When visiting Lancaster County, PA, a driving tour to see some of the historic covered bridges is a perfect leisurely activity to add to your itinerary. Not only is it great for social-distancing, but it will guide you off-the-beaten path through the beautiful countryside. In this post, I'll show you how to find awesome covered bridge trails in Lancaster County and our experience on them.
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A Little about Lancaster, PA
Lancaster, also known as the Red Rose City, is located in south-central Pennsylvania and is one of the oldest inland towns in the United States.
Lancaster City is the seat of Pennsylvania's Lancaster County which is located along the Susquehanna River and is roughly 70 miles west of Philadelphia. Lancaster County has a diverse population with agricultural roots and a large Amish community. Because of this large Amish community, Lancaster is often referred to as "Pennsylvania Dutch Country".
Fun Fact: Did you know that Lancaster was once the capital of the United States? It's true... for all of one day!
On September 27, 1777, after the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia, which had been captured by the British (during the American Revolution), Lancaster became the capital for one day. The next day, the revolutionary government moved further west to York, PA, which served as the U.S. capital until June 27, 1778.
Covered Bridges in Lancaster, PA
Whether passing through Lancaster on a Pennsylvania road trip or staying in the county, getting off the highway to find covered bridges is a great activity.
These bridges are sometimes referred to as "kissing bridges" because of the couples who have strolled across them over the years - even before Instagram existed!
What is a Covered Bridge?
It is a timber truss bridge that has a roof, a deck, and siding. Most covered bridges are almost completely enclosed. This enclosure is intended to extend the bridge's lifespan as it protects it from the elements, such as heavy snowfall.
Covered bridges in Lancaster County tend to be single-lane bridges. When approaching the bridge, check to see if any cars are coming the other way before entering it.
Lancaster County Covered Bridge Driving Trails
Since covered bridges are located on back roads around the Lancaster countryside, it's helpful to have a map to help you find them. During our stay in Lancaster, PA, we followed a couple of the Covered Bridges Driving Tours on the Discover Lancaster website.
These driving tours guide you on a meandering journey through the picturesque countryside. As you drive, you'll not only find covered bridges, but also several Amish farms, schools, and fields. Along the way, you'll drive through small, historic Pennsylvania towns.
When is the Best Time to See Lancaster's Covered Bridges?
What's great about a covered bridge driving tour is that it's something you can do in any season. Whether covered in snow, surrounded by fall foliage, spring blooms, or lush summer greenery - you'll still be able to appreciate the charming beauty of these bridges.
In my opinion, the Lancaster countryside is prettiest in late-summer before the crops are harvested when the scenery is vibrant green. But others might prefer the open, stark views of the winter landscape. It really depends on which season you speaks to you!
Cycling to Lancaster Covered Bridges
If you're an avid cyclist, you might enjoy cycling the covered bridge tours in Lancaster, PA instead. Covered bridges are mostly located on back roads, so most do not have shoulders. Also, beware of horse manure on the roads due to the Amish horse-drawn buggies!
Check out a few tips for riding in Lancaster County, including what to do when passing Amish buggies, on the Lancaster Bike Club website.
Our Experience on the Lancaster County Covered Bridge Tours
In this post, I'll share our experience on the covered bridge driving tours so that you can decide if this is an activity you might enjoy when you visit Lancaster County, PA.
We followed two of the tours - 1) Lititz and its Countryside and 2) Historic Rivertowns and Western Villages.
Between these two tours, I'd recommend the first one. In general, the bridges on the Lititz tour seem better-maintained and are easier to access. You're also much more likely to encounter Amish buggies and farms on the Lititz tour.
1) Lititz and Its Countryside Covered Bridge Tour
If you only have time in Lancaster County to do one covered bridge driving tour, I'd recommend the Lititz and Its Countryside Tour. It's a picturesque drive and takes you past many beautiful bridges. Plus, you'll end the tour in Lititz - a charming historic town with many cute shops and restaurants.
Starting the Lititz Covered Bridge Tour
The first Lancaster County covered bridge driving tour begins in typical suburban glory - a COSTCO parking lot. Don't worry, the scenery gets better from here.
You'll start by winding your way around the back roads of the Eden neighborhood, behind the Lancaster Country Club. As you drive, you'll see some beautiful properties on these tree-lined streets.
Hunsecker's Mill Covered Bridge
The first stop on the Lititz covered bridge tour is Hunsecker's Mill Covered Bridge which spans the Conestoga River. At 180 ft (55 m) long, it's the longest single span covered bridge in the county.
