Touring Oregon's Covered Bridges by Motorcycle

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Oregon’s Five Covered Bridges Day Loop

These scenic spans that recall Oregon’s pioneer past make for a great daytrip

Story and photos by Andy Cherney

Who doesn’t like a covered bridge? The colorful spans have always evoked the mystery and romance of a bygone era, plus you usually find them plopped down in some ridiculously scenic terrain. And if you’re a true aficionado, Oregon’s not a bad place to be; the Beaver State claims upward of 50 covered examples. That’s the most covered bridges west of the Mississippi.

The first covered bridges in Oregon were cobbled together by rugged pioneers in the 1850s, with that cover serving to keep the huge truss timber foundation dry. So a covered bridge could last 80 years or more, while an uncovered span would deteriorate in under 10. The abundance of Douglas Fir and the shortage of steel during the world wars meant construction of covered spans continued well into the 1950s, and at their peak, there were an estimated 450 covered bridges in Oregon. Now, however, probably less than 50 of these grand old spans remain open to vehicle traffic, most of them soldiering on as tourist attractions. And you could say they’ve done their job well: these bridges continue to be extremely photogenic and visually appealing.

50 bridges are a lot. Sure, maybe I could bag them all over the course of a couple of weeks, but for my first reconnaissance, I'd keep it simple. After some research, I discovered a cluster of these funky reminders of Oregon's pioneer past near the tiny town of Scio situated between Portland and Eugene. They were in peaceful, wide-open farm country, and best of all, the route could be run as a loop. Time to pack the cameras.

With Interstate 5 serving as the main artery from Portland, it was the logical - if not preferred - place to start. If you’re coming from the northern Cascades or from the east, however, any number of mountain roads can boost the fun factor: from the east, consider taking OR -22 or US-20 westbound, then, at Mehama, dropping onto OR-226 southbound to Scio; or for a real adventure, ride the Aufderheide Scenic Byway from Sisters over to Eugene, and then up to Albany.

From Washington, it’s quickest to jam down I-5 south to the Albany exit for US 20 east. From the south, you can also go north on I-5 and do the same.

The Hoffman Bridge near the town of Scio was built by hand in 1936, and is still carrying vehicles today.

After exiting I-5 near Albany, head east for a couple of miles on US 20 before bearing left onto OR- 226 as it splits off to the east. Even those riders with a heavy throttle hand will find themselves easing the pace as they pass filbert orchards, tree farms, and alpaca ranches along 226. Really, there’s nothing but farms for the first few miles of this flat and somewhat fast two-laner, framed by fields and barns and occasionally broken up by rolling hills and maybe a stray farm tractor.

Just past the town of Crabtree, you’ll turn north (left) onto Hungry Hill Drive and ride approximately 1 mile to get to the first span on the loop: the Howe-truss type Hoffman Covered Bridge. This 77-year old span with Gothic style windows crosses Crabtree Creek and the Santiam River with a design that’s distinctly different from the open truss layout you’d usually see in these parts. The original bridge has since been enlarged and squared to allow larger trucks to squeeze through, but you can still see signs that the upper beams were shaped by hand (bridge crews in 1936 didn’t have portable power tools).

Pretty much in the middle of nowhere, the Gilkey Bridge runs parallel to a railroad bridge that was once covered as well. As you can imagine, both structures have since been rehabbed.

Gilkey Bridge is about 5 miles north of Hoffman; just turn around (don’t cross the Hoffman Bridge) and go back the way you came along Hungry Hill Road as it heads southeast, until you hit Crabtree Drive /Cold Springs Rd, and turn west (right). Once you reach Gilkey Road, turn north (right) and ride several miles as Gilkey eventually becomes Goar Rd, and the bridge heaves into sight. The white, open-sided Gilkey Bridge sports large curved portals and an exposed truss design that seems almost ethereal as it crosses Thomas Creek about 3.5 miles southwest of Scio. The 120 foot long bridge was constructed in 1939, but seriously damaged in 1997 and then rehabilitated in 2017. Decent-size pullouts on the west side of the bridge allow you to park and snap photos safely, if you’re so inclined.

After Gilkey you’ll probably want a snack, and for that your best bet is just up the road in the quiet burg of Scio. Just continue up Goar Road across the bridge to Robinson Drive, and hang a right (east). After a couple of miles, Robinson dumps you literally in the middle of downtown Scio. Billed as "the covered bridge capital of the west," Scio’s a peaceful little place with few eateries but if you’re feeling remotely hungry, march straight over to the quaint Covered Bridge Coffee House for a homemade peanut butter bar or a fresh home-cooked meal.

You're looking at the only red covered bridge in Linn County. The Shimanek is also the longest and the newest.

East of Scio is the longest, and only red covered bridge in Linn County, the Shimanek Bridge. This 130-foot span is also the newest bridge in the country (completed in 1966), and is the fifth bridge at this location. Carrying Richardson Gap Road across Thomas Creek about 2 miles east of Scio, the Shimanek’s red paint, portal design and louvered windows offer a different look than the normal whitewashed bridges in the area. Parking is tough here though, as there’s a really narrow shoulder, so do yourself a favor and pull off further down the road for safety if you want a photo.

If you're determined to hunt down a full five bridges, the Hannah Bridge is only a couple of miles farther east of Scio along 226, and the open-sided Larwood Bridge farther south is at the confluence of Crabtree Creek and the Roaring River - which according to “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” is the only U.S. river to flow into a creek. Pretty cool.

To complete the loop, either head west on 226 back to I-5, or take Stayton-Scio Road north out of downtown Scio to the town of Stayton, where you can catch the more entertaining US-22 westbound which eventually winds back to I-5 farther north. And there you have it – the 5 Bridges in a Day Tour: a relaxing route with a chance to gasp at a couple of old historic beauties, and tool along some relaxing back roads to boot.

Often set among the scenic rolling hills of farm country, a tour of covered bridges is guaranteed to get your blood pressure down a few points.

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