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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography

Viewing The I-35W Bridge

Vantage Points For Observing and Photographing
The I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge


South Observation Deck West River Parkway South River Bluffs SE 2nd Street Northern Pacific Bridge #9 Stone Arch Bridge Mill Ruins Park Lock & Dam Access Road East River Flats University Avenue Overpass Remembrance Garden Memorial Guthrie Theatre Endless Bridge Holiday Inn Parking Ramp I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge, Mississippi River, Minneapolis, MN
Note—click on any number above to read more about that vantage point.
The new I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge was built with a fantastic observation deck and a jaw-dropping LED lighting system. Unfortunately, there is no visitor parking available at the bridge site and the nearest convenient parking is not situated in obvious locations, especially if you are looking for free parking. This page details my favorite vantage points for viewing and photographing the I-35W bridge, along with tips on how to get there and where to park.

Note—these materials are covered by copyright and may not be used without written permission.

I-35W Bridge Observation Vantage Points
#1 - South Observation Deck
#2 - West River Parkway
#3 - South River Bluffs
#4 - SE 2nd Street
#5 - Northern Pacific Bridge #9
#6 - Stone Arch Bridge
#7 - Mill Ruins Park
  #8 - Lock & Dam Access Road
#9 - East River Flats
#10 - University Avenue Overpass
#11 - Remembrance Garden Memorial
#12 - Guthrie Theatre Endless Bridge
#13 - Holiday Inn Parking Ramp
 
#1 - South Observation Deck

Location: While there are observation decks under both ends of the I-35W bridge, only the south observation deck is open to the public. The deck is open 24 hours per day, there are no fees, and it is a very safe are to visit even at night. The view is looking north across the Mississippi River right at the downstream side of the Lower Saint Anthony Falls Lock & Dam. You can access this location from West River Parkway.

Parking: There are three places to park. One is metered street parking a few blocks to the west along West River Parkway or 11th Avenue South. The other is a 1 hour lot located just west of 10th Avenue on South 1st Street just south of the 10th Avenue Bridge. If you park at this lot, then walk east on South 1st Avenue, north on 20th Avenue South, then continue on the bicycle trail down to West River Parkway. A final parking spot is a pay lot located on West River Parkway between the I-35W bridge and the Washington Avenue Bridge (which connects the U of M's east and west bank campuses). Be aware that there is a significant hill to climb on West River Parkway when you walk towards the I-35W bridge, so this is best done by folks who are in good physical condition.

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#2 - West River Parkway

Location: One of the best locations for photography is along the walking paths and bicycle trails that run under the I-35W bridge along West River Parkway. There are excellent vantage points standing under the west edge of the 10th Avenue Bridge. The trails are well above the river level, but below the bridge deck, so you get a very nice perspective view.

Parking: Same as the south observation deck.

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#3 - South River Bluffs

Location: The only side view of the I-35W bridge from the traffic deck level is found by climbing the river bluff from West River Parkway between the I-35W bridge and the 10th Avenue Bridge. There is a footpath in the grass, and it is a relatively easy climb for people of average fitness levels. I have never seen snakes or poison ivy, but keep in mind that there might be holes in the ground and the grass can be slippery. The best photography spot is at the top of the bluff while standing under the 10th Avenue Bridge.

Parking: Same as the south observation deck.

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#4 - SE 2nd Street

Location: This vantage point is located at the north end of the I-35W bridge to the south of SE 2nd Street. You can follow a footpath starting under the 10th Avenue Bridge to walk to the edge of the river bluff. From here, there is a paved access road for the University of Minnesota that runs along the top of the bluffs. There is a great photography spot located next to the north main pier of the 10th Avenue Bridge, but it is only usable during the fall and winter after the trees drop their leaves.

Parking: Parking is tight due to the nearby U of M student housing. The best option is about 4 blocks west on SE 2nd Street or at the north end of the Stone Arch Bridge. If you park near the Stone Arch Bridge, you can walk to the I-35W bridge heading east along a U of M access road from the cul-du-sac at the north end of the Stone Arch Bridge.

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#5 - Northern Pacific Bridge #9

Location: Northern Pacific Bridge #9 is a century old railroad bridge that has been converted to a pedestrian and bicycle bridge. It towers high over the Mississippi River about 800 feet downstream of the I-35W bridge offering dramatic views of the Mississippi River and downtown Minneapolis. The only gotcha is that the 10th Avenue Bridge is in the way of seeing the I-35W bridge, but that actually makes the view more interesting and it can make for some interesting effects when doing night photography.

Parking: The best parking option is a 1 hour lot located just west of 10th Avenue on South 1st Street just south of the 10th Avenue Bridge. If you park at this lot, walk east on South 1st Avenue, north on 20th Avenue South, then take a right on the bicycle trail at the end of 20th Avenue South. The other parking option is a small meter lot in front of the Education Science Building located on East River Parkway on the U of M campus. This lot is only open to the public on Sunday.

