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Longest covered bridge in the West | Bartell's Backroads

The longest covered bridge in the West has a dangerous past.

KNIGHTS FERRY, Calif. — Spanning 330 feet over the Stanislaus River is the Knights Ferry Bridge, the longest-covered bridge west of the Mississippi. 

It may not look it today, but the Stanislaus River was a huge hurdle for early gold miners trying to get from the Port of Stockton to the Sierra foothill town of Sonora, but for entrepreneur, Dr. William Knight, this very riverbank was a great place to start a trading post which became known as Knights Ferry. 

“When William Knight founded the town, originally there was a ferry that would go across the Stanislaus River,” says Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Frankie Bowers.

While working the trading post, Knight made loads of money because the nearest river crossing would cost miners several days of travel over tough terrain. 

“It was a good way to make money because people didn’t have another choice,” says Bowers.

After Knight founded the town in 1849 there was even talk about building a bridge. Unfortunately, Knight would not see that bridge because he was murdered that same year. His death however didn’t stop a man named David Locke from capitalizing on the location. 

“David Locke came through; he decided that a covered bridge was needed to replace the ferry,” says Bowers.

The first bridge built in Knights Ferry was washed out by a flood, but the second bridge is still standing today. 

“A lot of these beams are actually the original wood [used] in 1862 for the covered bridge,” says Bowers.

The Knights Ferry bridge was built so well that cars and trucks were allowed to drive across it up until the 1980s. Unfortunately, at the beginning of 2023, the bridge was closed to pedestrian traffic for maintenance. 

“Currently... there is no estimated timeline, however; we do understand there is a lot of value to the bridge, to the communities,” says Bowers.

Even though you can’t cross the bridge you can check out the ruins of David Lock’s old flour mill which later became a hydroelectric power plant, or you can hike the many trails that lead you to swimming holes, fishing spots, or Native American acorn grinding rocks. 

“At the grinding rocks, they would take a grinding stone, they would grind inside the rock to make a meal. That way, they could turn it into a flour of sorts,” says Bowers. 

If you have time, check out the natural history exhibit at the park entrance or grab a bite to eat while touring the historic town of Knights Ferry.  

MORE FERRY FUN ON THE BACKROADS: The Delta's floating highway is your chance to ride the only state-run ferry system in California.

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