Looking for an Old-Fashioned Adventure? We’ve got you Covered!


These aren’t your (great-great) grandfather’s covered bridges. The quaint but few covered bridges in Wisconsin today don’t serve the same practical purposes that they did back in the mid-1800s. Back then covered bridges were a common sight; at one time Wisconsin had more than 40, according to the Wisconsin State Historical Society. Their enclosures were meant to protect the wooden bridges from the elements and, it is said, to help farmers coax anxious livestock across streams or other obstacles.

Covered bridges began falling out of favor in the latter half of the 1800s, as weather-resistant wrought and cast iron gradually replaced wood in bridge construction. Most of the old wooden covered bridges eventually disappeared, falling victim to the elements and time.

Today, only one of Wisconsin’s original covered bridges still stands: the 1876 Cedarburg Bridge in the City of Cedarburg, just north of Milwaukee, is credited with being the last one.

However, several covered bridges can be found in the rural areas served by electric cooperatives. These picturesque structures pay homage to their predecessors in appearance and design, with many built in the distinctive lattice-truss style that was introduced in the early 1800s. Some have historic ties; one is even a direct replica of a bridge that once stood in the same general area.

Although they may serve practical purposes, these more recent covered bridges were built and are carefully maintained more for their link to the past and their aesthetic appeal than for the functional purposes their forerunners served. People cross these bridges to get to the other side, of course, but also to simply enjoy the moment and take in the sense of nostalgia and romance that covered bridges just seem to conjure.

Even better, their surroundings tend to be as beautiful as the bridges themselves. The covered bridges that appear in and around Wisconsin’s electric cooperative territories are typically located along scenic biking trails or in public park areas, making them a highlight of a greater destination. Here are a several of our favorites, from the southernmost corners of the state on up to the thick Northwoods. Bring a camera.

Clarence Covered Bridge

Near the state’s southern border in Rock County are two covered bridges with unique ties to local history, each located on well-groomed rail trails adjacent to areas served by Rock Energy Cooperative.

Just west of Brodhead is a replica of the historic Clarence Covered Bridge that was built in 1864-65 over the Sugar River as part of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul railroad line in south central Wisconsin. It was one of the last covered bridges still in use in Wisconsin until it was closed to vehicle traffic in 1951.

The former railbed along which it once stood is now part of the Sugar River State Trail, a National Recreation Trail that extends for 24 miles between New Glarus and Brodhead. The crushed-stone trail passes by rolling farmlands, thick woods, meadows, and remnant prairies, and over 14 trestle bridges that cross the Sugar River and its tributaries.

Among those bridges is the replica Clarence Covered Bridge, a key feature of the entire trail. Located just off the trail’s southern terminus outside of Brodhead, the bridge was built in 1984 over the Norwegian Creek by the Brodhead Jaycees in an effort to preserve the community’s rich history.

That history is on full display during Brodhead’s annual Covered Bridge Days celebration, held this year August 11-13. Festivities include live music and food, horse-drawn wagon rides, an art show, a car show, tractor display and drive, and more.

The Clarence Covered Bridge is located northwest of Golf Course Road, about 2 miles north of Brodhead. A parking area with restrooms is located on W. 3rd Ave. in Brodhead. Learn more about Covered Bridge Days at www.brodheadchamber.com or by calling 608-897-8411.

Glacial Trail Covered Bridge

Farther north in Rock County is the Glacial Trail Covered Bridge, a popular feature of the 31.5-mile Glacial River Bike Trail that passes through Jefferson, Rock, and Dodge counties. A portion of the trail is set on the old Chicago Northwestern railroad line along State Highway 26. It’s in this area, just off the trailhead near Fort Atkinson, where visitors will cross the distinctive red covered bridge, resembling a train caboose with a little cupola on top.

The bridge was built in 2000, although the materials and methods used in its construction give it a decidedly historic look. That’s thanks to Craig Roost, a Fort Atkinson carpenter who supplied the vision and much of the labor for this project. He created a design based on historical covered bridges and used weathered timber from a 1906 barn located on a nearby farm. Some of the hardware from the old railroad was also incorporated in the bridge’s construction.

The Glacial River Bike Trail is mostly paved, making for easy traversing through the bridge and past a variety of other features including bronze sculptures, farmland, prairies, wetland, and woodlands.

The Glacial Trail Covered Bridge is located south of Fort Atkinson on the west side of Highway 26. Park at the trail lot at County Line Road and Old Highway 26; the bridge is about a half mile north of the lot.

