Kinzua Bridge State Park: A Tale of Innovation, Destruction and Renewal

A train trestle bridge extends over a gorge, abruptly stopping. Green lush foliage is in the foreground; the sky is deep blue. You can see ruins of bridge supports on the other side of the gorge.

Kinzua Bridge State Park sits in McKean County, PA, in north-central Pennsylvania. This state park’s focal point is the once proud Kinzua Viaduct.

Do you enjoy weird railroad history? Check out the abandoned Coburn Rail Tunnel in Centre County!

Built in 1882 by the Phoenix Iron Company, this engineering marvel stretched 2,053 feet long and soared 301 feet high. In its day, it served as the vital role of transporting coal, timber, and oil by rail. The Erie Railroad company originally owned and operated the bridge.

The Kinzua Viaduct stayed in commercial service until 1959, when it was sold to a salvage company. In 1963, Pennsylvania purchased the bridge as the centerpiece of a new state park.

The park opened in 1970. In 1987, excursion trains of the Knox and Kane Railroad began running on the bridge. The trains traveled from Kane with a trip through the Allegheny National Forest and made a stop on the bridge before returning to Kane.

The Knox and Kane Railroad offered excursion rail trips across the Kinzua Viaduct until June, 2002, when it was closed for restoration.

However, disaster struck on July 21, 2003. An F1 tornado demolished 11 of the 20 supporting towers, effectively ending the viaduct’s role in rail transport.

Now the park preserves the ruins while sharing the region’s industrial, rail and natural history. Opened in 2016, the Kinzua Bridge Visitors Center offers educational exhibits on the bridge’s history and the tornado’s impact. The park has quickly become a favorite for tourists and locals, offering hiking, picnicking, and historical exploration.

What to Do at Kinzua Bridge State Park

In 2011, the Kinzua Viaduct was reinvented as the skywalk, a new pedestrian walkway where visitors can stroll 600 feet out on the remaining support towers, peer miles out into the Kinzua Gorge as well as peer down into the partial glass platform at the end of the walkway. It’s worth noting, however, that the glass is almost impossible to see through now.

After a week of sometimes strenuous hiking, the last thing I wanted to do on my way home was another strenuous hike. But I’d been told that I’d regret NOT hiking into the gorge. The Kinzua Creek Trail, a 1.7-mile out-and-back hike down into the gorge, provides a closer look at the landscape’s beauty and the destroyed support trestles. What goes down must go up — and it does so in a fairly short distance.

The path is wide, especially going up / down the gorge. This allows room for faster hikers to zoom by, while allowing those like me to catch their breath. There are strategically placed — and plentiful — benches along the way, many of which are shaded in the late afternoon. All in all, this was a lovely hike and leg stretch, although I wished I’d not left my water in the car.

Know Before You Go

Come prepared for the weather and wear hiking sneakers or boots if you’re going on the gorge hike. Bring water with you for the gorge hike. There are bathrooms and picnic areas available.

Getting there: 296 Viaduct Rd, Mt Jewett, PA
Hours: open every day of the year, sunrise to sunset. Check the website for visitor center hours, which change seasonally.
Website: Kinzua Bridge State Park

Looking for other interesting things to see and do in the general region? Clearfield County and Happy Valley aren’t far away!

One Reply to “Kinzua Bridge State Park: A Tale of Innovation, Destruction and Renewal”

  1. Ray Conrad says:

    Nice, informative website

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