Visiting the covered bridges of Madison County in Iowa was on our bucket list because we love the movie The Bridges of Madison County with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. This moving love story set against the highly romantic backdrop of old wooden bridges has prompted us to search for covered bridges and extraordinary stories. We decided on the bridges of Madison County road trip to find movie locations. So in this post, we share tips from the Bridges of Madison County Film Location in Iowa.
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The History of Covered Bridges of Madison County in Iowa
Some of our readers know that we love covered bridges. After the covered bridges road trip in Oregon, it’s time for the bridges in Iowa. Madison County is about 30 miles from Des Moines. Another name for the city is the “Covered Bridge Capital of Iowa” because it has the largest group of covered bridges in any area west of the Mississippi River. The Bridges of Madison County Film Locations are in the area. What’s more, the bridges are historically significant and were all listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s. But in the 1970s, wooden bridges were not yet an exciting tourist attraction. Despite the magnificent architecture and integration into the landscape, covered bridges of Madison County weren’t a popular destination.
How Many Covered Bridges are in Madison County?
It used to be 20 covered bridges built in Madison County in the 19th century. The bridges were covered to help preserve the expensive flooring timbers. The roofs protected the wood, but also pedestrians and vehicles. The wet wood was very slippery, so carriages could skid when pulled by horses. The roof protected the bridge surfaces from moisture and snow, making it safer to drive or cross the bridge.
Only 6 covered bridges in Madison County remain today. Five are the original structures, and one is the Cedar Bridge, which was destroyed by arsons in 2002 and 2017 and was rebuilt. So, it’s a replica today. Today, the covered bridges you can visit are Cedar Bridge, Holliwell Bridge, Roseman Bridge, Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, Hogback Bridge, and Imes Bridge. Below we give you tips for each of them with their locations. More about the Bridges of Madison County you can read in the book History of Madison County, Iowa, and covered bridges.
Moreover, covered bridges were built throughout the United States until the beginning of the 20th century. At one time, there were over 10,000 covered bridges in the United States. 15,000 covered bridges were built in North America. Fewer than 1,000 remain. Covered bridges are also known as “kissing bridges” as they were spots for couples for their dates. You will find the exciting book America’s Covered Bridges: Practical Crossings – Nostalgic Icons more about covered bridges in America.
The Bridges of Madison County Novel
The covered bridges were not a tourist attraction until the best-selling novel from the 1990s. The Bridges of Madison County novel brought covered bridges famous and made them a tourist destination. Iowa-born author Robert James Waller wrote the love story The Bridges of Madison County. It is the story of Francesca, an Italian-American housewife who lives on an Iowa farm with her husband and two children. One day her life changes when she meets a National Geographic travel photographer who comes to Iowa to take photos of the covered bridges. They had a brief, passionate, and life-changing affair in the 1960s. The novel, also published under the title Love in Black and White, is one of the best-selling books of the 20th century, with 60 million copies sold worldwide.
Despite the book’s success, fewer people know that an epilogue has also been written. Ten years after the first printing of The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller brings to a poignant conclusion his story of the love affair between a wandering photographer and the conventional wife of an Iowa farmer. So, if you love the Bridges of Madison County, you should also read A Thousand Country Roads: An Epilogue to The Bridges of Madison County.
Which of the Covered Bridges has been described in the novel the Bridges of Madison County?
Three bridges: the Roseman Bridge, Cedar Bridge, and Hogback Bridge are mentioned in the novel by Robert James Waller. Below we give you more details.
The Bridges of Madison County Movie
Based on the book, the movie The Bridges of Madison County was made in 1995 with the wonderful performance of Meryl Streep as Francesca Johnson and Clint Eastwood playing the role of the charming photographer Robert Kincaid. Clint Eastwood also directed the film. Screenplay, based on the novel by Robert James Waller, created Richard LaGravenese. The film adaptation of the Bridges of Madison County gained great publicity. What’s more, Meryl Streep got a nomination in 1996 for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. In the film, apart from the incredible cast and acting, the music also attracts attention. Lennie Niehaus created the soundtrack. It is incredibly moving, nostalgic and you can listen to it for hours.
Which of the Covered Bridges were featured in the movie the Bridges of Madison County?
Most of the filming for the movie was shot in the area of covered bridges of Madison County. The Roseman Bridge and the Holliwell Bridge are two bridges you can admire in the movie and reality if you visit Madison County. And below in our Bridges of Madison County Film Location Guide, we tell you how and where to find famous bridges from the movie. Also, we tell you how to spend time in Madison County, Iowa. We show you other exciting attractions, like John Wayne’s birthplace.