Originally built in the 1840s, the bridge has been swept away by floods many times and was last rebuilt in 1973 after Hurricane Agnes (June 1972) washed it away.
Unlike most historic covered bridges in the county, Hunsecker's Mill Covered Bridge is not on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pinetown Covered Bridge
Next on the tour is Pinetown Covered Bridge, which was originally built in 1867, but has been rebuilt several times by local Amish after flooding damaged it. It also spans the Conestoga River.
Official name: Big Conestoga #6 Bridge
Other names: Nolte's Point Mill Bridge, Bushong's Mill Bridge
After passing Pinetown Covered Bridge, you'll spend a brief period of time on Oregon Pike, a busier road, to make your way to the next covered bridge.
Zook's Mill Covered Bridge
After turning off of Oregon Pike, you'll quickly reach Zook's Mill Covered Bridge - one of the only bridges not damaged by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
Built in 1849, it is painted red both inside and outside, which is the traditional color of Lancaster covered bridges.
Official name: Cocalico #7 Bridge
Other names: Wenger Covered Bridge, Rose Hill Covered Bridge
Keller's Mill Covered Bridge
The next bridge - Keller's Mill Covered Bridge - is the only all white covered bridge in Lancaster County.
Although originally built in 1873, it's been rebuilt several times after flooding. It was even disassembled and moved to a new location on the creek in the 2000s.
Official name: Cocalico No. 5 Bridge
Other names: Guy Bard Covered Bridge, Rettew's Covered Bridge
Erb's Mill Covered Bridge
Last on the Lititz tour is Erb's Mill Covered Bridge which spans Hammer Creek. Originally built in 1849, then rebuilt in 1887, it is the traditional red color but the approaches (front and back sides) are painted white.
Official name: Hammer Creek #1 Bridge
Ending in Lititz, PA
Once you're finished admiring the beauty of the covered bridges and the countryside, you'll finish your tour in the town of Lititz, PA.
Founded in 1756, Lititz has a charming old town feeling to it. Stroll along Main Street to admire the historic houses and pop into some of the local shops. If you're hungry, grab a bite to eat or a beer at the Appalachian Brewing Company.
Chocolate lovers should be sure to visit the Wilbur Chocolate Store (45 N Broad Street) to pick up some goodies. As you can see, we stocked up on our favorite Wilbur buds - can't get those in Hong Kong!
2) Historic Rivertowns and Western Villages Covered Bridge Tour
If you're interested in continuing the hunt for covered bridges, you might also enjoy the Historic Rivertowns and Western Villages Covered Bridge Tour. In general, the western side of Lancaster County is less visited by tourists, since it has few actual tourist attractions.
Perhaps as a result of fewer tourists, we found it harder to stop at these bridges since there wasn't much space to pull the car off of the road. However, you won't find as much traffic on these roads so you can usually pop out quickly to snap a photo.
The reason we decided to take this tour is because I grew up in western Lancaster County. So, we decided to combine the covered bridge tour with re-visiting places from my childhood. In fact, if you decide to follow this tour, you'll pass by my old elementary school - though it's a totally new building from when I attended it.
Beginning Western Lancaster County Covered Bridge Tour in Columbia, PA
To start the Western Lancaster Covered Bridge Tour, head to the riverside town of Columbia, Pennsylvania. This small town, originally known as Wright's Ferry, is located on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, just south of U.S. Route-30.
Stop by Coffee and Cream, which is located in the old train station building, to grab a refreshing beverage or ice cream. Be sure to check out the parking lot beside it for an impressive mural highlighting the Columbia River Trail.
Then, cross the railroad tracks and head down to the Susquehanna River for impressive water views.
After admiring the river, I recommend a quick stroll through town to see some of the historic buildings. Once you're finished exploring the town, head back to the car and follow the map to begin the covered bridge tour.
Driving from Columbia to Forry's Mill Covered Bridge
As you make your way out of the historic center of Columbia, you'll find yourself in strip mall heaven before turning onto Prospect Road. The climb up Prospect Road, especially if you've decided to cycle, is a steep one.
Once you reach the top of the hill, in the small village of Ironville, you'll have beautiful views out over the countryside below.
Forry's Mill Covered Bridge
The first bridge you'll reach on the Western Covered Bridge Tour is Forry's Mill Covered Bridge, which spans Chiques Creek. Originally built in 1969 and repaired in 1925, it's painted the traditional red with the approaches both painted white.
