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Byways Across America

Are There Scenic Drives Near Me?

The nearest scenic drive is probably closer than you think! Did you know that most states have whole collections of scenic routes, and scenic drives that are designated byways, offering picturesque alternatives to interstate highways, journey through charming small towns, and showcase stunning scenic vistas? If you want to know how to find scenic roads, you’re in the right place!

The best place to start your search for scenic drives is the Travel Byways section of this website. Here you can find information about scenic drives organized by state. You’ll notice that the routes are categorized as America’s Byways and Additional Byways. “Byway” is the name given by most agencies that designate scenic drives, but the term is interchangeable with “scenic drive” or “scenic route.”

 

What are “America’s Byways”?

America’s Byways are a collection of scenic and culturally significant roads, highways, and routes in the U.S. These designated routes, known as National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads, have been chosen for their exceptional scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archeological or recreational value by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation since 1996.

There are 184 routes designated as America’s Byways, and some of them, like Historic Route 66, and the Pacific Coast Highway, are quite famous! Others are found within national parks like Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. At an elevation of 12,183 feet, this super scenic route is higher than any other paved road in the country. Wildlife like elk and bighorn sheep can be seen grazing meadows and traversing crags. This cliff-hugging highway offers endless peaks, valleys, and lakes. Acadia All-American Road in Maine passes through the charming seaside town of Bar Harbor where visitors can check out local restaurants for endless sea-to-table options. The byway then loops through Acadia National Park and showcases breathtaking views of the Atlantic and nearby islands.

Most of America’s Byways, however, are America’s best kept secret! The North Shore Scenic Drive in Minnesota stretches from Duluth to Grand Portage at the Canadian border, along the northern coast of Lake Superior. It offers breathtaking views, outdoor adventures, charming towns, and numerous natural attractions. The North Shore Scenic Drive offers a personal experience with the scenic beauty of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Florida’s Big Bend Scenic Byway beckons travelers to  take a drive on the ”Wild Side” where theme parks and bright lights give way to horizons of towering pines and blue-green Gulf waters. The “Bend” is where Florida’s Gulf Coast curves westward, sheltering vast seagrass beds, marshes, winding rivers, sugar-sand beaches, deep forests, and crystal-clear springs. While traveling the byway, visitors can explore the natural resources that have supported and sustained the lives and the livelihoods of generations past and present.

The Flint Hills National Scenic Byway in Kansas offers incredible views of the native grasses and flowers of the tallgrass prairie – one of the last remaining such landscapes in America. The drive itself is beautiful year-round. The Flint Hills area is home to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and such historic venues as the Kaw Nation Heritage Park and Kaw Mission State Historic Site and Museum. Visitors will also find towns filled with charming shops, restaurants, artwork, and antiques.

Many of America’s Byways cross state lines. The Cherohala Skyway winds up over 5,400-foot mountains for 18 miles in North Carolina and descends another 23 miles into the deeply forested back country of Tennessee. The road passes through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests thus the name “Cherohala.” Vistas along this scenic drive rival the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Other multi-state scenic routes include the Great Lakes Seaway Trail (New York and Pennsylvania), Ohio River Scenic Byway (Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio), and Trail of the Ancients (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah).

In addition to America’s Byways, most states have additional scenic drives that have met the criteria for designation as a scenic, cultural, or historic byway. For example, North Carolina has over 60 routes in addition to the Blue Ridge Parkway! New Hampshire has 17 scenic drives in addition to its America’s Byways, Wyoming has 22, and West Virginia has 20. Browse scenic drives in every state on TravelByways.com!

 

Why We Love Scenic Drives

Scenic driving is highly popular in the United States, and for good reason. The country boasts an incredibly diverse range of landscapes, from rugged coastlines and majestic mountains to rolling plains and deserts. Scenic drives offer a way for people to immerse themselves in the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the U.S. Here are some reasons why scenic driving is so popular in the United States:

  1. Spectacular Landscapes: The U.S. is known for its breathtaking landscapes, and scenic drives provide an accessible way for people to experience these natural wonders. Whether it’s the coastal beauty of California’s Pacific Coast Highway, the mountain vistas of the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the desert landscapes of Arizona’s Route 66, there’s a scenic drive for every taste.
  2. Accessibility: Scenic byways and routes are often well-maintained and easily accessible, making them suitable for a wide range of travelers, including families, seniors, and individuals with varying levels of mobility.
  3. Recreational Opportunities: Scenic routes often pass through or near national parks, forests, and other protected areas, providing opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, picnicking, and wildlife watching.
  4. Cultural and Historical Significance: Many scenic drives are rich in cultural and historical significance, with opportunities to explore historic towns, landmarks, and cultural heritage sites. These routes offer a window into American history and heritage.
  5. Photography: Scenic drives are a paradise for photographers, both amateur and professional. The ever-changing landscapes, from sunrise to sunset and season to season, provide endless opportunities for capturing stunning images.
  6. Leaf Peeping: Scenic drives are a popular way to experience fall foliage. In regions like New England, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the North Shore of Lake Superior, visitors flock to scenic routes in the autumn to witness vibrant fall colors.
  7. Tourism and Economic Impact: Scenic byways often pass through or near towns and communities that benefit from tourism. The economic impact of scenic driving includes revenue from accommodations, dining, shopping, and local attractions.
  8. Road Trip Culture: Scenic driving is deeply ingrained in American road trip culture. Many people dream of embarking on epic road trips across the country, exploring the diverse landscapes and cultures that make up the U.S.
  9. Relaxation and Stress Reduction: For many, the act of driving along scenic routes can be a relaxing and stress-reducing experience. The tranquility of nature, the open road, and the absence of the daily grind can provide a sense of peace and escape.
  10. Promotion and Awareness: Programs like America’s Byways and state-level scenic byway programs actively promote scenic drives, raising awareness and encouraging travelers to explore these routes.

Of course scenic driving is popular among Americans – we invented the automobile! International visitors to the United States also enjoy a road trip and often have a variety of scenic and iconic routes on their bucket lists. These routes showcase the diversity of American landscapes, culture, and attractions. Here are some of the most popular scenic drives international visitors enjoy in the U.S.:

  1. Pacific Coast Highway (California): Also known as California State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway offers stunning views of the rugged California coastline, with opportunities to visit iconic destinations like Big Sur, Hearst Castle, and the coastal towns of Monterey and Santa Barbara. Two segments of Route 1 in California are recognized as America’s Byways, Big Sur Coast Highway and the San Luis Obispo North Coast Scenic Byway Corridor.
  2. Route 66 (Chicago to Santa Monica): Known as the “Main Street of America,” Route 66 is a legendary road trip route that passes through numerous states, offering a nostalgic journey through small towns, roadside attractions, and historic landmarks. The following states have segments of Route 66 recognized as America’s Byways:  Arizona, California, Illinois, Missouri,  New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
  3. Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia to North Carolina): Also known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” this scenic drive winds through the Appalachian Mountains, offering breathtaking views of forests, valleys, and rolling hills. Visitors can explore hiking trails, waterfalls, and cultural heritage sites. The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited unit of the National Park Service.
  4. Great River Road (Mississippi River): This route follows the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana, passing through charming river towns, historic sites, and scenic bluffs. It’s an opportunity to experience the culture along this famous American river. The following states have segments of the Great River Road recognized as America’s Byways: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
  5. Florida Keys Scenic Highway: The Overseas Highway takes visitors through the Florida Keys, offering spectacular ocean views, opportunities for water sports, and a chance to visit Key West, known for its vibrant culture and history. The Florida Keys Scenic Highway is the stretch of US 1 that travels through some of the nation’s most spectacular tropical scenery from Mile Marker 110, north of Key Largo, to Mile Marker 0 in Key West, the southernmost point in the continental United States.
  6. Route 1 (New England): Route 1 in New England, particularly in Maine, offers beautiful coastal views and a chance to explore charming fishing villages, lighthouses, and the region’s maritime heritage. Route 1 in Maine is recognized as the following America’s Byways:  Schoodic National Scenic Byway, the Bold Coast National Scenic Byway, and the Million Dollar View Scenic Byway.
  7. Cascade Loop National Scenic Byway is Washington State’s ‘Ultimate Road Trip’ covering 440 miles from the rugged North Cascade mountains to coastline views along Puget Sound. Just 28 miles north of Seattle, the Cascade Loop circles along this adventurous scenic drive filled with spectacular natural scenery, recreational opportunities, and friendly towns with comfortable lodging and delicious Northwest cuisine.
  8. Going-to-the-Sun Road (Montana’s Glacier National Park): This road provides breathtaking views of Glacier National Park’s pristine wilderness, including glacial lakes, towering peaks, and abundant wildlife.
  9. Seward Highway (Alaska): Showcasing the natural beauty of south-central Alaska between Anchorage and Seward, views of jagged peaks and alpine meadows to breathtaking fjords and crystal lakes will give the visitor a concentrated series of diverse landscapes and experiences. Sights include Beluga whales or dog teams in the winter. Tourists can hike along rocky slopes near Exit Glacier, just north of the City of Seward or peer through a telescope mounted high upon the cliffs at McHugh Creek wayside to catch wildlife in their natural habitat.
  10. Natchez Trace Parkway (Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee): This scenic route follows an ancient Native American trail, with opportunities to explore historic sites, hiking trails, and peaceful landscapes. The Natchez Trace Parkway leads travelers 444 miles and links Natchez, Mississippi, with Nashville, Tennessee, and traverses some of the most beautiful terrain in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. Open year-round for motorists, hikers, and bikers, it provides visitors the opportunity for an unhurried trip through time.