But, before you go to Madison County to see covered bridges, be sure to watch the movie. Even if you have seen it, watch it again to fully experience the film set with places that you will see with your own eyes. We also took a soundtrack from the motion picture for our Bridges of Madison County road trip. And we listened to music when visiting covered bridges.
The Bridges of Madison County Musical
After the success of the book and the movie, a musical adaptation was also made. The Bridges of Madison County was adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical. Music and lyrics were by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Marsha Norman, directed by Bartlett Sher. The cast included Elena Shaddow as Francesca and Steven Pasquale as Robert Kincaid. Previews of the musical on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre began on January 17, 2014.
How to Get to the Covered Bridges of Madison County and Where to Stay?
The bridges are located in Madison County Iowa, and the largest town in the county is Winterset, Iowa. The bridges are located all around this town – Winterset, and around St. Charles Iowa, mostly on rural roads. Winterset is located about 30 miles southwest of Des Moines and about 188 miles from Sioux City. Des Moines is the best option to stay for a night here, as you can find lodging at affordable prices. You can also stay in Winterset. In our opinion, Cobblestone Inn & Suites-Winterset will be a great choice, but you should book it ahead, as the lodging options in this town are limited.
How to Visit Covered Bridges and What is the Fee?
As there is no well-developed public transport in the area, it is best to reach the covered bridges with your own or a rental car. The good news is, you don’t need a 4×4 to get to them. You will need to drive on gravel and dirt roads to reach three covered bridges: Roseman Bridge, Hogback Bridge, and Holliwell Bridge, but a regular car should be enough. The good news is also that there are no fees to visit the covered bridges of Madison County.
The covered bridges of Madison County are not open to vehicular traffic, but you can walk across them or photograph them. The only bridge you can walk or drive across is Cedar Bridge. A great idea is also to visit St. Charles Welcome Center in the town of St. Charles. Imes Bridge is only about a 5-minute walk from the St. Charles Welcome Center. You can grab a map of covered bridges there and start your visit.
How Long does it Take to See Covered Bridges of Madison County?
The six preserved covered bridges of Madison County are close to each other. 2-3 hours is enough to drive and see all six Madison County covered bridges. It is best to start your bridges of Madison County road trip in St. Charles. Visit St. Charles Welcome Center and take a map. Then start your drive in sequence: Imes Covered Bridge – Holliwell Covered Bridge – Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge – Cedar Bridge – Hogback Covered Bridge – Roseman Covered Bridge.
When to Visit the Covered Bridges of Madison County?
You can visit the covered bridges all year round. We saw and photographed them in winter because we were then on a long road trip. Covered Bridges of Madison County were on our way to the Yellowstone in winter scenery, Badlands National Park covered by the snow, and Mount Rushmore trip. The plus was that there were almost no tourists in the area, and we had movie locations exclusively for ourselves. However, when it comes to the weather and the attractiveness of the landscape, spring or fall will be a better choice. Consider also the Covered Bridge Festival in October for your Bridges of Madison County road trip, if you have a choice.
Covered Bridge Festival in Madison County
The covered bridges of Iowa have gained considerable popularity thanks to the novel and movie and musical adaptation of the Bridges of Madison County. Each year, on the second week of October, the local society celebrates the history and heritage of the covered bridges of Madison County. So, the Covered Bridge Festival is a great option to learn more about the historical significance of covered bridges. You can admire the historical reenactments and demonstrations during the festival or take guided tours of the historic covered bridges. There’s also plenty of local music and a parade. You can also sample a variety of fresh local foods or shop antique and craft vendors.
The Bridges of Madison County Film Location
As we mentioned above, two covered bridges were featured in the movie. But we give you detailed location and information to each of the six covered bridges of Madison County that remain today.
We start from the most famous Bridges of Madison County Film Location, just in case you have time to visit only one bridge. The Roseman Bridge was featured in both the book and the movie The Bridges of Madison County. It is one of the bridges Robert Kincaid seeks to photograph but can’t find it. So, he stops at Francesca Johnson’s home for directions. She decides to help him, she enters his car, to show him the bridge. And the story begins. We don’t want to spoiler you, so we don’t tell you more.
What’s interesting the Roseman Bridge is also known as the Oak Grove Bridge. It was one of the last covered bridges built in Madison County, built-in 1883 over the Middle River by Harvey P. Jones and George K. Foster. The central part of the bridge is 104 feet long. It was closed for vehicles in 1981. What is interesting, the Holliwell Bridge is the longest of the Madison County covered bridges. It is 122 feet long. It was built over the Middle River in 1880 by Harvey P. Jones and George K. Foster. The bridge was renovated in 1992. Next to the bridge is also Roseman Covered Bridge Gift Shop.
