This swinging bridge in Minnesota offers breathtaking views of the rushing St. Louis River below for those brave enough to cross it. High waters have wiped out the pedestrian bridge in Jay Cooke State Park twice. But today, it stands firm, giving visitors an ideal spot to watch the spectacular cascading river flow down the bluffs. Read on to discover the fascinating history of the most terrifying bridge in Minnesota.
What is the Most Terrifying Bridge in Minnesota?
What makes a bridge terrifying to cross is somewhat subjective. Is it height, steepness, or how much the bridge sways? Are older wooden bridges scarier to cross than new concrete and steel structures? How about a suspension bridge that crosses raging waters that can grow so high the bridge has been completely wiped out twice in its history? If so, that makes Minnesota’s Jay Cooke State Park Swinging Bridge the most terrifying.
Jay Cooke State Park is a beautiful, rugged place offering camping and hiking near the St. Louis River. It’s also home to the iconic pedestrian bridge that has allowed hikers a spot to cross the river for nearly 100 years. However, the bridge isn’t the original one constructed in 1924 today.
Today, unless the bridge is closed due to high waters, visitors can stroll across the swinging bridge and watch the river rage across the rocky gorge below. The bridge sways in the wind (or from jumping kids), so be prepared if you’re afraid of heights.
Where is Jay Cooke State Park Located on the Map?
Jay Cooke State Park is located about 10 miles southwest of Duluth. The park is located on the western side of the state. It’s along the St. Louis River, near the Wisconsin border and Lake Superior.
History of the Terrifying Bridge in Minnesota
The swinging bridge is the only way to access the trails across the river. In the past, the jagged rocks below made crossing here treacherous. So, in 1924, the Forest Service built the first swinging bridge of logs and ropes. This finally allowed people a way to cross the river safely, although it only rose about 18 feet above the raging waters. This rudimentary bridge was indeed more terrifying than the more secure structure of today.
In 1934 and 1935, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a depression-era recovery agency, rebuilt the bridge with wooden planks and stone pillars. But this bridge was demolished in 1950 when an enormous flood knocked down the decking and some stone pillars. The speed of the waters was recorded at 42,000 cubic feet per second.
For three years, this part of the river was uncrossable. In 1953, the new bridge was completed and reopened to the public. This time, the bridge was built 7.5 feet higher to avoid damaging waters during floods. This strategy worked for nearly 60 years until 2012, when flooding struck again.
In June 2012, ten inches of rain fell in the area within 24 hours. The flood waters raged at 55,000 cubic feet per second during the storm. The raging waters knocked out the stone pillars on the bridge. It took 16 months and $1.1 million to rebuild. In 2013, the bridge that stands today was opened to the public.
Jay Cooke State Park Swinging Bridge Today
Today, the swinging bridge connects the visitor center and main parking area to the park’s trails on the other side. The bridge is 220 feet long with a 126-foot main suspension span. While concrete towers reinforce the structure, it’s been restored to resemble its original appearance in 1934. Peeled cedar log handrails run along the entryway, whereas the former concrete caps that covered the stone pillars were removed for a more traditional, rustic look. Today, when floodwaters grow high and get too close to the decking, officials close the swinging bridge to the public to ensure safety.
Things to do in Jay Cooke State Park
Jay Cooke State Park is one of Minnesota’s most popular state parks. Favored among hikers, the park offers 50 miles of hiking trails, 13 miles of mountain bike trails, and another 6 miles for horseback riding. Most trails are only accessed across the river via the swinging bridge. Other activities in the park also include fishing, camping, archery, kayaking, white water rafting, snowshoeing, geocaching, and cross-country skiing.
The cemetery was a burial place for many pioneer families living in the nearby small village of Thomson. Most of the dates on the headstones are around the late 1800s. However, many of the markings on the graves have weathered away.
Though not much information is given about the cemetery, visitors can stroll through the graveyard and look at the gravestones. One of the oldest remaining markers is that of Marietta Leach, who died in 1862 at 70.
Visitors can head downriver from the main parking area to find the Oldenburg Overlook. This area offers a picnic pavilion, memorial plaques detailing the park’s history, and breathtaking St. Louis River Valley views. It’s a special treat to come in the fall when the orange and yellow leaves are in view all along the valley.
Grand Portage Trail
The Grand Portage Trail is a moderately complex trail loop that takes hikers along the river and into hilly, wooded areas in the park. It’s a section of the 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail that follows cliffs along Lake Superior for most of its length.
River Inn Interpretive Center
Like the swinging bridge in 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the interpretive center. The building was constructed using a local rock known as gabbro. Today, visitors can view various exhibits detailing the park’s history.
Wildlife Found in Jay Cooke State Park
The park is home to an abundance of wildlife. The area provides habitat for 46 mammal species and 190 bird species that nest in or visit the park. Furthermore, 16 different species of amphibians and reptiles live here. Note that none of the reptiles are venomous.
The only species of bear in Minnesota is the black bear. They live in forested regions, mainly in the state’s northern third. Although bears are typically shy of humans, park officials advise campers and hikers at Jay Cooke State Park to follow precautions. This includes disposing trash in bear-proof containers and not leaving food scraps around their campsites.
Timber wolves (also known as gray wolves) once existed throughout Minnesota. Today, the state has about 3,000 timber wolves, which live in the forested regions of the northern part.
In the winter, watch for white-tail deer, as Jay Cooke State Park is an important wintering site for the animal.
The ringneck snake poses little threat to humans. It lives in Minnesota, mainly along the Wisconsin border and near Lake Superior. This nocturnal and shy species rarely comes out during the day.
A bird watchers paradise, many different bird species live in the park. Additionally, the closeness of Lake Superior attracts many species, and some of the birds you may find here include:
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