If you’re a sucker for the nostalgic, you’ll really enjoy Virginia’s swinging bridges. They’re photogenic locations that align with the likes of old watermills and covered bridges — treasures we should protect for the stories they represent.
According to Gary Lester with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), “pedestrian bridges were mainly just to provide access when the water was too high to either ride or drive across the fords.” Lester also said, “Several years ago there was about 70 in the whole state.” VDOT maintains a majority (if not all) of Virginia’s swinging bridges.
Some bridges provide access to private properties; be respectful in your adventures.
Photo Credit: Shannon Terry
The Buchanan Swinging Bridge is hard to miss with its position within downtown Buchanan. Harder still would have been the initial covered bridge that stood on the concrete piers jutting from the James River. The original covered bridge was burned during the Civil War on June 13, 1864 to prevent Union troops from accessing Lynchburg. It was rebuilt only to be washed away by raging flood waters in 1877. It was again rebuilt only to be replaced by a steel bridge in 1897, which stood until 1938. Today those stone piers stand firmly for the pedestrian swinging bridge, which is 366 feet long and is the only one of its type that crosses the James River. It’s on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
HIKES WITH SWINGING BRIDGES
Olde Mill Golf Resort in Laurel Fork is more than 800 acres of recreational opportunity, including hiking trails with streams to cross, which means, a swinging bridge hidden just for you.
Old Mill golf resort. Photo Credit: Scott K. Brown
Goshen Pass draws many visitors in fall, spring and summer as the blooms, swimming hole, and foliage beckon. If you’ve passed that way on Route 39 west of Lexington, you might have spotted a swinging bridge spanning the Maury River. Park at the lot there, cross the bridge and turn left, following signs for this, the 5.6-mile Jump Rock Trail, considered difficult. This trail requires a permit from the Department of Wildlife Resources.
The Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area in Shenandoah County includes various trails for hiking and mountain biking, a stocked trout stream for fishing, picnic areas, camping, and a swinging bridge over Passage Creek that leads to a historic cabin.
Hikers along the Appalachian Trail in Nelson County will encounter a hand-built swinging bridge over the Tye River. It’s located on the AT to Harpers Creek leg, not far from Crabtree Falls. See the Three Ridges hike that includes this same area.
Dismal Creek Falls in Bland County is a draw unto itself, but pair it with the portion of the AT that includes the bridge across Kimberling Creek (mile 605.4 at Route 606), and you have a beautiful day hike indeed.
BRIDGES IN SCOTT COUNTY
One Virginia location is better known for swinging bridges than others. Scott County in southwest Virginia boasts 40 swinging bridges. Here are a few:
- Bellamy – spans Copper Creek between Routes 627 and 643. Perhaps the coolest part of this bridge is the road that runs alongside the creek and beneath it. There are also bridges in Washington and Lee Counties that are situated this way.
- Dorter Mill – spans North Fork Holston River at Routes 614 and 606.
- Clinch River Spans
- Carter Ferry – spans Clinch River east of Clinchport and Natural Tunnel State Park off Route 65. The main span of the bridge is about 225 feet.
- Clinchport – spans Clinch River off Routes 65 and 644. The bridge is about 282 feet long.
- Dona – spans Northern Clinch River off Routes 600 and 621.
- Flat Rock – spans Clinch River between Routes 625 and 627.
- Starnes Slant – spans Clinch River on Route 662 northeast of Clinchport.
- Wood Swinging Bridge is perhaps my favorite of all of these in Scott County as it’s a closed, wooden, swinging bridge. It’s an accurate glimpse into the past. Find it for a photo opportunity off Routes 72 and 901 as it crosses Clinch River southwest of Dungannon.
- The Swinging Bridges of Scott County
BRIDGES IN BATH COUNTY
The Bullpasture River Swinging Bridge is open to pedestrians and crosses the river about 12 miles south of Bullpasture Gorge. Bikes and horses are not allowed across the wire suspension bridge. To reach the bridge, take Route 678 north from Williamsville about 2.3 miles. Once you get close to the bridge, there are several gravel pull offs to safely park your car right off of Route 678.
BRIDGES IN LEE COUNTY
Lee County has quite the collection of swinging bridges as well, with about two dozen being maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Travel down Swinging Bridge Road and you’ll encounter at least two crossing the Powell River. Two others span Hardy Creek along T-660 off Routes 759 and 790. Hardy Creek is a tributary of the Powell River.
UNEXPECTED SWINGING BRIDGES
Virginia’s Largest Upside Down Swinging Bridge is found in an unsuspecting place — Ticonderoga Farms in Chantilly. Dipping down to nearly skim the water, the 143-foot bridge is great fun for kids. Don’t worry, mom, the railing won’t allow for any accidents. Ticonderoga Farms is also home to America’s Largest Bamboo Garden – a 50 island bamboo maze navigable by boat! Visit during all four seasons for various events and fun.
Paint Bank, Virginia is situated along Route 311, a Virginia Scenic Byway. Here you’ll find The Swinging Bridge Restaurant, a destination restaurant, of sorts, where you’ll find buffalo burgers and comfort food on the menu. Within the restaurant is, in fact, a swinging bridge that connects one end of the second floor gift shop with the other. Also of note are the buffalo roaming out back and the fireside living room atmosphere inside.
In Sperryville, you’ll find a red swinging bridge that spans Thornton River and leads to Glassworks Gallery. Making that crossing brings on the whimsy that awaits in the area’s largest gallery. Have time to spare? Glass blowing classes are offered by appointment!