 

National Scenic Byway vs. All-American Road

As you browse TravelByways.com, you’ll notice that routes included in the America’s Byways collection are either National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads. These classifications are based on the types and concentration of resources found along the corridor (scenic, historic, cultural, archeological, recreational, or natural). National Scenic Byways possess at least one type of resource. For example, Amish Country National Scenic Byway in Ohio is recognized for its cultural resources. While this 190-mile byway boasts views of bucolic farms along winding curves and rolling hills, it also offers visitors a fine selection of Amish country cooking and sites showcasing the culture and history of the Amish. The route celebrates the lifestyle of a place and people who defy modern conveniences while enjoying the simple pleasures of farm life and country living.

All-American Roads possess high-quality resources of at least two types. For example, the Flaming Gorge – Green River Basin All-American Road in Wyoming  is recognized for its natural and recreational resources. This scenic drive rides along high ridges with views of fifty miles or more in any direction. The road touches lightly on the landscape as it rolls, dips and twists across a dry, spartan, impossibly big-sky, and windswept land alongside the emerald water of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, a National Recreation Area. The byway offers some of the finest examples of watchable wildlife in the western United States. Roughly 390 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish can be found in the Green River Basin and surrounding mountains.

Regardless of title, America’s Byways not only provide opportunities to witness the natural beauty of the United States but also offer a glimpse into its diverse cultures, history, and regional traditions. TravelByways.com is the place to start planning your trip!

 

Planning a Memorable Road Trip

Road trips are the epitome of adventure and freedom. They offer the chance to explore new destinations, create lasting memories, and escape the daily grind. Whether you’re a seasoned road warrior or a first-time traveler, planning a road trip requires careful consideration and preparation to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. Here are a few tips for planning an unforgettable road trip:

  1. Choose Your Destination and Plan Your Route

The first step in planning a road trip is to select your destination. Are you craving coastal vistas, mountainous terrain, or a cultural city experience? Make a list of must-see places and activities in and around your chosen destination. Selecting the right route can significantly impact your road trip experience. Utilize GPS apps or traditional road maps to plan your route and be sure to account for rest stops and meal breaks. A great resource to start your planning is TravelByways.com where you’ll find information about scenic routes and points of interest as well as links to local travel resources like tourism bureaus and visitor centers.

  1. Set a Budget

Determine your road trip budget, which should include expenses for fuel, accommodations, food, activities, and emergency funds. Create a detailed budget to avoid overspending during your journey. Don’t forget to factor in unexpected expenses like vehicle repairs or medical emergencies.

  1. Prepare Your Vehicle

Before hitting the open road, give your vehicle a thorough check-up. This includes inspecting tires, brakes, lights, and fluid levels. Consider scheduling a professional inspection if your car is due for one. Also, pack an emergency kit with essentials like a first aid kit, flashlight, jumper cables, and a spare tire.

  1. Accommodation Planning

Decide whether you’ll be camping, staying in hotels, or using a combination of both. Make reservations in advance, especially during peak travel seasons. If you’re open to spontaneity, keep a list of campgrounds and hotels along your route as backup options.

  1. Pack Smart

Packing efficiently is crucial for road trips. Create a checklist of clothing, toiletries, and essential items. Don’t forget chargers, entertainment (books, music, or audiobooks), and travel documents (driver’s license, insurance, registration). Be mindful of the vehicle’s weight capacity and prioritize items you’ll use frequently.

  1. Food and Snacks

Stock up on snacks and drinks for the journey. Consider packing a cooler with sandwiches, fruits, and drinks to reduce the need for frequent restaurant stops. Research dining options along your route to savor local cuisine.

  1. Entertainment

Long drives can become monotonous, so prepare entertainment options. Create road trip playlists, download podcasts, and bring along games or puzzles to pass the time. Encourage your travel companions to participate in choosing the entertainment.

  1. Safety First

Ensure your safety by obeying traffic rules and regulations. Use seatbelts at all times, and if you’re traveling with children, make sure they are securely strapped in age-appropriate car seats. Take regular breaks to rest and stretch, especially on long drives.

  1. Flexibility and Spontaneity

While planning is essential, leave room for spontaneity. Unexpected attractions and detours can often lead to some of the most memorable moments of a road trip. Be open to changing your plans if you discover something exciting along the way.

A well-planned road trip can be a life-changing adventure. By carefully selecting your route, budgeting, preparing your vehicle, and staying flexible, you can ensure a memorable and safe journey. So, gather your travel companions, hit the road, and get ready to create a trove of unforgettable memories on your upcoming road trip.