What is the Corkscrew Bridge in Yellowstone National Park?
Updated: Jul 23, 2019
About a year ago, while doing some research about Yellowstone and its rich history, I read about the Corkscrew Bridge that is located between Fishing Bridge and the East Entrance.
So what is the Corkscrew Bridge In Yellowstone National Park? A Spiral bridge built to allow cars and horse buggies the ability to travel up and over Sylvan Pass. The corkscrew bridge design provided for a lesser gradient in an area of the canyon where the gradient was 10 percent.
This year, 2019, marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the completion of the concrete Corkscrew Bridge that replaced the original wooden corkscrew bridge that was constructed in 1904.
Today the remnants of the old Corkscrew Bridge can be seen from an overlook located east of the Sylvan Pass summit (click HERE for pictures of the old Corkscrew Bridge). It stands as an enduring monument to the hard work and sacrifice rendered by early engineers and construction crews that designed and built the bridge in a corkscrew (or circular) fashion enabling wagons, horse drawn carriages, and later vehicles to climb and descend the steep terrain more efficiently by gaining elevation more rapidly during the climb and reducing the gradient when heading down the hill. In essence, quickly changing elevation in a short distance.
What is the History of the Corkscrew Bridge?
It was in July of 1901 that construction began on what would become to be known as the East Entrance road. This was an important road as it would connect Yellowstone National Park with travelers from the east who would pass through Cody, Wyoming in route to the park. Prior to this time most travelers to the park from the east would ride the Northern Pacific Railroad to Livingston, Montana and then catch a spur line south to Cinnabar and the railhead which would later be extended to Gardiner, Montana in 1903. The Beartooth Pass road that now connects the Northeast Entrance to Red Lodge, Montana and Billings, Montana did not open until June 14, 1936 which is now an alternative entrance to the park for vehicle travelers from the east.
It wasn’t until 1904 that the first wooden corkscrew bridge was built. A decade later there were various modifications to the bridge and the road, with the concrete structure being erected in 1919 in the same location as the original wooden corkscrew structure. However, by virtue of the ingenious design which provided the desired rapid change in elevation, it also resulted in the increased occurrence of “bottlenecking” at the spiral configuration slowing down traffic. And at this time in the park’s existence, traffic to the park was really starting to increase in numbers of park visitors and the likelihood of traffic jams eventually lead to its demise.
In 1929, the East Entrance road was relocated to the north side of the canyon and was constructed with significantly less turns and curves. Moving the road was unfortunate in that it was no longer possible to see the old remnants of the Corkscrew Bridge from this new road and a piece of park travel history was on the verge of being lost and forgotten. However, in the late 2000s, the road was again reconstructed and a pull off was strategically located to allow an overview of the old Corkscrew Bridge below. The bridge was again visible to park visitors traveling this section of the road and its place in history reassured by its visibility.
Can I Hike Down to the old Corkscrew Bridge?
Taking a hike down to the old Corkscrew Bridge can be a precarious effort if launched from the pull off area, and not recommended. However, closer to the summit where the current road passes near to a place where the old road approached the summit. You can park there and hike down to the bridge. When you approach the area of the bridge you can see several items and structures that are from the early years when the road ran the canyon. You can see:
· Stone retaining walls that supported the road on the downhill side
· Metal and log framework structures offering further support to parts of the old road
· Old rusty tin cans, broken plates, and stone ring fire pits where travels or those building the road built a fire to cook their meal
· On the west face of the old Corkscrew Bridge is an insert that reads, “N.P.S. 1919”, and is a good backdrop to a picture taken in front of the bridge looking down the canyon
Planning a trip to Yellowstone? Click HERE for the Yellowstone Interactive Map to help customize your own Yellowstone experience. It provides detailed information of things to do and see specific to each of Yellowstone’s 14 road sections.