The Kinzua Skywalk is an observation platform that stands over the Kinzua Valley in northern Pennsylvania, on an old railroad bridge site. However, you may be wondering, is the Kinzua Skywalk worth it?
The Kinzua Skywalk is worth visiting. Visitors can stroll out on the (restored and very safe) remains of the Kinzua Railroad Bridge and take in the majestic views by looking over the railings or peering through the glass floor at the valley below! The Skywalk is located in Kinzua Bridge State Park.
So, where did the Skywalk come from? How do you get to the Kinzua Skywalk? Can you hike or camp near the old rail bridge? Before you head out to the Skywalk, continue reading to learn the answers to these questions and other things you need to know for your trip.
The History of the Kinzua Skywalk
Way back in 1882, the New York, Lake Erie, and Western Railway (the NYLE&W, as it was known) faced a problem. They needed to develop a rail line that could connect their main tracks near Bradford, PA, to the coal-rich region of Elk County. The railroad’s engineers found two possible ways to do this. The first involved laying eight miles of track over rough terrain. The second was to build a rail bridge over the Kinzua Valley.
Building eight miles of track on rough terrain sounded like a headache to the engineers, so the NYLE&W decided to build the bridge. However, building a rail bridge that spans half a mile across a valley is a technically challenging feat, even for modern engineers with modern technology. The NYLE&W recognized the difficulty inherent in this process and decided to hire an expert engineer named Octave Chanute, who devised a new construction process using gin poles and traveling cranes to construct the 20 support towers that held the bridge aloft.
To keep the bridge structurally sound while saving money and materials, Chanute and the Phoenix Iron Works designed a new kind of hollow iron tube known as a Phoenix Column. These columns didn’t look like traditional iron or steel, and many people mistakenly believed that the bridge was built out of wood.
The bridge, however, was made from high-quality iron.
Construction crews completed the bridge in an astonishing 94 days! Today, it would likely take teams of workers years to manage such a magnificent feat, although, to be fair, a lot of that is probably due to modern bureaucracy. Regardless, once it was completed, the bridge was the tallest and longest rail bridge on the planet. It was capable of handling loads of up to 241 tons, or about 482,000 pounds.
As time went on, trains became heavier, and the Kinzua Railroad Bridge could no longer safely handle modern rail traffic. So in 1900, the Erie Railroad – which had bought the NYLE&W in 1893 – re-engineered the bridge out of modern steel. The bridge served regular rail traffic until 1959, when it was decommissioned due to its restrictions on weight and speed and its age.
After being decommissioned, the bridge was intended for salvage. However, the salvage operator who bought the bridge decided that it was historically significant and did not want to demolish it. Instead, they collaborated with the State of Pennsylvania, and in 1963, the state acquired the bridge and nearby lands to create Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Birth of the Skywalk
In 2003, the railroad bridge collapsed during a storm. Heavy winds and a tornado spawned from a strong convective system, uprooted trees, and pulled the bridge’s support towers off of their anchors, destroying a vast expanse of the bridge. In 30 seconds, the forces of nature wrecked the bridge, sending sections of the span crashing to the forest floor.
Rebuilding the bridge would have cost the state of Pennsylvania somewhere around $45 million. Not wanting to spend that much taxpayer money on a non-functional rail bridge, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reimagined the bridge as a skywalk. The remaining section of the bridge was reinforced and converted to a pedestrian walkway that ends in an observation deck with a glass floor in the center. Through the glass floor of the deck, you can see the tower that supports the deck and the valley floor.
The view from the deck is impressive: visitors can gaze out into the valley, see the remains of the towers scattered across the valley floor, watch hikers as they wind their way through the bridge remains, and ponder the forces of nature.
The Skywalk can be windy, so make sure to keep a hold of your hat or anything else that you have on you that might blow away. Also, walking out to the observation deck might be a little dicey for you if you are afraid of heights.
Hiking trails branching out from the visitor center take guests into the valley, where they enjoy beautiful views of the platform and the wilderness of northern Pennsylvania. The park is extremely popular and brings an estimated $11.5 million to the local economy every year.
Entrance to the park is free, along with the Skywalk.
Keystone Answers Fun Fact: The weight of the average modern rail car is somewhere between 30 and 80 tons. Modern trains weigh anywhere from 3,000 to 18,000 tons, meaning that a modern train would not have been able to cross the bridge safely.
