bridge sits unused behind chain link fences and concrete barriers. The bridge is actually still in decent condition. Unless the government decides to reopen the span, however, Farm to Market Road 2627 is essentially a 30-mile long road to nowhere, a pointless foray into a harshly desolate landscape. Most visitors to nearby Big Bend National Park have no idea that the bridge exists.
Continued smuggling and rumors of Mexican military activity in the area makes the La Linda bridge a downright foolhardy destination to visit. It’s an incredibly dark example of the power of a border – one artificial line drawn between two nations is enough to reduce this formerly busy bridge into a concrete ghost.
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Old Town Bridge (see map) – Another wooden toll bridge connecting Maryland and West Virginia – this one’s dangerously close to the water!
Old Town Bridge. Photo by Rose K on Flickr (cc)
Swinging Bridges (see map) – A series of two spans hidden on a backroad near Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. I refused to drive my car over the second one when I visited!
Swinging Bridges. Photo via BridgeHunter.com.
Royal Gorge Bridge (see map) – The highest bridge in the US, outside Cañon City, Colorado. Touristy but terrifying nonetheless!
Royal Gorge Bridge. Photo by Photo_Hiker_Dave on Flickr (cc)
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