The Big Four Bridge connects the past to the present and Jeffersonville, Indiana to Louisville, Kentucky over the Ohio River, America’s 2nd-longest, described by Thomas Jefferson as “the most beautiful river on Earth.” Known for years as the bridge to nowhere, the Big Four Bridge is a worthy destination once again.
The bridge gets its name from the names of the railroad lines that used it: the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railways. The bridge opened to rail traffic in 1895, and was in use until the late 1960s when modern locomotives became too heavy and wide for it. For years it sat as an abandoned eyesore and both its approach ramps sold for scrap. In 1988, Costa Rica even tried to buy it and have it reassembled there.
Plans to turn it into a pedestrian bridge surfaced in the ‘90s, and after nearly two decades of legal wrangling, funding problems, design revisions, and cost overruns, it once again carried people, this time on foot and bike, in 2014.
What Makes It Great
Riding over the Big Four Bridge allows cyclists to ride over a river, into an entirely different state, how often can one say that? The bridge is just a small part of a much larger trail system. On the Kentucky side, the trail connects to the Louisville Riverwalk and the Kentuckiana River Trail system, on the Indiana side, there is the Ohio River Greenway and the Levee trail. It’s also on the Louisville Loop, a partially complete 100-mile circuit around the city.
Although only a mile long, the Big Four packs in plenty to see. First off, standing 53 feet over the river, the view from the bridge is stunning. Both sides of the river have wonderful supporting waterfront parks and trails, with benches for people and river watching, and open spaces to toss the frisbee around or simply lay on the grass and watch the clouds go by.
Trendy bistros, ice cream stands, bakeries, and coffee shops dot both sides of the river, so visitors are never too far from refueling. At dusk, the bridge puts on a entertaining light show that changes with the seasons or for various events. After Muhammad Ali’s death, it went red and gold, the color of his gloves. During Christmas, the lights are spectacular. Street musicians add to the festive feel the area has. There is never a shortage of things to look at while riding along the bridge, both natural and cultural.
Who is Going to Love It
The trail is treasured by everyone, from locals to tourists, from young lovers slowly strolling along watching the sunset, to early risers out for some quick exercise. Bird lovers should keep an eye out for some of the bridge’s airborne residents. Peregrine falcons, ospreys and bald eagles nest in the area and are often seen from the bridge, gliding majestically overhead.
Baseball fans should look downstream to the left, that’s the home of the famous Louisville Slugger bat company. Boating aficionados can see the Howard steamboat museum from the bridge. It’s worth a side visit, they were the builders of the most glamorous steamboats in history, including the famed Mississippi Queen. The family house is also considered one of the most impressive architectural achievements in the country.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The Blue (Wharf) parking lot is a pay-to-enter lot, rates vary according to time of day, but Joe’s Crab Shack and Belle of Louisville customers can park for $3 with proof of visit. All other lots in the park are free and are open during park hours, 6 a.m. – 11 p.m. The bridge itself is open 24 hours. Metered on-street parking is found on the south side of Witherspoon Street and the north side of River Road east of the Kennedy Bridge. A pay lot is available on the south side of River Road across from the Tan lot.
The bridge is narrow and can be crowded, there is a 15 mph speed limit for bikes.
The ramps on either side are about the only “hills” in the area.
Time to Complete: (10 minutes)
Distance: (1 mile)
The bridge links or connects with multiple trail systems giving riders plenty of options to increase mileage.
Seasonality: (All seasons)
Ride the bridge at dusk, when the lights come on, and get treated to an ever-changing light show.
Dog Friendly: (On the bridge itself, no; in the parks, on-leash allowed.)
GPS Coordinates: (+38.26603, -85.73930)