Getting to Kinzua Bridge State Park
Kinzua Bridge State Park is located near Mt. Jewett, Pennsylvania, a small village near the Allegheny National Forest in rural northern Pennsylvania. The park is pretty remote: it’s about six hours from Philadelphia or three hours from Pittsburgh.
To get there, take US 6 to Mt. Jewett and then go north on SR-3011. Or, plug Kinzua Bridge State Park into your GPS.
What to Do at Kinzua Bridge State Park
The highlight of the Kinzua Bridge State Park is definitely the Skywalk. Walking out over the valley and peering through the glass floor is an experience you’ll never forget!
In addition, the visitor center offers a multitude of enrichment activities that provide fascinating historical context to the park. The curious-minded will find plenty of interesting information in the visitor center.
There are, however, plenty of other things to do at the park, including two hiking trails, picnic pavilions, and ample opportunities to see local wildlife. Visitors often spot deer, turkeys, rabbits, and interesting birds. More dangerous wildlife such as bears and coyotes have also been spotted in the area.
Things to do Near Kinzua Skywalk
Once you’ve visited the Skywalk at Kinzua Bridge State Park, what else is there to do in the area? First, there are three state parks within a short distance of Kinzua Bridge. These are Elk State Park, Bendigo State Park, and Chapman State Park. These parks are open for fun activities like fishing, swimming, picnicking, and paddling.
The Zippo/Case Museum is located about 1/2 hour away in the nearby town of Bradford. The museum has 15,000 square feet dedicated to two of Pennsylvania’s most famous brands. Visitors come from around the world visit; in fact, over 100,000 visitors yearly, and admission is free.
Kinzua Bridge State Park is also located in the Pennsylvania Wilds, a 2.1-million-acre expanse of public-use green space. In the Wilds, you can see animals, paddle on rivers, enjoy endless hiking, or stare into the vast emptiness of space with some of the best dark skies in the United States. But, of course, the Wilds are also home to plenty of traditional farmsteads, artisans, makers, and artists who draw their inspiration from the region’s wild beauty.
Prefer to spend your time on the open road? Pennsylvania Route 6 is one of the most beautiful highways in America and passes right through Mt. Jewett. So fill up your tank, load up some good tunes, and hit the road to explore some of Pennsylvania’s fantastic scenery from the comfort of your car.
Can I Bring my Dog to Kinzua Bridge?
Most everybody loves dogs. If you are a dog-lover, you can bring your favorite furry friend with you to the Kinzua Bridge State Park. The parklands are dog-friendly. Be sure to plan ahead and bring a leash, water, snacks, and basic first aid for your dog.
Is Kinzua Bridge ADA-Accessible?
Kinzua Bridge State Park is ADA-accessible. If you or someone in your group has a handicap, you’ll find this park to be quite accommodating. The visitor center has wheelchair ramps, but it is a good idea to phone the park ahead of time and speak to a staff member to ensure that the park provides adequate resources for your needs.
Why is it Called the Kinzua Viaduct?
The Kinzua Viaduct was named for the Kinzua Valley, which it spanned. The word Kinzua likely originated from the Seneca Indians, and had a meaning related to fish and fishing. When early settlers began living here, the valley became known as the Kinzua Valley.
A viaduct is a name for a kind of bridge made from multiple arches, towers, or spans; hence, when the railroads bridged the valley, the structure became known as the Kinzua Viaduct as well as the Kinzua Railroad Bridge.
Can You Camp at Kinzua Bridge State Park?
There are no campsites at the Kinzua Bridge State Park. However, there are plenty of great camping options nearby. KOA operates a campground called the Kinzua East KOA in nearby Bradford, and there are plenty of other great campsites available through brokers like Hipcamp. The Allegheny National Forest is also close by and offers plenty of camping.
If you’d prefer not to rough it, there are plenty of available AirBnB options near the Bradford, PA area. You can also find hotels and resorts to suit most any taste.
The Kinzua Skywalk: A Can’t-Miss Pennsylvania Attraction
The Kinzua Skywalk is a beautiful pedestrian walkway situated on the old Kinzua Railroad Bridge site. With stunning scenery, fascinating history, and an abundance of amazing Pennsylvanian activities to enjoy nearby, the Kinzua Skywalk is a can’t-miss attraction in the Keystone State.