Published on June 2, 2020

Yosemite’s enduring features inspire us all. However, the way the park is enjoyed has changed over the years. Yosemite Then and Now is a short series of explorations into Yosemite’s history. We hope it will inspire a trip down memory lane for some, and connect us all more closely to the many magical stories of Yosemite’s past.


Historic image of a family lined up on the narrow swinging bridge in Yosemite Valley
Do you remember this old bridge? Prior to 1965 the bridge across the Merced River in Yosemite Valley close to the modern-day Swinging Bridge actually swung. Photo: The Pettey Family

Prior to 1965, an actual swinging bridge spanned the Merced River just west of Yosemite Valley Lodge. It swung enough that a few strong adventure-seekers could bounce and rock the bridge enough side to side to require others to lay down or cling to the railings to keep from being thrown unceremoniously into the water below. Even without young rascals complicating the crossing, making your way across the narrow bridge was an adventure on its own, and many relished the challenge.

Unfortunately, the bridge’s fragility wasn’t just in the mind of the visitors. Yosemite’s Swinging Bridge went through a couple of incarnations as spring floods repeatedly damaged or washed the bridge away.


Swinging Bridge in Yosemite Valley
The modern-day Swinging Bridge doesn’t swing, but it’s sturdy enough to resist flooding. And it is still a beautiful place to enjoy the river. Photo: Theresa Ho

Finally, in 1965, the National Park Service decided to build a bridge made to last. The new construction was much wider and not nearly as adventurous as previous versions. Although it still bears the old name, the bridge itself no longer swings. However, it did manage to withstand the punishing waters of the 1997 flood intact even as other park infrastructure was damaged or washed away.

Swinging Bridge also continues to provide excellent views of Yosemite Falls, and Sentinel Rock. Although this doesn’t qualify as one of Yosemite Valley’s historic bridges due to its more recent construction, it still provides an opportunity to gaze down into the Merced River’s crystal clear waters and listen to the powerful song of the river. It’s such a scenic spot that many couples choose this location for their Yosemite wedding.

If you’re searching for a true swinging bridge experience in Yosemite, you’re still in luck. There is still a swinging bridge in Wawona where you can bounce and rock to your heart’s content.

Categories: Art, History and Culture