By Brian Garrido
Parke County’s annual Covered Bridge Festival begins the second weekend in October and stretches over 10 days, highlighting breathtaking fall foliage and the area’s rich history against a backdrop of nostalgic, rural charm. Boasting the title of “Covered Bridge Capital of the World,” Parke County has 31 historic covered bridges, prompting a group of county residents back in the 1950s to organize an event to draw attention to them. Since then, the festival has grown massively in size and popularity, attracting visitors from across the country and making it one of Indiana’s largest and most cherished festivals.
“Since its inception in 1957,” reported the Tribune-Star in Terre Haute last year, “the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival has become Indiana’s largest festival, luring about 2 million people a year.”
Visitors can download a free self-guided driving map at CoveredBridges.com and meander through Indiana’s rolling hills and countryside. Five color-coded routes let visitors choose route lengths and terrain (gravel roads, paved or both). All include five bridges except for the shortest, The Brown Route, which features four bridges along 24 miles of paved road. Each itinerary can take from one hour to more, depending on the length of stay at each stop.
While navigating through Parke County, sightseers can stop and enjoy the offerings from the small towns, with each community providing local flavors and artisans. Rockville, the county seat, serves as the festival’s hub, hosting various events, food vendors and craft booths throughout the town, with streets closed for pedestrians.
Beyond the bridges, the festival offers plenty of other activities. Art enthusiasts can peruse the galleries and exhibitions. Families can create Instagrammable memories on hayrides, in corn mazes and when looking for the great pumpkin in different patches. Foodies can sample mouthwatering regional specialties like apple butter, chicken and noodles, kettle corn and classic Indiana pork tenderloin sandwiches, and it wouldn’t be an Indiana festival without homemade pies, fudge and other confections. For wine lovers, the fest provides an opportunity to sample at such stops as the Drunk Tank Winery in Rockville, situated beneath the Old Jail Inn, which, as the name implies, served as the county jail until 1998. At Coal Creek Cellars, visitors sip and swirl more than 15 varietals in a century-old red barn.
Ultimately, the Covered Bridge Festival celebrates Indiana’s history and heritage, focusing on the state’s scenic beauty, local crafts and sense of community. For seven decades, it has been a quintessential Hoosier tradition underscoring the fact that every county in Indiana has its treasure.