Discover Hidden Wonders Along America’s Scenic Byways
National and State Scenic Byways are an American treasure trove of fabulous highways that deliver journeys to remember for a lifetime.
This year, a new infusion of roads designated as Scenic Byways or All-American Roadways has been added to the collection to total over 230 routes that beckon you to discover a wide variety of fresh places.
Explorations all the way from natures’ stunning ridge-top views and fall-color drives, agricultural beauty in lush farmland vistas, historic discoveries from Revolutionary War trails and dust-bowl traveled Route 66 to the blinking neon lights of the Las Vegas’ Strip.
The Federal Highway Administration announced 34 new Scenic Byways and 15 new All-America Roadways, a classification within these Byways for especially lovely roads. Those added to the 184 previously designated scenic routes across the US.
It is not only beauty that set these roadways apart. According to Scenic Byway Association, the designation are not intended only to promote of roads but to help communities balance economic development as well as resource conservation (see scenic.org).
For a route to be selected, the roadways must show “intrinsic qualities” such as scenic, natural, historic, recreational, archaeological, or cultural value. The website features maps by state for selecting a scenic exploration near you, articles and resources plan your trip as well as educational tools to fully enjoy these national treasures. New roads included in this remarkable group include a wide selection of the qualities listed above that make them unique.
Dust off those sedentary blahs and start your engine on a new highway to adventure. The following are just a sampling of the roadways that are waiting for you to collect your own experiences and memories on jewels of Americas scenic roads.
The Cascade Loop National Scenic Byway in Washington state.
This loop route circles from the salt waters and beaches of Puget Sound. It rambles through two of the most stunning mountain passes in the world and curves east past fertile orchards with abundant fruit and grain prairies of central Washington.
Orcas and salmon can be viewed on the western end of this route. You may encounter bellowing elks, bighorn sheep and mountain goats on the heights. Peaks of sleeping volcanoes remind drivers the Cascades are an edge of the Pacific Ocean’s “ring of fire” with their gleaming, snow-covered cones. The choices for spontaneous fun seem endless and the beauty unimaginable.
Bold Coast Scenic Byway, Maine
Drive 147 miles of gorgeous coastal scenery: wild coastline that traverses fishing communities and picturesque wharfs, views of shipping and sailboats off shore, side-trips to rocky islands and peninsulas with flashing lighthouses.
Cultural heritage and historic sites are featured stops on this trip. Learn about the Abenaki and Penobscot nations that lived in the area centuries before European settlers arrived. Rent a bike or canoe to get a closer knowledge of the unsurpassed coastal scenery on some of the many trails available for every ability level.
This state is not just a spring and summer vacationland: pursue the world-famous fall colors and abundant snow sports in glistening winter landscapes. The highway showcases the never-ending wonder that is Maine.
Great River Road Scenic Byway
(Located across Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana)
This is indeed an All-American Roadway, covering a wide swath of middle America with something exciting for everyone.
Travel all the way down the Mississippi or experience an adventure all in one state. The scenic.org website provides short routes and long term voyages of discovery. This river system drains an area larger than western Europe and feeds much of the world with shipments down what native peoples called “The Father of Waters.”
History buffs will enjoy Civil War sites, First Nation cultural heritage museums and the increasing memories of French colonial influence as they travel south.
Music and arts flourish along the river where the blues and jazz were born. Sample exciting regional cuisine anywhere on America’s Great River melting pot– from famous barbecue to classical French and Cajun from the Bayou country. The variety and sheer abundance of interesting road trips seem endless and entertainment possibilities are beyond description on this fabulous heritage of a river.
Zion Park Scenic Byway, Utah
You have to see this place to believe that so much spectacular beauty could concentrate in one park. Heading east along Highway 9, this 54-mile trip leads from the high desert recalling the “wild west” where mustangs and antelope roam, past Zion National Park on curving mountainous roads through stacked-high red rock towers and canyons.
Traveling this Byway can take as little as 1.5 hours or extend to days or weeks of fun if you dawdle to explore the deep slot canyons and hike trails up skyscraper-high cliffs. While you are in the area, a great extension to this road trip is to head south to visit the stunning, mile-deep drop at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway (Pennsylvania)
This lovely quiet valley route combines history, culture, archeological as well as scenic attractions as it loops past pastoral farmland, covered bridges, water-mills and stone plantations of Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War battle sites. Experience colonial America with living-history reenactments of life when this valley was an economic powerhouse and commerce followed the rivers to the sea.