Roseman Covered Bridge location is: 2451 Elderberry Ave, Winterset, IA 50273
The second from the Bridges of Madison County film location is Holliwell Bridge. On this covered bridge, Francesca meets with Robert before they go back to her home for dinner. But, it’s interesting to know that the Cedar Bridge is the bridge where Francesca drives to meet Robert in the novel.
What is interesting, the Holliwell Bridge is the longest of the Madison County covered bridges. It is 122 feet long. It was built over the Middle River in 1880 by Harvey P. Jones and George K. Foster. The bridge was renovated in 1995.
Holliwell Covered Bridge location is: 123 Holliwell Bridge Rd, Winterset, IA 50273
The Cedar Bridge is mentioned in the novel. On this bridge, Francesca meets with Robert. She watches him as he photographs the bridge before they go back to her place for dinner, and he spends the night there. But, in the movie, the scene was shot on Holliwell Bridge.
The Cedar Bridge was built in 1883 by Benson Jones. It’s good to know that it is the shortest of the covered bridges of Madison county. It’s only 76 feet long. What’s interesting is the bridge changed location. It was initially built over the North River as Casper Bridge. And it was moved to Cedar Creek.
Cedar Bridge location is: 1874 Nature Ct, Winterset, IA 50273
Located in Winterset City Park, the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge did not appear in the movie. But it’s good to know, that the park itself was one of the Bridges of Madison County film locations. The romantic scene of the Francesca and Robert picnic was shot there. Don’t remember that scene? Watch the movie online.
The Cutler-Donahoe-covered bridge was built in 1870. It is 79 feet long. This bridge also changed its location. Originally it was over North River near the town of Bevington, IA. But in 1970, it was moved to Winterset’s City Park.
Cutler – Donahoe Covered Bridge location is: 300 S 9th St, Winterset, IA 50273
The Hogback Bridge wasn’t featured in the movie, but it was mentioned in the novel. Working for National Geography Magazin, Robert Kincaid visits and photographs it one morning. There was great light for photos. But to find more, read a novel, please.
The Hogback Bridge was built in 1884 by Harvey P. Jones and George K. Foster. It is 97 feet long. It was closed to traffic in 1993.
Hogback Covered Bridge location is: 1879 Hogback Bridge Rd, Winterset, IA 50273
We end our story on Imes Bridge, which is the oldest of the covered bridges in Madison County. It was built in 1870 over the Middle River. What’s interesting is it changed location twice. Imes Bridge was moved to Clinton Creek, and then in 1997, it was moved near St. Charles.
Imes Covered Bridge location is: Covered Bridge Park, 500 E Main St, St Charles, IA 50240
Other Bridges of Madison County Film Locations
There are more Bridges of Madison County film locations in the area, as most of the film was shooting there. So, if you have time, you should visit Winterset. As we mention above, Cobblestone Inn & Suites-Winterset is a great choice, if you would like to stay for a night in this charming town. Lots of scenes from the movie were shot in Winterset.
- The Northside Cafe is located in a historic building built in 1876 by Eli Cox on the north side of the Winterset town square, across the Madison County Courthouse. In this cafe, Robert James Waller wrote part of his novel. What’s more, it’s featured in the movie as well. The café is where Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) meets Lucy Redfield (Michele Benes) in the film.
- Pheasant Run Bar & Grill is where the setting was used to film the interior shots for the fictional Blue Note Lounge in the film.
- Stone Bridge in Winterset City Park is a small arched stone bridge seen in the film scene when Robert and Francesca have a picnic.
- Middle River Ford in Pammel State Park is one of the locations where Francesca’s children discuss her diaries in the movie. It’s just southwest of Winterset.
- Francesca’s House is located outside Winterset. The address is 3255 130th Street, Cumming, Iowa 5006. It’s 16 miles from Winterset. The land is private, so you can’t enter this place. What’s more, the House from the movie was damaged by arson in 2003. Before that, it was open to the public.
Visit John Wayne Birthplace Museum
If you are already in Winterset and you are a huge movie fan, you can’t miss John Wayne Birthplace Museum. John Wayne was born in Winterset on May 26, 1907. His name was Marion Robert Morrison before he became an actor. You can see original movie posters, film wardrobes, scripts, contracts, letters, artwork and sculpture, and even one of his last customized automobiles in the museum. Therefore, is worth adding this place to your itinerary.