Have you ever wanted to find Heaven on Earth?
A nirvana so wonderful it couldn’t possibly be real?
Welcome to a place where blue skies and fields of gold come together. Where streams flow softly within the silence of real countryside. Where small town life still exists, and taking a step back into another time is truly possible.
Madison County, Iowa is absolute perfection.
Ever since the 1990s with the popularity of the novel and subsequent film, ‘The Bridges of Madison County’; the romanticism of this region continues to grow; and for good reason: the 6 covered bridges that remain here, which entice travelers all over the world to visit.
Driving here on a perfect Spring day is nothing short of spectacular, which luckily for me was exactly what I got for my one perfect day exploring Madison County with my Ohio based friend Vera.
Touring The Bridges Of Madison County
It is believed that at one point there were over 100 covered bridges in Iowa, however many were lost to fire, floods, collisions or demolition over the years. This means that these 6 covered bridges which are left, are truly the gems of Iowa and a large reason for why Madison County remains so special. Yes, there is some graffiti on the interior areas of the bridges, but it’s mostly people signing their names and unfortunately, this will always be there due to the isolation of the bridges.
To explore the area, you’ll need a car to get around, as the 6 bridges are very much spread out across the Madison County area of south-eastern Iowa. Be warned, the roads are mostly dirt, which means your car will get a decent dusting as you make your way around to the different bridges.
But where does one start on such a road trip? A route full of beautiful scenery, picturesque towns and stunning photo opportunities at every stop. It rivals some of the best US road trips in my view; and whilst it only takes approximately 2-3 hours to visit all of the bridges comfortably; this road trip will always remain a memorable one for those who attempt it.
If you’re headed here, this is the order I recommend seeing them when you visit:
Imes Covered Bridge (Est.1870)
St.Charles is the best place to start as it offers the beautiful red and white house shaped Imes Bridge, which is the ‘Gateway to The Bridges’, as highlighted by the sign that stands before it.
Built in 1870, the Imes Bridge is visually striking. I had goosebumps when I saw it.
It is the oldest of all the bridges in Madison County and very much takes your breath away with its contrast of red colours against a clear blue sky. Nestled off to the side of E. Main St, with corn fields on one side, and the outer limits of the town on the other; this picture perfect setting sets the expectations high.
The Imes Bridge was restored in the 1990s, which highlights why it’s still in such good condition today. Walking through the bridge with the warm sunshine shining through the side rafters is a superb view too.
And even though it sits off the roadside, the silence of the area is still felt the entire time you’re here.
Holliwell Covered Bridge (Est.1880)
The next town over from St.Charles is Winterset.
Home of the remaining 5 covered bridges; a stunning town square and the claim to fame of being ‘John Wayne’s birthplace’.
The Holliwell Bridge was built over the Middle River in 1880; and is one of the 2 bridges in the region that are most well-known for featuring in the film The Bridges Of Madison County starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. The bridge is located off Holliwell Bridge Road.
The Holliwell Bridge is not as open with light as the Imes Bridge is, with the entire body of it sealed up to the roof. However, it is quite enchanting to look at purely because it has a river flowing underneath and when looking at it from afar, it does make for a picture perfect photo opportunity. This is Midwest USA right here.
The Holliwell Bridge is one of the most beloved bridges in the region, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, so it’s pretty special.
Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge (Est.1870)
The Cutler-Donahoe Bridge is a little different to the others, as it sits within the confines of the Winterset City Park surrounded by a section of trees near the entrance.
Even so, it is a beautiful addition to the park, having been moved here in 1979. The structure of the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge is similar to that of the Imes Bridge with its pitched roof style design and is yet another lovely bridge to see.
Whether you want to stop for lunch, or take a relaxed stroll through the park to stretch your legs; the Winterset City Park makes for a lovely pit stop no matter why you’re there.
Cedar Covered Bridge (Est.1883)
The Cedar Bridge was built in 1883 and like the Holliwell Bridge, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
Unfortunately, the original bridge was destroyed by an arson attack in 2002, but it was rebuilt two years later using the same specifications and materials as the original, so it is as good as one could hope it to be.
The Cedar Bridge is located on Cedar Bridge Road, and has one special characteristic that none of the other bridges do: it is the one bridge which is open to traffic.
So if you have a car you can drive over it – very slowly, which is exciting to experience. Larger vehicles will not fit however, so always be mindful of the size of your vehicle before attempting this and always respect the bridge.
Hogback Covered Bridge (Est.1884)
The Hogback Bridge is a little further out than the rest, so having use of a GPS is beneficial when locating it on Hogback Bridge Road.
This bridge, is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places as it was built in 1884; and shares a similar feeling to the Holliwell Bridge due to the river flowing underneath it.
What makes this bridge different to the others however is just how secluded it is. One really is in the middle of nowhere with this one.
A charming feature to this bridge, is the Hogback Dreamer Journal which can be found on the right side of the bridge hanging from a chain inside. Here, visitors can write in the journal and talk about the dreams they have for their life. Putting pen to paper for all the world to see is indeed courageous for those who do it; and reading the messages of previous visitors and where they have traveled from makes it a very memorable aspect as well.
The journal is replaced once it fills up, so unfortunately my ‘dream’ may not be found in the one that is there when you go.
Roseman Covered Bridge (Est.1883)
The final bridge in the region is the Roseman Bridge, which I loved leaving until last.
Like the Holliwell Bridge, this bridge was featured in the novel and film The Bridges of Madison County, with it too sitting gloriously across the Middle River. This bridge is in original condition and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, having been built in 1883. It is located off Elder Berry Avenue.
The best aspect about the Roseman Covered Bridge however is the style of it. Whilst some favour the pitched roof look, I prefer the straight look and really believe that these stand out so much more than the other styles that exist.
Although it shares similarities to the Holliwell and Cedar Bridges, there is just something about this bridge which separates it from the others. Maybe it is the name that helps captivate it?
Do Not Miss Out On Madison County
After visiting this region of the United States, it’s pretty clear that no one will ever tire of exploring such true country here in Iowa.
From the small towns, the covered bridges and the scenery around you – as you drive through it all, you are given one of the most relaxed road trips that can ever be taken. It truly is romantic.
Vera and I had a very lovely day driving around here, even as two single girls. We still saw the romance in the region.
And on a beautifully warm day with the sun shining, blue skies and nature all around you?
Well, it’s the ultimate perfection and true Heaven on Earth if there ever was one.