Exploring Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County

Viewing area at Kinzua Bridge State Park.

Kinzua Bridge State Park is home to what was once the longest and tallest railway bridge in the entire world – The Kinzua Viaduct.

Kinzua Bridge State Park is located at 1721 Lindholm Drive in Mount Jewett, McKean County.

Or if you prefer GPS coordinates, use 41.75892, -78.58647 to navigate to the Kinzua Bridge State Park parking lot.

How to find Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County Pennsylvania.
How to find Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County Pennsylvania.

As with any state-operated destination in the age of COVID, it’s best to call ahead to check on any potential closures before visiting.

The phone number for the Kinzua Bridge State Park office is 814-778-5467.

Approaching the Kinzua Skywalk at Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Approaching the Kinzua Skywalk at Kinzua Bridge State Park.

History of the Kinzua Viaduct

Originally owned and operated by the New York, Lake Erie, and Western Coal Company, the Kinzua Viaduct stood 301 feet tall and was 2,053 feet long when initially completed in 1882.

Kinzua Viaduct construction in 1882.
Kinzua Viaduct construction in 1882 (public domain image).

The iron bridge was constructed in just 94 days by the Phoenix Bridge Company, headquartered in Philadelphia.

The Kinzua Viaduct was built by the Phoenix Bridge Company in 94 days in 1882.
The Kinzua Viaduct was built by the Phoenix Bridge Company in 94 days in 1882 (public domain image).

In 1900 the Kinzua Viaduct was completely rebuilt out of steel, to accomodate larger, heavier locomotives pulling longer, heavier loads of coal and timber.

Freight trains regularly crossed the Kinzua Viaduct until 1959.

Train crossing the Kinzua Viaduct around 1900.
Train crossing the Kinzua Viaduct in the late 1890s (public domain image).

In 1963, the State of Pennsylvania aquired the viaduct and adjacent lands to create a state park.

Kinzua Bridge State Park opened in 1970, and in 1977, the Kinzua Viaduct was placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks by the Federal Department of Interior.

The Kinzua Viaduct in 1970.
The Kinzua Viaduct in 1970 (public domain image).

No trains crossed the Kinzua Viaduct again until 1987, when passenger excursions were offered by the Knox and Kane Railroad.

These steam-powered trains continued to offer rides until 2002, when the excursions were paused so that repairs could be made to the bridge.

Aerial view of the Kinzua Viaduct in 1970.
Aerial view of the Kinzua Viaduct in 1970 (public domain image).

But before the restoration work was completed, a tornado toucheded down at the park on July 21, 2003 , destroying 11 of the 20 structural towers.

Looking across Kinzua Creek Gorge at the tornado damaged Kinzua Viaduct.
Looking across Kinzua Creek Gorge at the tornado damaged Kinzua Viaduct.

Deciding that the cost to rebuild the Kinzua Viaduct was too great, the State instead repurposed the remaining, still-standing 600 feet of bridge and built the Kinzua Skywalk, which opened in 2011.

The remains of the Kinzua Viaduct at Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County Pennsylvania.
The remains of the Kinzua Viaduct are now the Kinzua Skywalk at Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County

Visiting Kinzua Bridge State Park Today

There are several trails to explore at Kinzua Bridge State Park, in addition to many historical exhibits inside the Visitors Center.

The most exciting trail is certainly the 600 foot walk out to the end of the Kinzua Skywalk!

Train tracks along the Kinzua Skywalk at Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Train tracks along the Kinzua Skywalk at Kinzua Bridge State Park.

Standing 200 feet above the Kinzua Creek Gorge below, you have a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.

The Kinzua Creek Gorge in McKean County Pennsylvania.
The Kinzua Creek Gorge in McKean County, Pennsylvania.

Looking back towards the Visitor Center, you can also see the Kinzua Creek Trail that leads to the bottom of the gorge and the banks of Kinzua Creek itself.

Looking at the Kinzua State Park visitor center from the Kinzua Skywalk.
Looking at the Kinzua State Park visitor center from the Kinzua Skywalk.

