Parrotts Ferry Bridge…a sagging story to tell!

In this view of the Parrotts Ferry Bridge, you can see the beams added in the center portion, to prevent further sagging of the graceful, arched bridge.

Parrotts Ferry Bridge; look closely and you will see the center arch’s sag (as well as the very low water in New Melones Lake).

Gold Rush explorers taking Hwy E-18 between Vallecito and Columbia in the central Sierra foothills get both a scenic drive, and cross the interesting Parrotts Ferry Bridge, arching (and sagging) high over New Melones Reservoir.

The bridge is a graceful structure that crosses the reservoir; at 640 feet, the main span is made of prestressed concrete beams and is one of the longest of its kind in the US.  Built between 1976 and 1979, it was also one of the earlier bridges built with lightweight concrete.  Alarmingly, the central span developed a noticeable sag in the months after the bridge’s opening.  After further sagging, a steel brace was placed under the center of the bridge to halt further droop, and the bridge has performed just fine since.  As you drive over the bridge, or, on the approach from either direction, you’ll see the sag in the middle of the bridge.   Fear not, Caltrans deems if safe and sound!

You’ll also get a bird’s eye view of the huge reservoir, down more than 100 feet from normal in the drought of the last three years.

Nearby attractions: Black Chasm Caverns offer a wonderful opportunity for would-be spelunkers to ply their craft (it’s just two miles northwest of the bridge), fishing in New Melones Lake; and, Columbia State Historic Park is just further south of the bridge.

What to bring: Binoculars and camera, of course, water and snacks, a good map or GPS unit and comfortable walking shoes. 

Watch my blog on Friday for a special feature on the Gold Rush towns of Sutter Creek, Jackson and Mokelumne Hill. For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog:, or write to me at

Happy travels in the west!

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