I am going to be honest and say that when I planned our stop at Walnut Woods State Park in Iowa, I had no idea that the bridges of Madison County were close by. In fact, it was just a minor stop that was in a convenient place when I looked on the map. Just a rest over between Sioux Falls and St. Louis. However, some of the best things in life happen spontaneously, and this ended up being one of them. As we drove closer to the campground, I began to see signs on the side of the road for the bridges, and I knew that our only full day in the area would be spent touring the Bridges of Madison County.
If you are going to do a self driving tour of the bridges, which is what I would recommend, then I suggest starting out at Imes Bridge by St. Charles, Iowa. Many of the bridges are clustered together out in Winterset, but then you have to drive out to Imes and back into Winterset to hit Roseman Bridge on the other side.
When touring the Bridges of Madison County, the St. Charles welcome center is a great place to begin. Here, you can pick up a map of the area and the bridges themselves. This map also points out other fun historical stops in the are like the Birthplace of John Wayne.
Imes bridge will be the first stop on your map if you start here. The Imes bridge was built in 1870 and now sits in a park near St. Charles.
Next stop on our tour of the Bridges of Madison County was Holliwell Bridge. Known as the longest covered bridge, it spans 122 feet, and was featured in the movie The Bridges of Madison County.
Driving into the town of Winterset from Holliwell Bridge, you will across the City Park, which now holds the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge. Built in 1870, this bridge is 79 feet long, and was relocated to the park from its original location. The City Park is a fun place to stop when touring with kids. They have a great playground, and an incredibly fun and free hedge maze.
On your was to Cedar Bridge, stop by and see the birthplace of John Wayne. You can purchase tour tickets there if you like, but the house itself is free to view from the outside.
Cedar Bridge is just a few miles outside of Winterset, and was featured on the cover of the original Bridges of Madison County novel. Unfortunately, the original bridge built in 1883 was destroyed by arson, and a replica was built in its place in 2004. This is the only covered bridge in Madison County that you are permitted to drive through.