Discover the 5 Highest Bridges in the United States

Written by Alan
Published: February 17, 2023
© Mitchell Moreland/Shutterstock.com
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The fascination with bridges is apparent when one travels around the United States. Something is astounding about the magnificence, architecture, and intricate engineering involved in each construction. Some bridges extend for miles over vast oceans, while others offer breathtaking scenery. 

The country has over 600,000 bridges of countless variations. Suspension bridges, cable-stayed bridges, covered bridges, cantilever bridges, viaducts, and arch and tier arch bridges are a few common types. 

There’s a sort of competition among the bridges in terms of length, visitor traffic, height, most photographed, and width. Every state has an iconic bridge with a unique story, from California to West Virginia. 

The Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco’s postcard-worthy, world-renowned bridge. The Smithfield Street Bridge in Pittsburgh was the country’s first steel truss-supported lattice bridge. The landmark dates back to 1883 and has seen renovations and expansions over time. The New River Gorge in West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains was once the longest-span arch bridge in the world. However, it still remains the third highest in the United States.

A bridge’s height is defined as the distance between the deck and the lowest point of the surface beneath it. Either water or land could be found beneath the bridge. Here is a round-up of the five highest bridges in America.

#1 Royal Gorge Bridge

Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado
Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest U.S. bridge.

©Inbound Horizons/Shutterstock.com

The highest bridge in the United States, the Royal Gorge Bridge, is located in Canon City, Colorado. The suspension bridge is a part of the 360-acre Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. The park encompasses both ends of the bridge and sits along the edge of the Royal Gorge.

At 955 feet, it spans the canyon above the Arkansas River. It’s 1,260 feet long and 18 feet wide. The bridge’s main span connecting the towers measures 880 feet, while the towers are 150 feet high. There are 1292 timber planks covering the 4100 steel cables of the base structure. Officials replace about 250 of those planks annually.

The bridge was constructed between June and November 1929 for $350,000. Lon P. Piper, head of the San Antonio, Texas-based company, provided funding for the project. He employed George E. Cole Construction, and construction crews finished the bridge in roughly six months, without any fatalities or significant injuries. It was officially opened on December 8, 1929. 

It held the world record for the highest bridge from 1929 to 2001. Thereafter, the Liuguanghe Bridge in China surpassed it. The Beipan River Guanxing Highway Bridge, also in China, opened in 2003. This replaced the Royal Gorge Bridge as the tallest suspension bridge in the world.

The bridge was constructed as a tourist attraction for visitors to savor the pristine natural beauty of southern Colorado. It was also a tribute to the nation’s hardworking people. It only carries pedestrians, as personal vehicles are not allowed for safety reasons.

The Royal Gorge region is one of the best places for wildlife viewing. If you drive through Bighorn Sheep Canyon on Highway 50, you’ll see the largest herd of bighorn sheep in Colorado. Go rafting on the Arkansas River to see beautiful native fish species, including rainbow trout. You can see a variety of birds in Temple Canyon, including bushtits, juniper titmice, scaled quail, blue-gray gnatcatchers, ladder-backed woodpeckers, and canyon towhees.

#2 Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Between Arizona and Nevada
This bridge traverses the Colorado River, between Arizona and Nevada.

©Sergii Figurnyi/Shutterstock.com

The 900-feet (274m) Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge traverses the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada. The bridge is located about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. Interstate 11 and U.S. Highway 93 cross the Colorado River on this bridge.

The country’s second-highest bridge is jointly named in honor of Mike O’Callaghan, who served as Nevada’s governor from 1971 to 1979, and Pat Tillman, a former American football player for the Arizona Cardinals. Tillman died in Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Army.

Because there are great views of the Hoover Dam from the memorial bridge, it’s no wonder the bridge is also called the Hoover Dam Bypass. It was the main part of the Hoover Dam Bypass project, which redirected U.S. 93 from its old course along the top of Hoover Dam. This new route also eliminated multiple hairpin corners and blind curves.

In the 1960s, authorities deemed the U.S. 93 route unsafe and unsuitable for anticipated traffic loads. Thus, representatives of Arizona and Nevada, along with federal agencies, worked together from 1998 to 2001 to choose the ideal route for a different river crossing. The Federal Highway Administration eventually chose the route in March 2001. It would span the Colorado River about 1,500 feet (457m) downstream of the Hoover Dam.

The approaches to the bridge began construction in 2003, and in February 2005, work on the actual bridge started. Crews completed the bridge in 2010, and on October 19, the bypass route was accessible for vehicular movement.

The Hoover Dam Bypass project cost $240 million to build, of which $114 million went into the bridge. The Hoover Dam Bypass was the first concrete-steel composite deck arch bridge in the United States. It has remained the highest concrete arch bridge in the world. 

This bridge is in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, home to a diverse range of species. You can expect to see bighorn sheep, bats, desert tortoises, long-tailed brush lizards, and snakes. Common bird species include peregrine falcons, burrowing owls, American bald eagles, and hummingbirds. 

