Bridges of the Pacific Northwest
The 3 Tallest Bridges in Washington
Do you like heights? What about bridges? Does the thought of the tallest bridges in the state of Washington get you excited? If your answer is yes to any of those questions, read on. If your answer is no to all questions, still, read on, only so you know where not to go! Hoffstadt Creek Bridge, High Steel Bridge, and Vance Creek Bridge are the three tallest in the state. They each provide thrilling views, impressive feats of engineering, and terrifying photo opportunities. The hype is real, jump for joy, just don’t fall!
Vance Creek Bridge
The third highest bridge in the state spans Vance Creek in Olympic National Forest. At 347’ it is the second highest railway arch bridge ever built in this country. It was used for logging back in the day but has since been abandoned.
This was somewhat of a hidden gem that only locals knew about. The bridge is located on private property and has always been a no trespassing area, but many locals had visited without running into any issues. However, that all changed with the uprising of social media around the year 2013. The flood of photos, which all show how high and dangerous it can be, started falling (pun intended) into everyone’s news feeds. Which in turn brought out more and more people.
Due to the overcrowding and the potential risk of a lawsuit if someone were to fall, the property owners started enforcing their right to have people fined for trespassing on the bridge. Many reports can be found of people being ticketed by local law enforcement now. Yet, many people still risk receiving a fine in order to risk their lives crossing the structure.
We just so happened to acquire information of a recent trip by unnamed sources. According to them, on their visit over Memorial Day weekend, they were by far not the only ones out there. 50+ others were taking the risks as well. The following is their account of the visit…
Parking on NF-23, a trail covered in downed trees, presumably this was intentional in order to keep people out, is located off the road and fairly easy to hike, taking about 15 minutes.
Once arriving to the destination the bridge was a magnificent sight to see. The majority of the crowd out there was teenagers, though none of them were acting rowdy. Everyone was pretty mellow, taking their time to carefully step along the railroad ties that were 3-4” or so apart. There were spots of missing ties here and there. A couple of these spots had two missing ties in a row, which required jumping over the gap that was plenty wide enough to fall through. Many of the ties have significant signs of rot and are even charred. Not sure why someone would try to burn them, but the evidence speaks for itself.
It was a sunny, clear, and warm day with a light wind which didn’t add too much to the fear factor. Rail lines made their way right down the center of the ties with steel beams jetting out 25’ or so on both sides every so often. Along those beams graffiti was painted and a water bottle was about a ¼ of the way out. There had clearly been daredevils here in order to reach those spots.
Minus the few areas with large gaps, and as long as you didn’t get too close to the edge, things felt relatively safe. Spending about 30 minutes here was enough time to take in the beauty of the surrounding forest, river below, and the magnificent structure. Plenty of photos and videos were taken before heading back.
Hoffstadt Creek Bridge
And now on to the second highest bridge in Washington. Hoffstadt Creek Bridge is 370’ high and spans across North Fork Toutle River. Out of all three bridges, this is the most traveled upon. As a matter of fact, if you’re from the PNW or have ever visited it, chances are that you’ve ridden over this yourself.
The bridge is part of Highway 504, otherwise known as Spirit Lake Memorial Highway. Sound familiar? That’s because this is the route you’ve taken if you’ve ever visited Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St. Helens.
Due to the 1980 eruption, the former highway was destroyed and Hoffstadt Creek Bridge replaced it at this point. It was completed in 1992. The west side of this bridge is the westernmost blast zone from the eruption, there’s a parking lot here with a viewpoint and more information. When we visited the viewpoint had a lot of brush in the way and prevented us from getting a great look at it.
You may be able to walk across the bridge for better views, we’re not sure, we opted to continue our journey, but there are a lot of bicyclists that travel this entire stretch of the highway. The length of the bridge is nearly half a mile long at 2,340’.
High Steel Bridge
Vance Creek Bridge was the second highest railway arch bridge in the country, take a guess where the first highest is? Just three miles north of Vance Creek. At a height of 420’ is High Steel Bridge, the highest bridge in the state. It spans the South Fork Skokomish River. Like Vance, this is also in Olympic National Forest. Unlike Vance, this is open to the public and has not been abandoned.
Another logging bridge built in 1929, it was eventually converted to a road in 1950 and receives vehicle traffic from visitors of the forest to get them to their destinations. It also receives much foot traffic as well. When we visited there were about 20 other people walking about it and parked on both sides. If you drive across, ensure no one is coming from the other direction as it can only accommodate one vehicle at a time.
This bridge is much safer than Vance, it’s fully paved and there are no gaps to cross or jump over. It also has barriers along the edges to prevent one from falling off. However, the barrier along the north side of the bridge is oddly lower than the one on the south. It’s maybe around 3’ tall, so you can still fall right over it if you’re goofing around or taking photos and not paying attention.
Speaking of photos, looking over the north side and off to your left is a nice little waterfall. From it, look down to the river and you may spot an open umbrella laying upside down, if it’s still there. Other than that, this bridge also has its fair share of graffiti, some of which, even though inappropriate, is pretty funny :-p
We spent about 30 minutes here enjoying the views and taking photos.
Although these are not the highest bridges in the Pacific Northwest, they are the highest in the state, and we think that makes them worth visiting. Vance Creek and High Steel can easily be visited on the same trip and whenever you make your next visit to Mt. Saint Helens, you’ll now know you’re traveling over the second highest bridge in the state. (We are not condoning or recommending trespassing!)
Check out this list of bridges in the united states by height. Let us know if your state has some taller than these and if you’ve traveled over them. We’d love to hear your stories and comments below!