Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep may have made famous the bridges of Madison County, Iowa. But that county's six covered bridges are a mere ripple in the river compared with the 20 in Lane County, Ore. This sprawling county, which stretches from the Pacific Coast through Eugene to the Cascade Mountains, boasts the largest concentration of such spans west of the Mississippi River. The tab: Weekend room rates this summer at Inn at the 5th in Eugene start at $189. (Eugene hotels can fill up when the University of Oregon Ducks have home games so book in advance in season.) Sandwiches, soup and beverages for a family of four at Fleur de Lis will run about $45.
The county's — and possibly the state's — finest hotel is the Inn at the 5th (205 E. 6th Ave., Eugene;  743-4099) adjacent to the city's bustling Fifth Street Public Market. Owner Brian Obie opened the property last year with his customers' wishes clearly in mind. He and his wife tested six mattress and box-spring sets before settling on what they found to be the most comfortable. And each room features a unique "butler closet," a secure nook where room service is delivered without guests having to open their doors.
The Fleur de Lis Patisserie & Café (616 Main St., Cottage Grove, Ore.;  767-0700) is a great place to grab a scrumptious pastry and a cup of coffee before venturing out to explore the Cottage Grove area's seven covered bridges. Stop back at lunchtime for a chicken curry salad sandwich on a buttery croissant or a hearty bowl of soup with a chunk of fresh baguette.
The region's abundance of timber helped justify the wood construction of Lane County's covered bridges, and the roofs helped keep the wooden floor planks from rotting because of dampness. Even folks who have never visited here may have seen one of the most picturesque crossings. The Chambers Bridge, built in 1925, was featured the next year in the silent movie "The General," starring Buster Keaton. Built for the trains that moved lumber to market, the restored bridge is open to pedestrians and bicyclists. A brochure detailing the various bridges and their locations is available online at http://www.lat.ms/14J2hQR.
The lesson learned
Although the scenic bridges, often in spectacular settings, cry out to be photographed, many of them are used by vehicular traffic. That means parking your car a safe distance from a narrow span — ideally, on a shoulder — then walking cautiously to a good vantage point. Waterproof outerwear, including shoes, will ward off any rain.