“Should I visit Kinzua Bridge State Park if I’m afraid of heights?”
It’s a reasonable question, and it’s one that is asked so much online that Google now automatically completes the question for you if you start typing it into the search engine.
The Skywalk at Kinzua Bridge in McKean County is undoubtedly high. Hovering 225 feet above the valley floor at its highest point, it’s as though you are standing on the 22nd floor of a skyscraper. And whereas you’d have walls and a roof surrounding you in a skyscraper, experiencing that height from the vantage point of the Skywalk can leave you feeling much more vulnerable (even though there are guardrails!).
The history of the bridge itself can also be daunting for visitors. It is, after all, a story of the destruction of the very structure you’re standing on.
When completed in 1882, the Kinzua Bridge Viaduct was one of the tallest railroad viaducts in the world. The bridge was closed to freight traffic in 1959. Kinzua Bridge State Park was dedicated and officially opened in 1970, and excursion passenger trains ran from 1987 until 2002 when the bridge was closed to all traffic (including pedestrians) due to the risk of collapse from high winds and structural issues.
Image: A vintage Kinzua Bridge postcard
Renovations began in February 2003 to help restore the bridge to a navigable condition. However, disaster struck just months later when an F1 tornado with wind speeds of 73-112 mph hit the side of Kinzua Viaduct. Eleven towers from the center of the bridge were torn from their concrete bases and thrown to the valley floor, which can still be seen today right where they fell.
The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources then had to rethink one of the most popular tourist attractions in Pennsylvania. It was decided that the parts of the structure that were still standing would not be torn down, but rather would be restored into the Kinzua Skywalk we see today. The grand opening was held in September 2011. The pedestrian walkway leads to a 225-foot-high observation deck and partial glass floor that gives a breathtaking view of the Kinzua Creek Valley and the wreckage below.
Despite its history of destruction, walking onto the Kinzua Skywalk is safe. Guardrails that are about chest-height envelope all sides of the Skywalk (something that those who visited in decades past say is much appreciated). The glass floor at the end of the Skywalk is reinforced and strong enough to hold as many people that can fit on the glass.
Image: PA Governor Josh Shapiro stepping onto the glass during his visit to Kinzua Bridge State Park in October 2023.
Although the wooden planks are frequently examined and replaced when necessary, it is still a wooden walkway. You might hear a creaking sound, and the Skywalk by its very nature is meant to flex a little with the wind and people’s weight.
In cases of icy weather or heavy winds, Kinzua Skywalk is closed to visitors. It is frequently assessed to make sure that it is still structurally sound and capable of handling all of the visitors that it typically sees in a day.
As you make your way out onto Kinzua Skywalk, fix your gaze out into the views of Kinzua Creek Valley, also known as the Kinzua Gorge. From this vantage point, you’ll be able to see a fantastic view of the beautiful rolling hills of the Pennsylvania Wilds. The wide variety of deciduous trees also means that this view is a spectacular display during the fall foliage season. The winter months provide a clearer view without the trees’ leaves, allowing visitors the chance to see the creek and hiking trails that meander along the valley.
Image: Photo by Hunter Casilio
If you’re particularly afraid of heights, make sure to keep looking out across the landscape instead of down into the valley. Looking down can cause a sense of vertigo or reinforce how high up you are. Instead, fix your eyes onto a point in the distance and just keep walking step-by-step across the Skywalk.
Although most people who are afraid of heights tend to stay away from the edges and guide rails on high attractions, Kinzua Bridge is one place that you might actually want to avoid the middle section of the walkway! Each side section (the part closest to the railing) is made with wooden planks that are placed flush against each other, with no large cracks in between. However, the middle section of Kinzua Skywalk remains as the original railroad track. That means that, between the two large metal rails, an older style of railroad ties can be seen. These railroad ties have larger spaces in between them. Although realistically it would be hard to even squeeze your foot in between these slats, it can still be visually frightening to see the ground so far below. Not to mention, visitors even without a fear of heights have worries about dropping their phones or other belongings into the open spaces! Avoiding the middle section of the Skywalk isn’t difficult, as the outer edges are the places that were truly built with visitors in mind. Visitors tend to follow the American rules of the road and will generally stick to their right side when walking on the Skywalk, so follow that unwritten rule unless you want to potentially bump into others.
