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Blog Fun, Unique, And Historical Bridges Of Yosemite
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Alex Silgalis | 02/01/2021 | Hiking, Museums, History & Culture, Nature, Photography |   

Besides the overwhelming list of attractions within and surrounding Yosemite, one that isn’t talked about much are the bridges of Yosemite. Some are historically significant. Others provide an architectural beauty. No matter what, all of them connect people to the surrounding world. While many of these may not be a primary destination, if you’re near one of them, we recommend taking a moment to enjoy their beauty. As they like to say, it isn’t the destination but the journey that makes a trip memorable.

Wawona Swinging Bridge

For fans of Indiana Jones’ Temple of Doom, you don’t need to go all the way to Sri Lanka to act out the swinging bridge scene. Instead, you can do your best impersonation on a sturdier version in Wawona, albeit on a smaller scale. All it takes is a short jaunt (3/4 of a mile), and you can get to a bridge that actually swings. And, if you arrive on a late spring or summer day, you can even take a dip in the cool waters of the Merced River.

THE Yosemite Swinging Bridge

Sentinel Bridge in Yosemite ValleyWhen someone talks about the “swinging bridge”, they’re normally speaking about the one in Yosemite Valley itself. As you stand on it, you may wonder why this one is called this when it doesn’t really swing. Well, before 1965 the bridge across the river at this location actually did swing. The issue was that the bridge wasn’t designed to handle the spring floods, so it became damaged or washed away multiple times. The NPS finally decided in 1965 to fix this issue hopefully for good. They constructed a bridge to last and that’s what you see now. From here you get awe-inspiring views of Yosemite Falls and access to one of the most popular picnic/day-use areas in Yosemite Valley.Swinging Bridge when it was a swinging suspension bridge - Image Courtesy NPS

Wawona Covered Bridge

Galen Clark built this bridge in 1857. He was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Yosemite Grant, later signed by Abraham Lincoln. This grant set aside the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Yosemite Valley. Special protection and preservation were the purpose, which was later encompassed by the National Park designation in 1890. The bridge itself was covered in 1879 by a trio of brothers from Vermont who owned the “new” Wawona hotel. By all accounts, the reason it got covered was less because of weather and more that they were a bit homesick for Vermont and all its covered bridges. While the main road has been rerouted around it, we recommend taking a pit stop to see one of only twelve covered bridges left in California.


Yosemite Valley Bridges

Within the Yosemite Valley region exists many bridges that cross over the Merced River and other feeder creeks. Five of them were built in 1928 and the remainder between 1921 and 1933.


During this period, the National Parks were focused on building structures such as bridges to feel as though they grew out of the ground naturally. They wanted structures to blend with the scenery, making them feel as belonging as the neighboring trees and rocks. Instead of the original steel trusses or suspension bridges of the past, these were built with concrete arches and stone faces to blend with the environment.

The first built was the Yosemite Creek Bridge in 1922. This fifty-foot single arch has a reinforced concrete face with granite, replacing an earlier bridge referred to as the “the littler red bridge.” This one is on North Road and spans Yosemite Creek just below the Yosemite Falls.

During the year of 1928, this was the first bridge built. Out of the eight Yosemite Valley bridges, this is the ONLY one that is triple arched. Found on Mirror Lake Road, it frames the view of Half Dome for eastbound traffic.  Looking west, as in the photo below, you can view Royal Arches.


Named after Galen Clark, this bridge’s design is a bit different because it is one main semi-elliptical span and two small rounded subway arches. The reason for the two subway arches is so horseback riders and pedestrians can walk under the bridge. This architectural beauty is found on Curry Stables Road.Clark's Bridge Construction - Image Courtesy NPS

Like many bridges in Yosemite, there have been many iterations of the Pohono Bridge. The first wooden version was built in 1868 under the direction of the Board of Commissioners of the Yosemite Land Grant. The original has been replaced a few times over the years (carried away by floods was a common demise...) with the current one built during 1928. This reinforced concrete and stone masonry Rustic Park Style structure spans 80 feet, has only one semi-elliptical span. It’s the furthest west of the Yosemite Valley bridges connecting the junction of El Portal Road and North Side Drive to South Side Drive. An interesting engineering fact about the Pohono Bridge is because of its location, it demanded additional support due to the swiftness of the current of the Merced River as it rushes by underneath.

A view of the Pohono Bridge surrounded by colorful fall foliage

This one is the longest out of the eight Yosemite Valley Bridges. When these bridges were built, the Ahwahnee Bridge was originally known as Kenneyville Bridge No. 1 and this one was No. 2. The bridge then became the Sugar Pine Bridge because of a large Sugar Pine that grew to the north of the east bridge abutment. This bridge is also on Mirror Lake Road, just like the Ahwahnee Bridge.

The last built in 1928, this arch was a bit higher and deeper than the Sugar Pine Bridge. That design decision was made so it better conformed to its surroundings. You can find it on Happy Isles-Mirror Lake Road.

A near twin of the Clark Bridge, it also has two subway arches and a main semi-elliptical span. This bridge, built in 1929, is found on Happy Isles Road.

Last, but definitely not least is the Stoneman Bridge. Built in 1933, it replaced a wooden variety that carried the Royal Arch Avenue to the same named Stoneman Hotel. The hotel was demolished by the 1920’s. Although similar to the Clark and Happy Isle Bridges, the abutments were enlarged and extended out from the surface of the wing walls for greater emphasis.

Not as much of a historic bridge but thousands of visitors traverse this bridge across Yosemite Creek each year.  It's the perfect place to view, and enjoy the spray, of Lower Yosemite Falls especially in the spring time when the snow pack is melting and the falls are booming! 

Bridge at the base of Bridalveil Fall

Every spring the smooth moving waters of the Merced swell from the deep snowpack thousands of feet above. Although this produces some of the most fantastic waterfalls in the world, it also makes for engineering challenges to cross it in all seasons. So, the next time you explore Yosemite, be sure to take a moment to appreciate the bridges of Yosemite, giving you access to all its splendor.

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Like what you see? Save any of these pins (or possibly all of them) to your travel planning board(s) to give you an easy way to find your way back here!  Also check out our other blog posts as well as itineraries for more ideas and pins!

Alex Silgalis

Alex founded localfreshies.com® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

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