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Have you heard of Kinzua Bridge? Julie and I certainly had not. We stumbled across this fantastic Pennsylvania state park and had one of our most exciting adventures.
Are you ready for a daring skywalk in the clouds? We cover everything you need to know about Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Kinzua Bridge State Park
What is Kinzua Bridge?
At one time, Kinzua Viaduct was the longest and tallest railroad structure at 2,053 feet long and 301 feet high. It was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.”
Unfortunately, a tornado took out a significant portion of the viaduct in 2003. Rather than rebuild, engineers redesigned the bridge into a pedestrian walkway in 2011.
If you dare, you can venture 600 feet out on the skywalk to a 225-foot-high observation deck and soak in the breathtaking view of the Kinzua Gorge.
We climbed the Myakka River Observation Tower in Sarasota, Florida. Their tower is above the treetops but measures 74 feet. No wonder you feel like you can touch the clouds on the Kinzua Skywalk!
The whole scene is quite surreal. On the one hand, you are astounded by the beautiful vistas above the treetops. However, you cannot shake the sad sight of history in shambles on the valley floor below.
Brief History of Kinzua Bridge & the Park
- Construction began in 1881.
- In 1882 construction was completed. The original structure was made of iron.
- In 1900 the entire bridge was rebuilt with steel to accommodate heavier trains. This job was completed in an impressive 105 days!
- In 1959 freight traffic was discontinued.
- Kinzua Bridge State Park was created in 1963.
- In 1970 the park officially opened.
- Excursion trains began using the viaduct in 1987 for short rides through the Allegheny National Forest.
- In 2002 engineers decided a full-scale inspection needed to be done, and excursions were stopped.
- Repair work began in February 2003.
- On July 21, 2003, a tornado destroyed eleven towers of the bridge.
- The Kinzua Skywalk opened in 2011.
- In July 2016, the visitor center and park office opened.
Where is the park?
The 339-acre Kinzua Bridge State Park sits along the outskirts of the Allegheny National Forest in Mckean County, Pennsylvania. It is an easy two-hour drive south of New York’s famous Letchworth State Park.
The address is 296 Viaduct Road, Mt. Jewett, PA 16740. You can use this interactive map to obtain directions.
Operating Hours & Seasons
Kinzua Bridge State Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
The visitor center and park office hours vary throughout the year:
- January 1 – mid-March (before daylight savings)
- Mon-Sat 8:00 am to 4:00 pm
- Sun closed (typically open on Sunday of holiday weekends)
- Mid-March – early November (during daylight savings)
- Open daily 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
- Early November to December 31 (after daylight savings)
- Open daily 8:00 am to 4:00 pm (closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day)
There are no entrance fees required to enter the park or to walk the bridge. Well done Pennsylvania State Parks!
There are plenty of parking spaces in front of the park’s visitor center, from which Kinzua Bridge is a short walk. More good news – parking is free.
Kinzua Bridge State Park Visitor Center
The park’s visitor center opened in 2016. It is an excellent place for adults and kids to learn about the viaduct’s history. Beyond history, the park pays homage to the engineering feat itself.
The visitor center includes a gift shop, original artifacts, interactive exhibits, and short videos. They did a fantastic job of combining education and entertainment elements.
Julie and I visit a lot of state and national parks. The visitor center at Kinzua Bridge State Park is one of the best we have encountered.
Things to Do
Walking the Kinzua Bridge overlook is the main attraction. The walkway looks like a pier without an ocean. Train tracks running down the middle of the lengthy boardwalk are a sobering reminder of the original purpose of the enormous structure.
Toward the end of the observation deck, you will find a partial glass floor that you can walk across and peer through. Having a fear of heights, I stopped short of this opportunity. I saw a childish grin creep across Julie’s face as she took full advantage of this unique feature.
I assure you that the skywalk can be an enjoyable experience for those who fear heights. To prevent a panic attack, follow these tips:
- Do not walk close to the outer edge of the bridge. You can see straight down over the edge.
- Do not walk along the tracks in the middle. You will catch glimpses of the ground between the railroad ties.
- Walk on the obvious boardwalk in between the tracks and the outer edge. You can view the horizon from a comfortable distance without your heart rate spiking.
There are only about 2 miles of hiking trails at the park. However, these day hikes lead you through picturesque, wooded forests and storybook meadows.
You can efficiently complete the two hikes, enjoy the skywalk and tour the visitor center in a half day. I think you will find the experience, on the whole, to be rewarding.
