Adventures: The bridges of El Dorado County

By From page ADV1 | March 01, 2013

The bridges of El Dorado County span gorgeous waterways and more than a century of history.

Take half-a-day to explore the engineering wonders that grace both the north and south reaches of the Gold Discovery county.

It would be wise to pick a direction — north or south — and plan to spend some time in quaint towns during your sojourn. Perhaps the adventure could be spread over two days, in order to fully appreciate the experience.


Weber Creek bridge

Since you’ll likely want to indulge in tempting mid-day meals at one of the wonderful restaurants on your journey, it might be best to start with a hike — a hike that leads to the first bridge, over Weber Creek in Placerville.

Take Highway 50 west from Placerville, then exit at Missouri Flat Road. Go 8/10 of a mile south, toward Diamond Springs, and you’ll notice a Wal-Mart on your right, where the road turns into one lane. Look left, near Sierra Door and Supply, and there’s a parking area for those lucky enough to discover the El Dorado Trail.

This 3 mile stretch of trail features, at 1 mile, a breathtaking bridge built in 1903, a railroad bridge that is 100 feet above Weber Creek. The trestle bridge has been modified with heavy wooden planks, so trust your footing despite the fact that you are hovering in mid-air.

Back to the car and let’s go …



From downtown Placerville, go 5 miles south on Cedar Ravine Road, take a left on Pleasant Valley Road, then a quick right on Bucks Bar Road.

The traffic signs will say 45 mph but go 40, so that you may enjoy in the country’s beauty, with rolling hills dotted with oaks, and street names like Cattle Creek Road that lead to farms and ranches.

There are plenty of turnouts so you can let the faster vehicles go by.

After three miles there’s a sign that says “10 percent grade” … they really mean it. Drop down the narrow canyon to the Bucks Bar Bridge. Here you will yield to uphill traffic, and if you stop, take a look at your own risk. The west side offers access of a sort, the east side not so much.

The charming bridge, built in 1940, spans the North Fork of the Cosumnes River in an area popular with rock climbers who challenge the granite walls that rise from the free-flowing Cosumnes.

Within a mile, you’re at what is known as “Four Corners” in the area of Somerset. Take a right toward Fair Play and Mt. Aukum.

In less than 2 miles, you’ll come to the Middle Fork of the Cosumnes River, and as you cross the river you’ll notice one of the best swimming holes in the area, right below a bridge on Paradise Ranch Road.

The concrete, arched bridge built in 1968 can be accessed on foot only.

After you take a quick dip in the enticing swimming hole, dry off and go back to Four Corners, where Grizzly Flat and Bucks Bar roads meet.

It might be time to grab a quick bite at Crossroads Coffee or the Gold Vine Grill before you head east on Mt. Aukum Road and take a quick jog right, onto Happy Valley Road.

Don’t be deterred by the curving road, just enjoy the ponderosa pine and other tree species; you might even spot a small redwood. The sound of distant traffic on Mt. Aukum Road will reassure you that civilization is not far.

A mile or so uphill, you’ll come to Happy Valley Cutoff; go straight. Don’t be fooled by the first bridge at Sweeney Road, built in 1957, because the real treat comes up ahead. That’s where you’ll find the 1936 beauty called the Happy Valley Bridge.

Get out and take a look at the marvel, as there is ample parking space. You might even take the foot trail upstream to find yet another wonderful swimming hole, on the North Fork of the Cosumnes.

Now, back in the car, take the switchbacks about a mile up to Mt. Aukum Road, take a right and head into Pleasant Valley. Take a left on Pleasant Valley Road, then right onto Newtown Road (less than a mile) and follow the signs back to Placerville, 11 miles distant.

Haven’t had enough of a good thing?

Then let’s go …



Take Highway 49 north out of Placerville, heading toward Coloma some 8 miles away, where gold was discovered in 1848.

Be sure to visit the replica of the sawmill where James Marshall found a fleck of the precious metal along the banks of the South Fork of the American River, forever changing history. Docents are available to tell visitors all about the astonishing story, which includes the tale of the Mt. Murphy Bridge.

Take Mt. Murphy Road in the heart of Coloma and prepare to have your senses filled with the sight of the suspension bridge built in 1915.

At that same site, however, were other bridges, including a toll bridge in 1849 where for 25 cents you could cross the mighty South Fork.

The following year, in 1850, a wagon bridge was built that brought in $20,000 during its first three months of operation. Another note of interest: Among bridges on this site was the first covered bridge in California, which enjoyed existence from 1852-63.

A wire suspension bridge for pedestrian use only served the area from 1881 until the current structure was completed.

Traffic is advised to go no faster than 5 mph over the bridge, which is shared by those on foot. At the end of the bridge, you may purchase gold panning and fishing supplies at the Coloma Resort.

You may be intrigued by the sign that says “rough, steep” terrain for more than a mile up Mt. Murphy Road … but don’t take the bait of adventure, because there are more bridges to be seen.

Go back to Highway 49 in downtown Coloma and head north.

Settle back for a bit of a drive, but prepare for a special treat.

In about 15 miles you’ll find yourself at the North Fork of the American River, and it doesn’t matter whether you look left or right, because there are two stunning bridges to behold.

On the left is No Hands Bridge, which originally was called the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge.

Built in 1910 to connect a huge limestone quarry to the Southern Pacific Railroad main line in Auburn, it required the labor of 800 men to complete the marvelous arched trestle bridge. At the time it was constructed, it was the longest concrete trestle bridge in the world.

Popular with hikers, joggers and equestrians, it is believed the name “No Hands” was given the structure in honor of a woman horseback rider who loved to drop her reins while riding her steed across the bridge, a daring feat since the bridge at that time had no handrails and most walked their horse across.

Now take a look to the right and you’ll be impressed by the highest bridge in California, the Foresthill Bridge.

Built in 1971 because it was thought that an Auburn Dam was going to be constructed, the bridge is 731 feet above the North Fork of the American. It opened for use in 1973 and is the fourth highest bridge in the United States.

To get to the bridge that is one mile east of Highway 49, take Foresthill Road to the right after you cross the river. A $75 million seismic retrofit project began in 2011 on the 2,428-foot-long structure, which originally cost some $13 million to build. The retrofit project includes raising the handrail on the bridge (desperate souls have jumped), as well as removing hazardous paint. It requires 2.3 million pounds of steel, held together by 190,000 new bolts. So be patient should construction cause any delay in your journey. The project is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2014.


Side note

If you want a quick bridge fix, there is yet another little beauty, located some half-dozen miles north of Placerville, the Mosquito Bridge.

Take Mosquito Road out of town, and enjoy a leisurely drive on a winding road built over the traces of an old, Gold Rush wagon trail.

You’ll be delighted when the white, wooden suspension bridge comes into view, and be assured that the county of El Dorado believes in safety first in maintaining the structure, built in 1939. Inspections and repairs are rigorously enforced on the 245-foot span.

These are just a few of the dozens of bridges of El Dorado County. Take a tour, and perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of Clint Eastwood or Meryl Streep.

Pat Lakey

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