Get creatively inspired at the art colony of Chadd’s Fordk, where NC Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and Howard Pyle helped establish America’s very own painting traditions. Enjoy the collections at Winterthur Estate, where the industrial tycoon Henry duPont collected 90,000 objects of art to display for future generations. Wonderful restaurants, historic taverns, breweries and wineries provide tasty stops and places to shop. Captivating museums and historic sites educate and expand your understanding of this American treasure.
Cumberland National Scenic Byway
This route has it all: centuries of importance as a revered sacred hunting ground and route connecting nations of native peoples, the famous “Cumberland Gap” to the west through which early European pioneers followed trailblazers like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett bringing their dreams of a new life.
Discover historic scenes of still-vibrant frontier towns near sites of Revolutionary, Civil War and Whiskey Rebellion conflicts and native American communities. The region abounds with recreation opportunities, things to do, places to go and parks to visit.
There are wonderful living history and educational programs to expand your understanding, traditional mountain music venues to enjoy as well as breathtaking views of the high country and adventurous trails.
According to the Scenic Highway website, challenging terrain and remoteness, created uniquely American way of life in the frontier. This is a destination that provides opportunities for enjoyment that are truly astounding for visitors of all ages.
Newfound Gap Road Byway
North Carolina, Tennessee
As the lowest drivable pass in the Appalachian range, this All-American Roadway is located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and usually is open year-round. It provides a thunder of music from waterfalls and torrents in spring, abundant hiking trails in summer, beautiful fall color in autumn and winter sports like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
For hikers, the Appalachian Trail crosses the roadway at the Gap as both pass through a notch in the Appalachian Range. The Newfound Gap Road offers a variety of forest ecosystems. Take a side trip off the Gap route and visit the observatory at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Flaming Gorge/ Green River Basin Scenic Byway
Wyoming and Utah
This 100-mile, All-American Roadway, travels south on Highway 191 to traverse the border of two states. The route meanders through the deep, striated canyons and lakes of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.
The route takes drivers past high desert flowers framing glimpses of mountain peaks. It descends along the Green River, which flows into the mighty Colorado River. Spy out wild horses and watch whitewater rafters begin their journeys–or join them!
Cultural & Archeological
Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway
New Mexico, Colorado
This new addition to the National Scenic Byway travels through lands inhabited by ancient cultures who built “impossible” plain and cliff cities. The extensive ruins can be visited today in Chaco Canyon as well as through El Morro and Aztec Ruins National Monuments.
This highway travels in a stunning landscape sculptured by wind and water erosion. It passes through the lands of active and vibrant Navajo, Zuni, Pueblo and Acoma nations.
Place bids for treasures at the monthly Navajo Rug Auction in Crownpoint; climb up the “unconquered” mesa to the pueblo of Acoma, the city in the sky; take a sail over the multi-colored canyons and desert in a hot-air balloon; gape in amazement at the stories-high walls of the ancient cities that stand centuries after they were abandoned; and contemplate why the large population disappeared.
There is plenty to do and see and be amazed by. This road lives up to the motto of the state of New Mexico: “The Land of Enchantment.”
Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway, Massachusetts
This highway, that runs from the Connecticut River valley to the Berkshire Mountains in northwestern Massachusetts, proudly claims to be one of the first roads to be established as a scenic route in the US.
The 69-mile byway follows walking routes used by Native Americans traveling between the Hudson River and Connecticut River Valleys. Native Americans inhabited the area some 12,000 years ago when glacial ice sheets retreated.
According to a Mohawk Trail website, European settlers also used the route and upgraded it to support travel by horse and carts. Scenery is varied and rich–following the Millers, Deerfield, Cold and Hoosic Rivers. The toad climbs peaks and passes and plunges through verdant farming country and valleys.
History echoes here in the pioneer villages and colonial hamlets, where charming inns and taverns welcome visitors. Hikers may access the ancient, 100-mile Mohican-Mohawk trail or the Appalachian Trail.
This Byway is very popular in Autumn for its famed brilliant colors and in winter for its snow sport activities. Plenty to do and see on this historically important and beautiful ancient roadway.