Official name: Big Chiques #7 Bridge
Siegrist's Mill Covered Bridge
Less than a mile from Forry's Mill, Siegrist's Mill Covered Bridge is an 88-ft long bridge that also spans Chiques Creek.
Originally built in 1885, it survived Hurricane Agnes, but was swept downstream by Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. As a result, it had to be repaired and re-opened in 2013.
Official name: Big Chiques #6 Bridge
Stop in Mount Joy, PA
Although not directly on the western Lancaster covered bridge tour, you could veer off the path into the small town of Mount Joy, PA. The town has a few cute shops, as well as a historic 19th-century local brewery (Bube's Brewery), which looks quite appealing.
Unfortunately, we didn't have time to stop in Mount Joy on our tour.
Shenk's Mill Covered Bridge
Next up on the tour is Shenk's Mill Covered Bridge. Although this is how it's written on the sign at the bridge, it seems to have many different spellings - Schenk's Mill, Schenck's Mill, Shenck's Mill.
Nestled in the trees, I had a hard time getting a photo of this one. Like most others on this tour, it's painted red with white approaches. It was originally built in 1847, then rebuilt in 1855.
Official name: Big Chiques #4 Bridge
Kauffman's Distillery Covered Bridge
Named after a whiskey distillery operated by the Kauffman family in the 1800s, the Kauffman's Distillery Covered Bridge was originally built in 1857 and later rebuilt in 1874.
Official name: Big Chiques #1 Bridge
Other name: Sporting Hill Bridge
Shearer's Mill Covered Bridge
Unfortunately, the last covered bridge on the western Lancaster tour - Shearer's Mill Covered Bridge - is a bit of a disappointment. It's currently (as of visiting in September 2021) under construction so you cannot go inside the bridge.
It was originally built in 1847 and rebuilt in 1855. In 1971, the bridge was moved to Manheim Memorial Park, which is where it stands today. Unlike all the other bridges on the western tour, it is painted entirely red, including both approaches.
End Covered Bridge Tour in Manheim, PA
Although you'll drive through the town of Manheim to get to the last bridge on the tour, this is also where the Western Lancaster County Covered Bridge Tour ends.
If you have time, you may want to park the car and get out to stroll around the town to admire some of the historic buildings or stop in a café to grab a coffee.
Panning a Trip to Lancaster, PA
Getting to Lancaster
As with many smaller cities in the U.S., the easiest way to get to Lancaster is by car. It's the perfect stop on a Pennsylvania or larger East Coast road trip.
If you're keen to take public transportation, you can get to Lancaster by train on Amtrak's Keystone service. Once you've arrived in Lancaster, however, I highly recommend renting a car to get around the county.
Places to Stay in Lancaster County
In Lancaster County, you'll find a wide variety of accommodations ranging from budget-friendly hotel chains to trendy, boutique hotels.
If you like to be within walking distance of restaurants, galleries, and markets, I highly recommend staying in downtown Lancaster. But if you enjoy a country getaway, you can also find a variety of hotels and vacation rentals around the county.
Lancaster Hotel Recommendations
Although we usually stay with family when visiting Lancaster, I've compiled a list of hotels that have received excellent reviews in which I would consider staying.
Or, Consider a Lancaster Vacation Rental
If you have a large family or a group traveling together, you might also consider renting a house on VRBO.
For example, this Whimsical Lancaster House with a Porch in Amish Country is a peaceful retreat in the countryside. It's also quite close to the start of the Lititz Covered Bridge Tour.
To see more accommodations, check out 14 Unique Places to Stay in Lancaster, PA!
When visiting Lancaster County, driving around the countryside to find covered bridges is a wonderful activity. Not only is it an activity you can do in any season, but it's also great for social distancing. Plus, you can complete the tour at your own pace, stopping at cute towns and other attractions along the way.
Have you explored covered bridges in other places before? Let me know in the comments where else you've found beautiful covered bridges!
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Covered bridges always bring back a time of horse driven carts and slower life. We really need to plan a visit to Pennsylvania and see more. The bridges of Lancaster Country offer a nice selection. And no , I did not know the Lancaster was the capital of the U.S. for one day! Who can miss a road trip that includes a stop at the Wilbur Chocolate Store.
It’s true the covered bridges remind you of a more simple time. And when you’re in Lancaster, you’ll also see the Amish still driving around in horse-drawn buggies so you’ll really be reminded of those times!
Love the post. Have been to Lancaster many times but had forgotten how pretty it can be when you take your time and explore slowly.
Thanks so much for reading! It’s fun to see what you can find when you drive around the countryside, isn’t it?