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#6 - Stone Arch Bridge

Location: A good profile view of the I-35W bridge is available from the deck of the Stone Arch Bridge. My favorite location is the north east corner of the small bump out where the bridge is slightly wider where it passes over the boat channel exiting the boat lock. This is a good place for night photography since the corner of the bump out is a little darker than the rest of the bridge due to the orientation of the street lights. The downside of this location is that you are 50 feet above the river, and the lower lock & dam is in the way, so you don't get to see reflections of the bridge off of the water.

Parking: There is some on-street parking at the north end of the Stone Arch Bridge, but it often tends to be used up. Other options are a pay parking lot at Portland Avenue and West River Parkway, a few spots at the far end of Mill Ruins Park, and sometimes at night you can get away with parking at the Lock & Dam Visitor Center (which used to be a free parking lot until it went to contract parking in the Spring of 2012.

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#7 - Mill Ruins Park

Location: This vantage point is located at the east end of Mill Ruins Park. You can see and photograph the I-35W bridge from the riverbank. Since the river makes a subtle curve at this location, photos make it appear that you were in the middle of the river. Despite the lower lock & dam being in the way, you can still see excellent reflections of the bridge lights off of the water.

Parking: The best parking option is a small 2 hour free lot located at the east end of the park. To get there, head north on Portland Avenue, then turn right after you pass under the Stone Arch Bridge. Continue to the bottom of the hill to a cul-du-sac.

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#8 - Lock & Dam Access Road

Location: While you visit the east end of Mill Ruins Park, take the opportunity to walk further east on the access road to the upstream side of the Lower Saint Anthony Falls Lock & Dam. The road is paved, and it ends at a fence just west of the structure. This will give you similar views that you see from the riverbank in Mill Ruins Park, but at a somewhat sharper viewing angle.

Parking: Same as Mill Ruins Park.

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#9 - East River Flats

Location: One of the nicest views of the I-35W bridge is from the river flats at the north end of the structure. There is an observation deck at the north end of the bridge, but it is fenced off and not open to the public. However, you can walk around the river flats to get several different views of the bridge from just above the normal river level. This area is well off the beaten path, so it is rare to see very many other people down in the river flats area.

Parking: There is an access road starting from the cul-du-sac at the north end of the Stone Arch Bridge. It wraps around the side of the Southeast Steam Plant. There are a number of “No Trespassing” signs, but those are for the steam plant facility and not for the access road. The road has two blind corners, so be extremely careful and take it slow.

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#10 - University Avenue Overpass

Location: The overpass that carries University Avenue over I-35W just north of the I-35W bridge gives an excellent view of the bridge deck. While you cannot see the LED bridge lighting from this location, you can see cars traveling on the bridge deck. This can make for some cool night photos capturing trails of lights from head and tail lights by doing longer exposures. There is a stub of a sidewalk on the southbound entrance ramp. I am not sure how legal it is to walk on that sidewalk stub, or what a Police officer would think of it, but that is a fantastic spot for photography.

Parking: The best parking is on-street a few blocks to the south and west of this location. I have the best luck along SE 2nd Street.

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#11 - Remembrance Garden Memorial

Location: There is an observation deck at the Remembrance Garden Memorial located 1/4-mile west of the I-35W bridge along West River Parkway, however, you cannot actually see the I-35W bridge from here. But, if you walk across the street, then head to the top of the man-made hill in Gold Medal Park, you can get a view of the I-35W bridge. It isn't a good view, but the location is fun to seek out, and there are great views of the Guthrie Theatre and downtown that make it worth the effort.

Parking: On-street parking is available along 11th Avenue South.

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#12 - Guthrie Theatre Endless Bridge

Location: The Endless Bridge at the Guthrie Theatre has the most spectacular viewing deck located anywhere along the Mississippi River. This is a must see attraction. Even more spectacular is that it is open to the public and free, and it is generally open until 11 PM at night. The I-35W bridge is a few blocks away, and trees partially obscure the bridge However, you can get nice telephoto pictures on sunny afternoons by shooting through the smaller portal windows in the side of the bridge.

Parking: You can park in the ramp at the Guthrie Theatre (for a fee) or along South 2nd Street.

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#13 - Holiday Inn Parking Ramp

Location: The Holiday Inn Metrodome is located southeast of the I-35W bridge off of Washington Avenue South. You can get a great view of the bridge deck and the Mississippi River crossing from the upper floors of the west end of the parking ramp attached to the Holiday Inn. This operators of the ramp do not like people looking at the bridge or doing photography, especially if you go to the top floor. I have been chased away several times. However, the view is too good to give up that easily. The best bet is to get your camera ready, then enter the ramp, drive to the 2nd floor from the top, and get your photos and viewing done very quickly. If you loiter, they will see you on the cameras and send out a security guard. This is a municipal ramp, so I don't think they can ticket you for trespassing if you have paid for parking.

Parking: Park in the Holiday Inn Metrodome Parking Ramp.

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
For further information, contact: john@johnweeks.com