Image: Photo by Hunter Casilio
Although the rain doesn’t make Kinzua Skywalk inherently dangerous, it can make your visit more uncomfortable. You might feel less secure if the surface is wet or slightly slippery. Wind is a bigger issue, as Kinzua Bridge State Park has been known to preemptively shut down access to Kinzua Skywalk during heavy wind for visitors’ safety. Even if it’s just a light breeze and the Skywalk is open, visitors with a fear of heights might struggle with the fact that you can feel the structure shift a little if it’s windy. Avoid windy or rainy days to give yourself the most comfortable journey on Kinzua Skywalk.
Image: Kinzua Bridge in winter, photo by Lou Bernard
Be aware that you might also want to avoid very crowded times, such as the fall foliage season or holiday weekends, if you don’t like the idea of being on the Skywalk at the same time as many other people.
Speaking of so many people being on Kinzua Skywalk, use that knowledge to your advantage! Take a moment to think about how many visitors Kinzua Bridge State Park sees each year… about 250,000 people annually! Most of those park visitors walk out onto the Skywalk, and very few accidents have ever occurred. Visitors walk to the end of the Skywalk, enjoy the view and peacefulness of the valley below, and come back safe-and-sound to the visitor center afterward, filled with the exhilaration from exploring the Skywalk and appreciation from the fantastic sights of the Kinzua Gorge.
Visiting Kinzua Bridge State Park with your sweetheart can get your heart racing! Over the years, Kinzua Bridge and the Kinzua Skywalk have seen countless dates, first kisses, proposals and even weddings! Holding your sweetie’s hand can help you overcome your fear while also creating an exhilarating new memory for the two of you.
Choose to conquer your fear of heights with a group of friends! Having someone beside you to anxiously walk onto the Skywalk can help the entire group gather up their courage and do something brave. Plan a day trip and vow to help each other. Together, you can focus on psyching each other up and making the journey of a lifetime. Be sure to take a selfie together on the glass section at the end of the Skywalk to prove that you did it!
Image: PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship staff, Britt Madera and LaKeshia Knarr
Before you head onto the Skywalk, visit the Kinzua Bridge Visitor Center to see hands-on exhibits about the bridge and the history of the region. Even outside of the visitor center, there are signs close to the Skywalk that explain what you are seeing and how the structure has changed over the years. Many of those exhibits and signs will answer your questions, but you can also always ask any specific questions to the Kinzua Bridge State Park employees. They can help quell your fears or suggest other things that you can do besides walking onto the Skywalk itself.
Kinzua Bridge is truly a unique place. Even as you might be quivering at the end of the Skywalk, take a moment to soak in the view and appreciate the history of the structure. Some visitors travel thousands of miles to see it! Take a few deep breaths and walk to the railing, where you’ll be able to get the best view of the valley below. Note the rusted and twisted metal below, and think about the scale of human ingenuity and Mother Nature’s power. It is a beautiful place, and it deserves to have at least a few seconds of appreciation before you scurry back.
Woohoo, you’ve done it! Once you’ve made it back off of Kinzua Skywalk and are kissing the ground, don’t forget to visit the PA Wilds Conservation Shop on the bottom floor of the Kinzua Bridge Visitor Center. You’ll find plenty of t-shirts, magnets, books, postcards, treats, jewelry, toys and more to reward yourself for being so brave. Even if you didn’t end up going out onto the Skywalk, the journey itself to Kinzua Bridge State Park is worth commemorating and celebrating. Best of all, 90 percent of the products sold within the PA Wilds Conservation Shop are made in the PA Wilds with the help of local artisans, so you will truly be taking home a piece of the PA Wilds!
And, if you do the hike down to the ruins below, you can literally get a memento celebrating the fact that you “survived the height and the hike”!
