Discover the Highest Bridge in Pennsylvania

Written by Alan Lemus
Published: May 25, 2023
© Subasic
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If you’ve ever traversed the roads of Pennsylvania, you’ve undoubtedly encountered the varied and impressive assortment of bridges that scatter the state’s landscape. From the urban expanses of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to the rolling hills and verdant valleys of the countryside, these architectural marvels connect communities, histories, and stunning vistas.

Each bridge in Pennsylvania is a testament to the state’s rich architectural heritage and the engineering genius that spans centuries. They whisper tales of bygone eras, highlight the state’s economic vitality, and serve as practical symbols of progress. But beyond their vital role in transportation, these bridges also represent an impressive array of heights that tell a captivating story of architectural evolution.

From modest stone arches nestled in quiet rural landscapes to soaring steel titans in bustling cities, Pennsylvania’s bridges run the gamut in terms of heights. The state boasts quaint covered bridges, a charming remnant of the 19th century, barely peeking over rushing streams and creeks. These low-lying structures serve as a humble reminder of the state’s past, where height was less important than simplicity and functionality.

Yet, as we progress into the heart of industrial and urban landscapes, the bridges of Pennsylvania begin to reach toward the sky. Their towering heights are a testament to modern engineering, defying gravity to span wide rivers and deep valleys. 

Today, we discover the highest bridge in Pennsylvania. We’ll explore its location and history, marvel at its design and structure, and even meet some of the local flora and fauna. So buckle up and get ready to take a virtual trip to one of Pennsylvania’s most impressive structures. 

Let’s start our journey, shall we?

The Highest Bridge in Pennsylvania

Emlenton Bridge
Emlenton Bridge in Pennsylvania is 270 feet above the Allegheny River.

©Doug Kerr / CC BY-SA 2.0 – License

Emlenton Bridge is the highest bridge in Pennsylvania. But it’s not just any bridge. It does more than merely ferry vehicles across the Allegheny River. 

It reaches into the sky, earning the title of the highest bridge in the state. And it’s not just its height that’s impressive. The history, design, and even the wildlife around this bridge are fascinating tales in their own right.

Where is the Emlenton Bridge Located?

Situated in the northwestern quadrant of Pennsylvania, the Emlenton Bridge extends over the beautiful Allegheny River. This part of the state is characterized by its scenic beauty, with verdant forests and rippling rivers dotting the landscape. 

The bridge itself forms a part of Interstate 80, a major east-west highway that crosses the state and the entire country, from New Jersey to California. Being a part of such a vital national artery underscores the bridge’s importance in the state’s—and the country’s—transportation network.

The Bridge’s Namesake and Home

Named after the town it resides in, the Emlenton Bridge is more than just a local landmark—it’s an integral part of the community. Emlenton, despite its small size, is a town with a rich history and cultural legacy. It was once a booming hub during the oil rush of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Today, Emlenton is quieter but still carries a distinctive charm, with its historic buildings, lush parks, and the ever-flowing Allegheny providing a serene and picturesque backdrop for the towering Emlenton Bridge.

Spanning the Allegheny River: A Geographic Marvel

A bend in the Allegheny river in Warren county, Pennsylvania, USA on a sunny summer day with a bright blue skies and white clouds
A bend in the Allegheny River in Warren County, Pennsylvania,


The Allegheny River, which the Emlenton Bridge crosses, is an essential waterway in the northeastern United States. Originating in Pennsylvania, the river runs for approximately 325 miles, joining the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River

The Emlenton Bridge, perched around 270 feet above the river, offers motorists not only a convenient crossing but also breathtaking views of the river and its surrounding landscapes. The river’s natural beauty contrasts and yet harmonizes with the bridge’s imposing structure, creating a scene that’s distinctly Pennsylvanian.

The location of the Emlenton Bridge is thus not just a geographic fact—it’s a fundamental part of the bridge’s identity and legacy. It stands as a symbol of progress, beautifully interwoven with the natural beauty and cultural history of its surroundings. It’s here, at this convergence of nature and human endeavor, that Pennsylvania truly reaches for the sky.

History of the Emlenton Bridge

The Emlenton Bridge, towering over the Allegheny River, is not just a remarkable feat of engineering; it’s a testament to the spirit of progress and innovation. To fully appreciate its significance, let’s journey back in time and trace its history.

