The Great American Road Trip: Journey Into the Heart of America on These 10 Scenic Drives
In the vast tapestry of American culture, few things are as iconic and evocative as the great American road trip. It’s a rite of passage, an adventure, and a reflection of the nation’s undying spirit of discovery. America’s Byways are a collection of roads that have been recognized not only for their scenic views, but for the stories they tell about the people and places along the way. There are 185 roads in the America’s Byways collection, and this article highlights ten that journey through multiple states and epitomize the great American road trip.
The graphic below summarizes these ten epic road trips with links to additional information on TravelByways.com. The first five are iconic road trips that include the longest and most recognizable routes. The second group includes byways that traverse vast expanses of three states that are woven together by common themes that capture the essence of their landscape and history. The final two invite travelers to journey through time to understand the early narratives of America and explore the majesty of nature and eons of geological wonders.
|1. Blue Ridge Parkway||469||North Carolina, Virginia|
|2. Great River Road||2069||Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin|
|3. Historic National Road||824||Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia|
|4. Natchez Trace Parkway||444||Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee|
|5. Route 66||1408||Arizona, California, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma|
|6. Connecticut River Scenic Byway||498||Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont|
|7. Ohio River Scenic Byway||943||Illinois, Indiana, Ohio|
|8. Trail of the Ancients||480||Colorado, New Mexico, Utah|
|9. Standing Rock National Native American Scenic Byway||350||North Dakota, South Dakota|
|10. Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway||500||California, Oregon|
In the grand catalog of American road trips, the Blue Ridge Parkway shines as a beacon of natural beauty, historical significance, and a testament to the allure of open-road adventures. Stretching 469 miles from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is the most visited unit of the National Park Service. The Parkway isn’t just a path, but a narrative of America’s rich landscape and cultural tapestry.
The parkway, often referred to as “America’s Favorite Drive,” offers an ever-changing tableau of nature’s splendor, and the scenery is breathtaking. From the misty, rolling mountains to the vibrant hues of fall foliage, every mile promises a new, picturesque panorama. Overlook stops such as Linville Gorge, known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” punctuate the journey with awe-inspiring views. Each season paints the Blue Ridge Parkway in different colors. Spring brings a burst of wildflowers, summer offers lush greenery, fall is a symphony of fiery foliage, and winter drapes the landscape in a serene blanket of snow. This ever-changing environment ensures that each visit, regardless of the time of year, feels unique.
The southern Blue Ridge Mountains region is rich in history and heritage. As you traverse the parkway, you will encounter opportunities to learn more about the Cherokee Nation, early pioneer settlements, and the cultural legacy of the Appalachian communities. This melding of natural beauty with human history provides a holistic experience. The parkway itself is a feat of engineering, with its design intended to harmonize with the environment. The Linn Cove Viaduct, for instance, is a marvel that hugs the contours of Grandfather Mountain, showcasing the seamless blend of human ingenuity with nature’s design.
The parkway isn’t just for driving. It’s an invitation for immersion. Hiking trails like Craggy Gardens, picnic spots overlooking valleys, and campgrounds nestled amidst forests provide travelers with opportunities to engage with nature intimately.
In today’s digital age, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers a respite from the hustle and bustle, providing a space for reflection, connection, and rejuvenation. The absence of commercial traffic and limited cell reception means fewer distractions and more moments to connect with nature and fellow travelers.
The Blue Ridge Parkway embodies the essence of what makes an American road trip iconic. It’s a journey that tells stories, not just of the landscapes it traverses, but of the people who have shaped and been shaped by these lands. In its winding paths, breathtaking overlooks, and the whispers of the forests, it captures the spirit of exploration and wonder that lies at the heart of every American odyssey. As you set forth on this iconic drive, you’re not just covering miles; you’re journeying through time, beauty, and the soul of America.
- Great River Road (Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin)
The idea of the Great American Road Trip is woven into the fabric of the nation’s cultural ethos, representing freedom, adventure, and the sheer vastness of the country. Among the various routes that encapsulate this spirit, the Great River Road stands out. Tracing the course of the Mississippi River through ten states, this iconic byway invites travelers on a journey that is as historically rich as it is visually captivating.
Spanning from the river’s origins in Minnesota’s Lake Itasca to its delta in the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, the Great River Road offers a tapestry of diverse landscapes. From the wooded bluffs of Wisconsin and the rolling hills of Iowa to the flat Delta region of Mississippi and Louisiana, the road is a visual symphony of America’s heartland.