Kinzua Bridge State Park uses a three-tier trail rating system:
- Easiest – trail grade is gentle with few obstacles.
- More Difficult – grade is steeper, and the trail surface may contain protruding roots or rocks.
- Most Difficult – elevation change is extreme, and the grade is steep.
Kinzua Creek Trail
Kinzua Creek Trail is a “more difficult” 0.8-mile out-and-back trail. So, your hike is 0.4 miles each way.
The grade is steep with loose rocks. Park rangers recommend wearing hiking shoes or boots with good support and traction. Although not a long hike, the steep trail will give you a workout.
The trail levels out when you reach the bottom of the gorge. Your reward is a splendid view of Kinzua Bridge from the valley.
You will cross the peacefully gurgling Kinzua Creek on a wooden footbridge. As you make your way along the path, you may notice a variety of wildflowers and berries. We spotted a few butterflies fluttering about.
Then you look up at the towering platform above and suddenly feel small. Julie and I were mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape, the imposing platform, and the mangled steel debris. It takes a little time to wrap your head around the size and scope of your surroundings. The frailty of such a massive structure against the wrath of Mother Nature reminds us all that life is fleeting.
General Kane Trail
General Kane Trail is an “easiest” 1.15-mile loop trail. The trail is named after General Thomas Leiper Kane, the visionary behind the Kinzua Bridge. Nature’s cycle of destruction and renewal is on full display as you walk through hardwood forests of black cherry and maple trees.
Snowshoeing is a popular winter activity in the park, especially along General Kane Trail. When at least 5 inches of snow cover the ground, the park makes snowshoeing available to guests.
The visitor center carries snowshoes in a variety of sizes. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis. You should call the visitor center and park office at 814-778-5467 to reserve your pair of snowshoes.
You can snap beautiful pictures of the Kinzua Gorge from the skywalk. However, you gain a different perspective of the scene by hiking the Kinzua Creek Trail to the valley. The footbridge is the perfect spot to capture the looming skywalk above and the crumpled towers in the gorge all in one shot.
If you love photography, there is another spot you do not want to miss. Under the skywalk, there is a picture-taking platform. Here you can shoot pictures through the support beams on the underside of the trestle bridge. The 3D effect is spectacular!
The park offers a wheelchair-accessible picnic pavilion near the visitor center that can fit up to 60 people. You may reserve the pavilion up to 11 months in advance for a rental fee.
There are a few individual picnic tables throughout the park that are free. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Kinzua Half Marathon
Each year in late July, you can participate in a unique half marathon at Kinzua Bridge State Park. The course takes you out and back on the scenic Knox Kane Rail Trail. You will start and finish mere steps from the monstrous Kinzua Skywalk.
Julie and I had no idea the event existed. We happened to visit on the day of the half marathon. As you can imagine, we were shocked to hear music blasting in the background as we parked near the visitor center. It was nice to see runners take the time to enjoy the view from the bridge after the race.
Hoping to spot wildlife? According to the Kinzua Bridge State Park website, local wildlife includes:
- Black bear
- White-tailed deer
- Cottontail rabbit
- Snowshoe hare
- Saw-whet owl
- Barred owl
- Numerous songbirds
When animals are most active, your best opportunities for a sighting are near dawn and dusk.
When to Visit
Kinzua Bridge is beautiful year-round. Spring offers blooming flowers and greenery as trees leaf out. Summer is the busiest time of year but provides a full canopy of trees and wildflowers in the meadow along the creek.
Autumn is breathtaking. Fiery fall foliage lights up the entire gorge. Vibrant fall colors typically peak in early October. Winter can provide a beautiful white blanket of snow across the valley.
Be sure to check the park website for updates on current conditions. The skywalk will close if weather conditions are unsafe.
If possible, visit on a weekday to experience smaller crowds. Visit near dawn or dusk for the best chances of observing wildlife and for heavenly sunrise or sunset photos.
Wrap Up: Kinzua Bridge State Park
Kinzua Bridge State Park is a rare treasure that combines natural beauty, an engineering marvel, and history in one park. Views from the skywalk and gorge are breathtaking. The visitor center is educational and entertaining. This Pennsylvania state park is well worth your time.
You might also like:
- Your Complete Guide to the Gorgeous Watkins Glen State Park
- Hocking Hills: Amazing Hikes for All Ability Levels
About the author
We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.