Birth of a Bridge: Planning and Construction

Aerial View of at the Truckee river, Interstate 80 and railroad tracks east of the Reno, Sparks Nevada area on a late springtime morning.
Interstate 80 is an east–west transcontinental freeway that crosses the United States from California to New York!


As the 1960s rolled around, Pennsylvania found itself facing a transportation challenge. The state needed to complete its section of Interstate 80, a highway designed to connect the country coast to coast. But the mighty Allegheny River stood in the way. The solution? A bridge—no ordinary one, but the future highest bridge in the state.

Construction of the Emlenton Bridge began in 1966 under the direction of the Pennsylvania Department of Highways. The task was daunting: the engineers and construction workers not only had to ensure the bridge could withstand the rigors of time and weather but also make sure it was structurally sound enough to safely support the heavy traffic that Interstate 80 was expected to bear.

Overcoming Challenges

Numerous challenges marked the building of the Emlenton Bridge. The bridge’s height, while a remarkable feature today, posed significant difficulties during construction. Workers toiled away hundreds of feet above the river, braving heights and elements to lay down the concrete and steel that would form the backbone of the structure.

But two years of intense labor and careful coordination among engineers, architects, and construction crews eventually bore fruit. Finally, in 1968, the Emlenton Bridge was completed and opened to the public.

The Emlenton Bridge Through the Years

Over the years, the Emlenton Bridge has remained a steadfast part of Pennsylvania’s landscape. It has witnessed the ebb and flow of seasons, the evolution of the surrounding town of Emlenton, and the progression of time, all while dutifully serving as a crucial transportation link.

Despite its age, the bridge has required minimal major renovations, a testament to the durability of its design and the quality of its construction. In addition, it continues to support the heavy traffic of Interstate 80, serving as a testament to the engineering marvels of the mid-20th century.

The Emlenton Bridge’s Height

Driving along Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, it’s impossible to miss the Emlenton Bridge. Its impressive structure commands attention, but what really sets it apart is its remarkable height. So let’s take a closer look at this skyward feat.

How Do We Measure Up?

Emlenton Bridge
Emlenton Bridge is seen above a house in Emlenton, PA.

©Chris Light / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

How do we measure a bridge’s height, you ask? It’s not as simple as standing at the bottom with a giant ruler! Instead, bridge heights are typically measured from the deck—where vehicles travel—to the ground or water beneath the structure. It’s this measurement that gives the Emlenton Bridge its claim to fame as the tallest bridge in Pennsylvania.

Reaching for the Sky: Emlenton’s Claim to Fame

Standing at approximately 270 feet (82 meters) high, the Emlenton Bridge towers over the Allegheny River and the surrounding landscapes. It’s an awe-inspiring sight to see the bridge soaring above the river, standing tall amidst the rolling hills of the Keystone State.

When compared to other high bridges in Pennsylvania, Emlenton is the clear winner. Its closest rival, the Tunkhannock Viaduct, stands at about 240 feet (73 meters) – an impressive height, no doubt, but not quite reaching Emlenton’s lofty stature.

Behind the Heights: Geographic Considerations

You might be wondering why the Emlenton Bridge is so high. It comes down to geography. The Allegheny River has carved a deep channel through this part of Pennsylvania, and the steep riverbanks require a tall bridge to maintain a level roadway for Interstate 80. It’s a testament to how human-made structures often have to adapt to the contours and characteristics of the natural landscape.

Fauna: A Closer Look at the Emlenton Bridge’s Wildlife

The Emlenton Bridge is far more than a marvel of engineering. It shares its landscape with a myriad of wildlife, each species adding its own unique touch to the rich tapestry of life in the area. So let’s delve deeper into the diverse fauna that resides in this stunning corner of Pennsylvania.


red-tailed hawk
Hawks mostly prey on live animals such as rodents and other small mammals.

©Richard G Smith/

As you cross the Emlenton Bridge, don’t forget to look skywards. The skies above the bridge are teeming with avian life. One such resident is the red-tailed hawk, a bird of prey known for its broad, rounded wings and namesake red tail. You might spot it circling high above the river, searching for small mammals to feast on.

Then there’s the belted kingfisher, a bird as fascinating as it is elusive. With its spiky crest and striking coloration, this bird is a sight to behold. It can often be seen hovering over the water before diving in headfirst to catch fish.

Aquatic Life

Smallmouth Bass
Smallmouth bass are carnivorous fish whose diet consists primarily of small fish, insects, crustaceans, and other aquatic organisms.