Although walking across the skywalk is certainly worth the trepidation you might feel, don’t feel like you’ve missed out on everything if you “chicken out” and decide not to try it!
The Kinzua Bridge State Park Visitor Center is not to be missed! Visitors can get a great view of the Skywalk from inside the building (while remaining nice and cozy in windy or cold weather), with a metal statue of one of the original Kinzua Bridge builders hanging from the ceiling in front of the large window. Handicapped accessible bathrooms, an elevator and several benches make this a nice spot for visitors of all ages and abilities to rest and take in the view.
In addition, there are plenty of videos and hands-on, family-friendly educational exhibits. Visitors can learn the history of the region and the story of how Kinzua Bridge was built, enjoyed, destroyed, and reimagined as the tourism destination that we know it as today.
Don’t leave without checking out the PA Wilds Conservation Shop on the bottom floor of the Kinzua Bridge Visitor Center! This is not just your average gift shop… it’s a gift-giving destination that features products made in the PA Wilds by local artisans and craftspeople, with 90 percent of the products featured at PA Wilds Conservation Shops are made in the PA Wilds. The friendly “Community Connectors” at the PA Wilds Conservation Shop will help you find the perfect gift or souvenir, and they’ll even point out on the “Wall of Fame” the artisan who handcrafted your purchase.
Some of the top sellers include the PA State Parks Passport Book, various t-shirts locally designed specifically with Kinzua Bridge and the PA Wilds in mind, magnets and stickers featuring Kinzua Bridge in its prime fall foliage season, and many more handcrafted products by local artisans.
Visitors can find some viewfinders a short walk from the skywalk, on a vantage point to the right, near the trail that takes you to the ruins below. Follow the signs for the observation spot, and you’ll find viewfinder binoculars that will allow you to see up-close views of the Skywalk and the valley from far away. Whereas some parks might charge visitors a quarter to use their viewfinders, the ones at Kinzua Bridge State Park are completely free. Visitors use them to see the skywalk from a distance before or after trekking out onto it, check out conditions of the hiking trail before attempting it, or try to spot wildlife in the gorge.
Some of the best views of what remains of the former Kinzua Bridge and its wreckage can be seen from the ground. In fact, a hike on the 0.8-mile Kinzua Creek Trail can offer a phenomenal new perspective on the wreckage that simply cannot be seen from above. However, know that this is a difficult hike! Hikers should be in good physical condition, wear sturdy boots, and use caution on the steep trail sections.
Be warned, even though the Kinzua Creek Trail is a short out-and-back hike, it can be very steep in spots with stone steps. Hikers must also climb up out of the steep gorge by retracing their steps, which can be quite a challenge if you’re already exhausted from the hike down. Take your time and know your personal limits as you hike down, knowing you will have to hike back up.
An easier hike is the General Kane Trail, which is a 1.15-mile loop that starts and ends at the overflow parking lot and wanders through hardwood forests of black cherry and maple trees. These trees were ravaged and later renewed by nature after the 2003 tornado. This mostly flat loop trail is named in honor of the visionary behind Kinzua Bridge, General Thomas Leiper Kane.
The Mount Jewett to Kinzua Bridge Trail (often abbreviated by locals as MJ2KB) runs 7.8 miles from the bridge to the closest town, Mount Jewett, and it was named Pennsylvania’s 2023 Trail of the Year! The trail is a small part of the larger Knox & Kane Rail Trail, and volunteers manage the upkeep. This portion of the trail also has plenty of interpretive signage about the history of the area and the flora and fauna you’ll see nearby.
The packed crushed stone surface and flat grade of the MJ2KB Trail makes it an easy hike or bike. The trail can be navigated by walking or biking in nice weather, and in the winter, this segment serves as a snowmobile connector from Lantz Corners to Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Kinzua Bridge State Park is the ongoing story of manmade ingenuity, the powerful forces of nature, and humanity’s ability to reimagine disaster as something inspiring and beautiful.
Plan your trip to Kinzua Bridge State Park by visiting the PA Wilds Kinzua Experience page and find other things to do while you’re visiting the region!