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Why You’ll Regret Traveling to Iowa for the Bridges of Madison County

Why You’ll Regret Traveling to Iowa for the Bridges of Madison County

Whenever I plan a trip to visit family, I look around to see what else I can see and do while I’m there. This past weekend, I headed to Des Moines, Iowa and so I began my search. There’s only three things Iowa is known for… cornfields, the Field of Dreams (also a cornfield) and the Bridges of Madison County.

Now, I’m not one to knock cornfields. My very first blog (way back in 2002!) had a “Corn Watch” photo feature, where I’d take pictures of corn wherever I went. I went to the Corn Palace in South Dakota. I even married the son of a corn farmer. Going out of my way to see corn is a pretty ridiculous notion. So, we were down to one option – the Bridges of Madison County.

(Note – if I had been on my own, we’d be down to TWO options which would include the self proclaimed “Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk,” Riverside, Iowa. But I’m a big wuss when it comes to pushing things that might be brought up in therapy by my children later. I am fairly certain “my mom made us drive to some tiny city in Iowa cause some nerd from TV wasn’t born there yet” is just begging to be professionally analyzed.)

From the inside of Holliwell Bridge. Note the graffiti.

On the surface, it seems like a great choice.  Less than an hour from Des Moines, it would be a quick car ride.  It was also peak for autumn leaf color, so we the pictures should be phenomenal  right?  I mean – people travel to Iowa JUST to see the bridges!  There’s a book, a movie, and a song?  Score!

Yeah, guess what… they are bridges.  I mean, they are sorta pretty.  But if I had traveled to middle of Iowa to see them, I’d be regretting my trip.  Hardcore.

There are six bridges, and we drove to see four of them.  It is possible the other two I didn’t see were magical, candy filled and totally worth it.  But I doubt it.  Half of them weren’t even over water!  What kind of so-called bridge is that?

Imes “Bridge”. There’s no water nor ditch underneath so I’m unsure if it is still a bridge.

And the pictures… they turned out ok I guess.  But, in their foresight, they put signs up on the middle front of the bridge saying what the name of the bridge is.  Not cool, Madison County.  It makes them look trashy, as does the hundred years of graffiti people have graced them with.

So, if you are in Des Moines anyway, you might as well go hit the bridges if you have a lot of extra time to kill. But if you hit the Iowa border solely to see the bridges, be ready for some instant regret and feeling of letdown.  And romance?  None, repeat none, to be had.

Bottom line : I think Iowa is doing itself a disservice by touting these bridges as a destination. I think there’s a TON of charm in the state (like Winterset – Home of the coolest small town park ever! ) but it is hard to fall in love if you were letdown by hype.

Cedar Bridge. Seriously, this is a different bridge than the other three pictures. I swear.

  1. Andy 15 October, 2012

    Ha, the bridges have never been too high on my list, but I’d probably check them out if I was in the area. Probably wouldn’t make it a planned trip though, I’ll remember what you said about them.

  2. Sophie 28 October, 2012

    Bit sad to hear that – I have this image of Clint Eastwood – a slightly younger Clint Eastwood – roaming about these bridges. Also curious to hear the bridges aren

  3. Sophie 28 October, 2012

    (oops – hit enter too soon)
    …aren’t crossing water, I meant to say. Not even dried up rivers?

    • Amy 28 October, 2012

      Some of them are over water. The others have been moved, and it doesn’t look like they are over water – even in non-drought years. They seem to have been moved to places of easy access to tourists (like the city park in Winterset, and another small town’s visitor center)

  4. Tiffany 7 June, 2015

    I visited in December of 2014 and my husband and four babies loved it! We went to John Wayne’s birthplace, the city park to get to Clark Tower, saw a turkey, annnd hung out at their town square. It was much fun and I know they have a fall festival which would be fun for anyone to check out. Also, they just opened John Wayne’s museum which looked pretty interesting in a good way. The Roseman Bridge was over water and beautiful!

  5. Dean 19 June, 2015

    In my experience I have found that it’s about 5050 when you visit places that get the biggest publicity, especially if that publicity is generated by either movies or television! The motion picture camera usually as a rule will either embellish or

  6. Dean 20 June, 2015

    In my experience I have found that places that gain public interest through the publicity generated by either motion pictures or television are at best a 5050 proposition when it comes to satisfying those that search these places out! Movies are entertainment and any place or object within it’s focus will either be filmed to embellished or diminish it! I say that as an avid movie fan which has very frequently sought out to find and see places featured in many of our favorite movies. If you just accept this BEFORE you seek these places out then I have found the disappointments to not be hard to swallow. Also, it’s probably best if you make these visitsexcursions as part of a bigger objective rather than a focal point.

    One place in Iowa I would encourage people to visit that gets very little publicity is Pella, Iowa. It’s a charming town, particularly if you visit during their annual Tulip Festival. We’re all indiduals with our own unique tastes, so there may be those who wouldn’t enjoy it, but I believe many would if they took the time to discover the place.