©RLS Photo/

Beneath the surface of the Allegheny River, a diverse array of aquatic life thrives. The river is teeming with fish, such as smallmouth bass, known for their fighting spirit and their importance as a keystone species in the aquatic food chain. They share the waters with other fish species, including the walleye, a coveted catch among anglers for its size and taste.

But it’s not just about the fish. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a river otter. These playful creatures are excellent swimmers and are often seen sliding off the riverbanks or playfully wrestling each other.


Black bear
Black bears are not normally aggressive but should still be avoided whenever possible.

©Joshua Daniiel/

The forests surrounding the Emlenton Bridge are home to a host of mammals. The white-tailed deer is a common sight in these parts, often spotted grazing at the forest’s edge. Its graceful form and expressive eyes make it a favorite among wildlife watchers.

Don’t be surprised if you see a raccoon scampering across the forest floor or a fox darting into the underbrush. And while sightings are less common, the area is also home to the black bear, a powerful but generally shy and non-aggressive creature.

Living in Harmony: The Intersection of Human and Animal Life

The construction of the Emlenton Bridge brought human activity into the heart of this natural landscape. However, instead of disrupting the wildlife, it appears to have reached a harmonious coexistence with the natural world. For example, birds use the heights of the bridge to get a vantage point for hunting, while its shadow provides shelter for many land-dwelling animals.

Flora: The Green Tapestry Surrounding the Emlenton Bridge

While the Emlenton Bridge is certainly a head-turner, it’s far from the only attraction in the area. Take a moment to look around, and you’ll discover a diverse and dynamic world of flora weaving a vibrant tapestry of life. So let’s explore the green wonderland that surrounds the Emlenton Bridge.

Towering Trees

Stand of ponderosa pine trees
Stands of ponderosa pine trees provide homes for the wildlife in Pennsylvania.

©Dominic Gentilcore PhD/

The forests surrounding the bridge are dominated by towering oaks, maples, and pine trees. These giants of the plant world provide a verdant backdrop for the bridge, adding a touch of natural beauty to the human-made structure.

Oak trees, with their broad, spreading canopies, offer shade and shelter to a variety of creatures. Maples, known for their vibrant fall foliage, paint the landscape with fiery hues when the season turns. Pine trees, with their evergreen branches, add a touch of color to the winter landscape, their conical silhouettes dusted with snow.

Wildflowers and Undergrowth

mountain laurel
Mountain laurel is a lovely shrub with beautiful pink flowers and the state flower of Pennsylvania.

© lenic/

As you move from the forest canopy to the understory, you’ll encounter a delightful array of wildflowers and shrubs. In the spring and summer, these plant species burst into bloom, dotting the landscape with splashes of color.

One of these botanical beauties is the mountain laurel, Pennsylvania’s state flower. Its clusters of pink flowers are a sight to behold, attracting pollinators from near and far. Other wildflower species, like the wild geranium and the butterfly weed, also contribute to this colorful display, creating a vibrant patchwork on the forest floor.


Outside the woodland areas, the grasslands around the Emlenton Bridge house their own unique plant communities. Species such as wild rye, switchgrass, and blue-eyed grass thrive here, their delicate blooms adding a different kind of charm to the landscape.

The Green Web: Ecosystem Interactions and Importance

These plant communities are not just beautiful to look at. They also play crucial roles in the local ecosystems. For example, they provide food and shelter for numerous animal species, help control soil erosion, and play a part in nutrient cycling.

Key Takeaways

Well, we’ve journeyed far and wide. From the banks of the Allegheny River to the forested landscapes surrounding the Emlenton Bridge, we’ve learned so much. Who would have thought a bridge could offer such a fascinating, multifaceted tale?

Together, we’ve admired the heights of this engineering marvel, tracing the arc of its steel beams against the backdrop of the Pennsylvania skies. We’ve stepped back in time to understand its history, appreciating the effort and ingenuity that went into its construction. We’ve marveled at its design, understanding how it stands tall and strong, weathering the elements and the passage of time.

But remember, it wasn’t just about the bridge. We discovered the vibrant life that coexists with this human-made structure. We met the wildlife residents of the area, from the birds of the air to the aquatic life in the river and the furry creatures in the woods. And we walked amidst the flora, appreciating the green tapestry that paints a beautiful frame around the Emlenton Bridge.

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The Featured Image

Pennsylvania state seal
vector illustration of Circle state flag of US federal state of Pennsylvania
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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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