Bridge 18 at Kickapoo Valley Reserve

The Kickapoo Valley Reserve in La Farge, right in the heart of Wisconsin’s beautiful Driftless Region along Vernon Electric Cooperative’s lines, is home to a series of bridges crossing the winding Kickapoo River that flows through the 8,600-acre reserve. Three of those bridges are covered, the first and most well known of which is Bridge 18, the reserve’s first and southernmost bridge.

This bridge was installed along the Old Hwy 131 Trail not far from the reserve’s Visitor Center by Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. Its delicate lattice-design sides allow for great wildlife viewing, including the more than 100 species of nesting birds for which the reserve is known.

Another covered bridge was installed farther north along the Old Hwy 131 Trail several years ago by the Ho-Chunk nation. This bridge’s design integrates the traditional lattice look with some more modern elements. It was a state finalist for a 2019 Engineering Excellence Award.

Covered-bridge crossing is just a tiny fraction of the outdoor activities that can be enjoyed at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. The reserve offers great hiking, canoeing, kayaking, biking, camping, horseback riding, snowshoeing, bird watching, star gazing, and just plain nature reveling.

The Kickapoo Valley Reserve’s Visitor Center is located at S3661 WI-131, La Farge, WI 54639. Trail maps are available at the center. For more information, visit kvr.state.wi.us or call 608-625-2962.

Springwater Volunteer Bridge

The central Wisconsin Town of Springwater, in Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative’s service territory, is home to another one of Wisconsin’s newer covered bridges, built in 1997 over the Pine River in what is now known as Covered Bridge Park. This bridge is special not for its historical relevance—although its design, inspired by the Smith Rapids Covered Bridge in Park Falls (keep reading to learn more about that bridge) gives it a historical look—but for the volunteer embrace that brought it to life.

According to the town’s website, an old concrete bridge needed replacement in 1989 but the town wanted something more than the nondescript design that public funds could cover. Facing resistance from the Department of Transportation, the town board dropped state and federal funding and launched a fund-raising campaign for what they really wanted—a covered bridge. The bridge was completed in 1997 and dedicated a year later as the Springwater Volunteer Bridge in a nod to the volunteers who made it happen.

The Springwater Volunteer Bridge is located at 24th Lane, Saxeville, WI 54976. Visit townofspringwater.com or call 920-622-3808 to learn more.

Smith Rapids Covered Bridge

Tucked in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Park Falls in Price County, within Price Electric Cooperative’s footprint, is the Smith Rapids Covered Bridge, stretching 94 feet across the south fork of the Flambeau River. Built in 1991, this lattice-work bridge was awarded as an Outstanding Engineering Project in Wisconsin in 1992. It’s the only glue-laminated covered bridge in the state, and also one of very few covered bridges that can be accessed by motor vehicle, located as it is along scenic Rustic Road 105.

Whatever your method of crossing, this bridge is best experienced at a slow pace, as there’s lots to see from the diamond-shaped openings along the sides. The bridge is also located adjacent to the Smith Rapids Recreation Area, which offers camping, fishing, canoeing, picnicking, horseback riding, and hiking.

The Smith Rapids Covered Bridge is located on U.S. Forest Rd. 148, N14900 Smith Rapids Road, Park Falls, WI 54522. To learn more visit www.phillipswisconsin.net or call 715-339-4100.

Horton Covered Bridge

Farther north, a very different style of covered bridge can be found in Amnicon Falls State Park in South Range in Douglas County, not far from Bayfield Electric Cooperative’s service territory. The park is known for its series of waterfalls and rapids along the Amnicon River, and a key spot for viewing them is the Horton Covered Bridge, which spans the river at the Lower Falls.

This 55-foot bridge is historic, but it wasn’t originally a covered bridge. It started out as an uncovered highway bridge that crossed the Amnicon River near the park, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The bridge was constructed using the bowstring style patented by Charles M. Horton, who in 1897 and 1898 obtained a number of patents for bridges that he claimed made them stronger, lighter, more durable, and more quickly and cheaply assembled. Horton’s design called for using arched beams secured with hooks and clips instead of rivets and bolts.

In 1930, the aforementioned highway bridge was moved to Amnicon Falls State Park to enable visitors to access the island around which the Amnicon River flows. The covering was added in 1939 by the members of the Brule Conservation Corps and has been rebuilt twice since then.

Amnicon State Park is located at 4279 County Hwy. U, South Range, WI 54874. To learn more visit dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/amnicon/bridge or call 715-398-3000.
—Mary Erickson