#3 New River Gorge Bridge

New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia - Highest Bridges in the United States
At 876 feet high, New River Gorge Bridge is the third highest in the U.S.

©Mitchell Moreland/Shutterstock.com

Fayette county in the U.S. state of West Virginia is home to the New River Gorge Bridge. The bridge is 876 feet (267m) high, making it the third highest in the country. The county celebrates Bridge Day every year in honor of this architectural marvel. Every third Saturday in October, thousands of thrill seekers participate in the festivities and enjoy sights around the gorge.

The steel arch bridge crosses the New River Gorge. Workers completed the Appalachian Development Highway System’s Corridor L with the building of this section of U.S. Route 19.

Its 1,700-foot-long arch made it the longest single-span arch bridge in the world for 26 years. Workers completely the build in October 1977 and it is currently the fifth-longest in the world and the longest outside of China.

The bridge’s construction was underway by June 1974. First, the Michael Baker Company designed the bridge based on the guidance of Chief Engineer Clarence V. Knudsen and Corporate Bridge Engineer Frank J. Kempf. Then, the U.S. Steel’s American Bridge Division carried out the construction.

The National Register of Historic Places featured the bridge on August 14, 2013. It was under 50 years old, yet officials included it due to its engineering and remarkable influence on local transportation. The bridge reduced the time it took a car to cross the gorge from 45 minutes to just 45 seconds!

The areas within New River Gorge hold the promise of an incredibly diverse wildlife. You can spot red foxes and white-tailed deer in the Grandview area. Look for assorted aquatic turtles, great blue herons, loons, and spike mussels from River Road. Additionally, you can find mink, beaver, bobcats, and raccoons along Glade Creek. There are also abundant butterfly species: swallowtails, painted ladies, silver-spotted skippers, and sulfur.

#4 Foresthill Bridge

Foresthill Bridge in California - Highest Bridges in the United States
Foresthill Bridge spans the North Fork American River.

©James Sakaguchi/Shutterstock.com

Amid the eastern part of California, the Foresthill Bridge spans the North Fork American River in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. At 730 feet (223m) above the river in Placer County, it is the fourth-highest bridge by deck height in the United States. It is also the highest in California, and one of the top 70 highest in the world. The lofty bridge supports traffic for both vehicles and pedestrians.

The 2,428 feet (740m) long Foresthill Bridge, also called Auburn Bridge or Auburn-Foresthill Bridge, was initially constructed to replace a river-level crossing of the American River. Officials knew the planned Auburn Dam would create a reservoir that swallowed the current crossing.

The structure quickly became known and popular among tourists due to its excellent spot for viewing the beautiful American River Canyon. In addition, visitors can hike up the bridge from the canyon in the Auburn State Recreation Area, which is now the site of the abandoned dam project.

The Japanese company Kawasaki Heavy Industries created the bridge in 1971. Willamette Western Contractors constructed it, and the city inaugurated it in 1973. A $74.4 million seismic retrofit project started in January 2011. It was finished in 2015. It had taken less than $13 million to build the first bridge.

Rabbit and black-tailed deer sightings are common during the day at the Auburn State Recreation Area. The active animals at night include coyotes, raccoons, opossums, and gray foxes. Canyon wrens and California quail both live in riparian areas. Bald eagles glide in the sky, as do red-tailed hawks.

#5 Glen Canyon Dam Bridge

Glen Canyon Dam Bridge - Highest Bridges in the United States
Glen Canyon Dam Bridge’s deck is 700 feet high.

©Vadim Gouida/Shutterstock.com

Otherwise known as the Glen Canyon Bridge, this two-lane bridge features a deck 700 feet (213m) above the water and 1,271 feet (387m) long. The steel arch bridge is in Coconino County in Arizona, and U.S. Route 89 uses it to cross the Colorado River. It’s the fifth-highest bridge in America and was the highest arch bridge in the world upon completion in 1959. 

The Bureau of Reclamation decided to build the bridge when construction began on the Glen Canyon Dam. They decided to build roads and a bridge to link the dam to the nearest community. These infrastructures facilitated the mobility of tools and materials required for construction.

Today, the bridge is a popular destination for travelers and architecture enthusiasts. However, the best way to see the area is via an hour-long hike, beginning at a trail close to Page, Arizona. Together, the Colorado River and the canyon provide an incredible adventure.

The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is exceptionally varied, with 315 documented bird species, thanks to the neighboring Lake Powell and Colorado River. Redhead, green-winged teal, common goldeneye, peregrine falcon, and American coot are a few examples.

Native mammal species such as kangaroo rats, coyotes, woodrats, and bats also inhabit the area. However, visitors rarely see larger mammals like desert bighorn sheep. The Glen Canyon is also home to spadefoot toads, canyon tree frogs, tiger salamanders, and red-spotted toads.

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The Featured Image

New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia - Highest Bridges in the United States
New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia.
© Mitchell Moreland/Shutterstock.com

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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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