A highway that has been bypassed can be likened to a living organism: It shrinks from a lack of attention, or it thrives when the attention it was being overwhelmed by is removed, allowing it to breathe.
I experienced firsthand on a thriving section of what was once part of Highway 20 (only recently relieved by a long-awaited and highly celebrated bypass section that helped improve the commute between Corvallis and Newport). I was there to visit one of Oregon’s treasures, the well-maintained Chitwood Bridge, one of the four Lincoln County covered bridges.
These bridges between Lincoln City and Yachats are easy to spot with their barn-red exteriors, and they're maintained and managed by the County. To get to them, you need to be up for a pleasant drive on the coast's scenic roads.
The bridges are intended for public access, though most of them are on or are close to private property, so remember to be respectful to the neighbors.
Assistant reporter Scout at the Yachats Covered Bridge
Drift Creek Bridge
Though considered to be the oldest in the state, the bridge is no longer in the original location. For many years it ferried travelers over Drift Creek, a little over a mile south of Lincoln City. In 1997, it was closed due to its degraded condition. Lincoln County and local residents gathered to move the bulk of the materials and rebuild it atop a concrete bridge on private property. The property owners, the Sweitz’s, lived north of Lincoln City in Otis, and they agreed to keep the bridge available for viewing. The Sweitz’s bridge, which spanned a creek on their property was 66’10”. The Drift Creek Bridge was 66”10”. Serendipity or coincidence? You can ponder the question while you view the reconstituted structure on the side of Bear Creek Road, about 1 mile south of Highway 18.
The Chitwood is roughly 2 miles from the main route of Highway 20 and about 15 miles from the coast. It's one of the bridges that still provides the surprisingly satisfying experience of driving through it. Today it's surrounded by private homes (one of which even has an old Matson container painted with a mural of the bridge), but in its lifetime, the Chitwood Bridge was once ignited by a fire that broke out in a long-gone grocery store. Thanks to the efforts of a bucket brigade, though, the bridge was saved.
Fisher School Bridge (Five Rivers Bridge)
With its location near Tidewater, this is the most remote of the Lincoln County bridges. It's named for the five streams of Alder Creek, Cougar Creek, Buck Creek, Crab Creek and Cherry Creek, which make up the waterway it spans. It's speculated that the bridge may have been destroyed and rebuilt in 1927 but records show 1919 as the original date. For me and other bridge enthusiasts, it will remain a mystery.
North Fork Yachats Bridge
The North Fork Yachats Bridge requires a 7-mile drive up the picturesque Yachats River Road, plus an additional 1.5 miles on an unpaved section. It's the shortest of the county's bridges at 42 feet in length. Like the Chitwood Bridge, the Yachats is another that can be driven through, although it quickly ends at the gate to private property.
Which of these bridges is your favorite? Which are you excited to check out? Share with us in the comments below. And for information on the day-to-day happenings around the Central Oregon Coast, be sure to check out our Daytime Events page. For opportunities for live music, performances and other evening entertainment, our Nightlife section guides helps you find all the evening fun.