Do you know what the tallest bridge in California is? Nope, it’s not the Golden Gate. Rather than a graceful red suspension bridge, this steel cantilever bridge is known as the Foresthill Bridge, Auburn-Foresthill Bridge, or Auburn Bridge. It’s a lot of names, but it is a big bridge. The bridge deck towers 730-feet over the North Fork American River. This green giant is an unmistakable landmark among residents of Placer County in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
But the Foresthill Bridge is far from the only water crossing in the area. There are several bridges within view of the Foresthill Bridge that also cross the American River but are much closer to the ravine floor. Why the height difference? There actually is a reason. Or, more precisely, “was” a reason. You see, there was going to be a dam, the Auburn Dam. Had it been built, the dam would have flooded this section of the American River North Fork, cutting off Forest Hill access by flooding the current river level bridges. So, the Foresthill Bridge began fabrication in 1971, in anticipation of this flooding. In 1973, the bridge opened, but the valley didn’t flood. Visitors can still spot some graffiti under the bridge, opposing the dam. Given that you can still read it from the river floor, I guess we’ll call that a success?
Visiting Foresthill Bridge
Visiting the bridge is as easy as a drive down Foresthill Road. The bridge is 1-mile east of Interstate 80, taking exit 121 for Auburn Ravine Rd toward Foresthill. There are gravel pull-off parking areas on the approach to the bridge from each direction and pedestrian walkways on each side of the bridge. It is also a hub for several trails that wander around the American River North fork. So, you may want to bring along some hiking shoes and even a picnic. On a beautiful day like the day we visited, it can make for a perfect afternoon.
A History of Devastation
Like many tall bridges, the Folsom Bridge is a hub of tragedy. As part of a retrofit project for the bridge between 2011-2015, a 6-1/2-foot pedestrian barrier was erected on each side of the bridge. Along with challenging any would-be jumpers, the barrier has become a message board littered with laminated cards of love and compassion. For more direct contact, there are also six call phones erected along the bridge. Despite being so close to civilization, the bridge is in an area with poor cell service, and these phones are often the only way to reach immediate help. It’s a chilling reminder of hard times and struggles that, while isolating, are shared by many.
As noted earlier, Foresthill Bridge is one of four bridges on this short stretch of the American River’s North Fork. While significantly closer to the ground, Highway 49 and Old Foresthill Road allow automotive traffic across the American River. More notable is the historic Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge or “No Hands Bridge” which is a popular short hike from a small parking lot off Highway 49.