21 Not-to-Miss Scenic Spans, Thrilling Crossings and Bridges
The Pacific Northwest’s unique geography and topography means Washington and Idaho bridges cross high over rivers and gorges, float on lakes and canals and connect communities across borders and barriers. They offer access to some of the country’s most scenic landscapes and are indelible landmarks in their own right.
Some of our spans are breathtaking, like Washington’s towering High Steel Bridge that stretches in a soaring arch 365 feet above the South Fork of the Skokomish River. Others, like the Tri-Cities’ Cable Bridge, have become iconic symbols.
We can traverse their lengths, find relief in their shadows and set out on our own bridge adventure, whether it be a tandem jump into the Snake River Canyon, sampling fresh-caught fish from the Columbia River, or two-wheeled coasting down Idaho’s Chatcolet Bridge on a long ride toward the Palouse grasslands.
Perrine Bridge Thrills
When the winds are at a standstill and the sun is rising over the horizon beyond Shoshone Falls, Perrine Bridge is at its best for Sean Chuma, who has parachuted from the Idaho bridge more than 4,000 times.
“I moved here for this bridge,” says Chuma. “People come from as far away as Australia and Germany just to be on the Perrine Bridge for a day. Some are here to BASE jump. Others come to watch.”
BASE (building, antenna, span and earth) jumping without a permit is legal 365 days per year on no other bridge in the U.S. except this arched beauty 486 feet above the Snake River. Connecting Twin Falls with Jerome County, Perrine Bridge has a wide sidewalk that can accommodate jumpers and steel-stomached spectators alike.
Below is a vertical canyon with lush greenery along the river and a grassy field for landing. Nearby is a monument to legendary stuntman Evel Knievel, who survived a drop into the canyon when he tried to cross it on a steam-powered rocket in 1974.
Idaho’s Dent Bridge
The Dent Bridge gets astrophotographer Jeremy Tamsen’s heart racing. It is Idaho’s longest suspension bridge, opened in the 1970s to connect the small town of Elk River with Orofino instead of a road around the 53.6-mile-long Dworshak Reservoir.
The remote location and near absence of light pollution makes it great for night photography contrasting the suspension bridge with star trails and the Milky Way, Tamsen’s specialty.
“It’s such a strong structure, showing almost no signs of use or deterioration whatsoever, and it’s just in the middle of nowhere,” he says.
For valley views, head to the spacious overlook on the Orofino side of the bridge.
“There are even a couple of trails cut around the bank of the bridge that let you get down to look at the underside of it and explore a bit,” Tamsen says.
Bridges in Beautiful Settings
Mount Rainier National Park’s Christine Falls and Narada Falls bridges are two prime examples of early 20th-century “parkitecture,” a rustic architectural-style using natural materials and hand-built construction to better blend with their surroundings.
Skilled kayakers brave dizzying whirlpools and roiling eddies in the fast-moving currents below Washington’s Deception Pass Bridge, which is actually two distinct bridges connecting Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island. Orcas and harbor porpoises also pass through; visitors can watch these marine maneuvers or just take in the scenery and unforgettable sunsets from the pedestrian walkways and trails above and the beach below at Deception Pass State Park.
The waters also churn beneath Idaho’s North Fork Payette River Bridge between Boise and McCall on the Payette River Scenic Byway, set in a forest that turns spectacular autumn shades of burnt orange and bright gold. Nicknamed the Rainbow Bridge, at 410 feet across it’s the state’s largest single-span concrete arch structure, passing over a family-friendly whitewater rafting run.
The 464-foot-tall Moyie River Canyon Bridge in Bonners Ferry is one of the highest bridges in the entire U.S. and the second highest in Idaho, a steel truss beauty that offers phenomenal canyon views. (Be warned that the catwalk below is neither safe nor legal to access.)
The Hoffstadt Creek Bridge on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway is another feat of engineering, the longest and tallest of the 14 bridges leading from Castle Rock toward Mount St. Helens. Stop and savor the scenery from a viewing area on the bridge’s west end.
For more of a thrill, Montana’s Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge between Libby and Troy is accessible via a forest trail leading down from U.S. Highway 2. Originally built for fighting fires, this suspension bridge overlooks the equally electrifying Kootenai River rapids.
Seattle’s Floating and Fremont Bridges
Closer to Seattle is an incredible bridge that many travelers might take for granted. The State Route 520 Bridge is the longest floating bridge on Earth and offers water-level views of Lake Washington and mountains in all directions for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Summer is the busiest season for Seattle’s Fremont Bridge, once the most-opened drawbridge in the nation. Marine traffic has priority over the motorists and pedestrians who cross above, and the boats and bridge-raising spectacle have long been an entertaining draw for onlookers of all ages.
“We have sailboats, commercial crab fishing boats, massive multimillion-dollar yachts coming through,” says Senior Bridge Operator Greg Silcox, who opens the bridge more than 20 times on busy days. “I watch them pass beneath the bridge and I wonder: Where are they going? Where have they been?”
Columbia River Bridges
Bridges up and down the Columbia River exhibit beauty and utility as they connect communities: Bridge of the Gods, the steel-truss Hood River Bridge, Wenatchee’s Senator George Sellar Bridge and the Astoria-Megler Bridge are just a few examples.
Pacific Crest Trail through-hiker Eliana “Rumi” Schiffer knew she hit a milestone when crossing the Bridge of the Gods more than 2,000 miles into her 2,600-mile trek one September morning.
“You’re walking across a stretch of steel lattice above the Columbia River Gorge, connecting Oregon to Washington,” she says. “I was feeling so giddy, but am afraid of heights so I couldn’t look down.”
If she had, she may have seen the Brigham family fishing for salmon using traditional netting techniques passed down through generations to present-day anglers like Terrie Brigham Price and her sister, Kim Brigham Campbell.
“My mom would put my sister in a fishing tote and that’s where she stayed while she fished,” says Brigham Campbell, whose family owns Brigham Fish Market near the bridge.
Bridge of the Gods is named after the Native American legends of ancestors who could cross without getting wet after landslides reshaped the river and funneled fish through what is now Cascade Locks, where vendors sell fresh catches in the bridge’s shadow.
Some connecting features of bridges are more subtle. In Tacoma, the vertical-lift Murray Morgan Bridge has its own public-access elevator to skip the 132 stairs up to the bridge deck, allowing pedestrians and cyclists easy access to the Thea Foss Waterway from downtown.
Sandpoint’s Special Bridges
Sandpoint, Idaho, is home to two special bridges that connect more than just places.
The first, Cedar Street Bridge Public Market, is both a bridge and marketplace (as its name makes clear), perhaps the only bridge of its kind in the U.S. Here, shoppers can browse specialty shops selling huckleberry truffles, flavored sea salts and handmade bath bombs.
The second is the Sandpoint Long Bridge, a straight-shooting 2-mile span across the source of the Pend Oreille River, connecting farming communities to the south with the city of Sandpoint on the bridge’s northern end.
Dairy goat farmer Debbie Berntsen has traversed this bridge from Sagle to downtown Sandpoint for more than eight years to sell her cheeses, kefir and yogurt at the Saturday farmers market.
“[Much of] the area’s been growing in leaps and bounds, and what used to be prairie and grasslands is now built up with car dealerships and housing developments,” says Berntsen, noting the many ways in which it’s almost unrecognizable from when she moved here in 1993.
“But the bridge itself hasn’t changed,” she says. “And the views are still spectacular.”
–Written by Laura Kiniry, last updated in September 2022.
–Top photo of Idaho’s Perrine Bridge over the Snake River by Daniel Navarro
This story originally appeared in the November/December 2020 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.