Several vantage points along the Kinzua Creek Trail offer unique photo ops of the Kinzua Skywalk and the remnants of the viaduct.

One of several observation areas at Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County PA
One of several observation areas at Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County, PA.

A favorite observation area of many visitors is the one that allows you to look straight across the gorge through the center of the steel towers that support the Kinzua Skywalk.

Looking through the remaining steel towers at the Kinzua Skywalk in McKean County Pennsylvania.
Looking through the remaining steel towers at the Kinzua Skywalk in McKean County.

The Kinzua Creek Trail is rather steep, and while not technically challenging, it certainly requires some stamina to get to and from the bottom of the Kinzua Creek Gorge.

The steel structure of the Kinzua Viaduct in McKean County, Pennsylvania.
The steel structure of the Kinzua Viaduct in McKean County, Pennsylvania.

Your reward for making it to the bottom is an up-close look at the tornado-damaged towers that collapsed in 2003.

The tornado damaged remains of the Kinzua Viaduct.
The tornado damaged remains of the Kinzua Viaduct.

A footbridge over Kinzua Creek allows you a closer look at the opposite side of the former Kinzua Viaduct.

Bridge over Kinzua Creek at Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Bridge over Kinzua Creek at Kinzua Bridge State Park.

The mangled remains of the 120 year-old steel towers have held up extremely well to the elements, and may well be recognizable for another 120 years!

Tornado damage at Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Tornado damage at Kinzua Bridge State Park.

Final Thoughts

First built in 1882, the Kinzua Viaduct was an engineering marvel in its prime.

For that reason alone, every train buff and fan of impressive architecture should visit Kinzua Bridge State Park at least once in their lives.

Side view of the Kinzua Skywalk in McKean County, PA.
Side view of the Kinzua Skywalk in McKean County, PA.

The fact that it took a direct hit from a tornado, was repurposed, and has become one of Pennsylvania’s most iconic State Parks, is equally impressive.

The debris field left by the tornado that struck the Kinzua Viaduct in 2003.
The debris field left by the tornado that struck the Kinzua Viaduct in 2003.

A trip to Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County is not one you will soon forget!

Train tracks near the entrance to Kinzua Bridge State Park
Train tracks near the entrance to Kinzua Bridge State Park.

The Salisbury Viaduct, built in 1912, is another Pennsylvania railroad bridge turned turned tourist attraction.

Hikers taking in the sunset from the Salisbury Viaduct along the Great Allegheny Passage.
Hikers taking in the sunset from the Salisbury Viaduct along the Great Allegheny Passage.

This 1,908 foot-long bridge is now part of the Great Allegheny Passage as it passes through Somerset County.

The Salisbury Viaduct disappears into the Pennsylvania foothills near Meyersdale.
The Salisbury Viaduct disappears into the Pennsylvania foothills near Meyersdale.

The Horseshoe Curve near Altoona is yet another piece of railroading history right here in Pennsylvania.

National Railway Historical Society plaque at the Horseshoe Curve in Altoona.
National Railway Historical Society plaque at the Horseshoe Curve in Altoona.

Unlike either the Kinzua Viaduct or the Salisbury Viaduct, the Horseshoe Curve is still very much in use by trains today, and is a must-see for fans of all things railroading!

Westbound train passing through the viewing area at the Horseshoe Curve.
Westbound train passing through the viewing area at the Horseshoe Curve.

Nearby Attractions

Many people flock to this part of Pennsylvania hoping to catch a glimpse of the famed PA elk herd.

Elk bugling in Benezette.
Elk bugling in Benezette.

The 15 Best Elk Viewing Destinations in Pennsylvania will show you where to look, increasing your chances of seeing these amazing creatures up close.

Elk Country Visitor Center food plot.
A pair of Pennsylvania bull elk.

This region of PA is home to some incredible vistas as well, and you’ll find the best ROADSIDE ones in my write-up “The 20 Best Scenic Overlooks in PA Elk Country”.

The Square Timber Wild Area in the Elk State Forest.
The Square Timber Wild Area in the Elk State Forest.

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Rusty Glessner is an award-winning photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel and adventure guide.

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