The Mississippi River has been a lifeline for countless communities, cultures, and commerce. As you drive, you’ll encounter stories of Native American tribes, the legacy of the Civil War, tales of river pirates, and the birthplaces of blues music and American literature.
The byway is a gastronomic adventure. Sample fresh cheese curds in Wisconsin, savor barbeque in Missouri and Tennessee, taste the spice of Cajun cuisines in Louisiana, and indulge in catfish dishes in Mississippi. The diversity of flavors mirrors the diversity of the regions the road traverses.
Every state along the byway brings its unique attractions. Explore the vibrant music scenes of Memphis and New Orleans, visit Mark Twain’s childhood home in Hannibal, Missouri, or walk the streets of Minneapolis’s historic milling district.
Beyond driving, the route offers a plethora of recreational activities. Engage in bird watching in the backwaters, fishing in the numerous tributaries, or hiking in any of the numerous state parks that dot the route. The Great River Road is also alive with festivals and events year-round. Whether it’s the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race in Natchez, the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival in Davenport, Iowa, or Mardi Gras celebrations in Louisiana, there’s always a reason to join the festivities.
The Great River Road isn’t just a route; it’s a narrative. There’s a certain rhythm, a heartbeat, to the Mississippi River. Traveling its length, you become attuned to its ebbs and flows, its quiet moments, and its roaring crescendos. This connection to one of America’s most iconic rivers is a meditative experience in itself. As it winds its way along the Mississippi, it tells a tale of a nation’s growth, its challenges, its triumphs, and its spirit. Every twist and turn, every town, and every sunset over the river captures the essence of America. Embarking on this journey is not just about covering distance; it’s about traversing the soul of a nation, one mile, one story, one heartbeat at a time.
The allure of the open road has always been a defining aspect of the American spirit. Among the myriad routes crisscrossing the nation, the Historic National Road holds a special place, not only for its scenic beauty but also as a testament to the nation’s march toward progress and connection. Weaving through six states and spanning over 800 miles, this storied byway offers travelers a unique tapestry of history, culture, and landscapes.
Dubbed as “The Road That Built the Nation,” the Historic National Road was the United States’ first federally funded interstate highway, commissioned in the early 19th century. Traveling its length is akin to flipping through pages of a history book, tracing the nation’s evolution from its nascent years.
The byway is dotted with structures that showcase America’s architectural journey. From the charming brick National Road-Zane Grey Museum in Ohio to the Casselman Bridge in Maryland, an architectural marvel of its time, travelers get to witness an array of design eras.
The route showcases the rich, diverse topographical tapestry of the American heartland. Experience the rolling Appalachian Highlands in Maryland and West Virginia, the lush farmlands of Illinois and Indiana, and the bustling urban centers of cities like Indianapolis and Columbus. Each state on the byway offers its unique cultural flavor. Explore Pennsylvania’s Amish country, delve into the coal mining history of West Virginia, or indulge in the Midwestern charm of Illinois towns. The road is a melting pot of traditions, stories, and peoples.
The byway is replete with quirky and iconic roadside attractions. From the Madonna of the Trail statues, which pay homage to the spirit of pioneer women, to the oversized coffee pot in Bedford, Pennsylvania, there’s a delightful mix of the whimsical and the profound. But while the Historic National Road boasts a rich past, it doesn’t remain ensnared by it. Modern eateries, boutique shops, and contemporary art galleries line the route, offering a blend of the past with the present.
The communities along the Historic National Road often celebrate their heritage with festivals, parades, and events. Join in on Ohio’s National Road Yard Sale, a shopping extravaganza, or immerse yourself in period recreations at events like the Cumberland Historic Festival in Maryland.
The Historic National Road isn’t just a highway; it’s a narrative of American ambition, determination, and the ceaseless drive towards progress. As one navigates its stretches, they’re not merely driving on asphalt; they’re charting the course of a nation’s dreams, challenges, and the boundless spirit of exploration. Embarking on this odyssey offers not just sights and sounds but insights into the heart and soul of America’s diverse tapestry, making it a truly unique expedition.
There’s a certain magic about the Natchez Trace Parkway, a road that doesn’t just traverse the terrains of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, but also meanders through the annals of time, echoing tales from deep within America’s soul. This 444-mile stretch is more than just asphalt and signposts; it’s a living testament to the ancient Native Americans, early settlers, and diverse ecosystems of America’s Deep South. Let’s embark on a journey to understand why the Natchez Trace Parkway stands out as a compelling American road trip.
The Natchez Trace is a bridge across time. It dates back thousands of years, serving as a significant travel corridor for Native Americans and later for traders, soldiers, and pioneers. Driving the parkway is akin to tracing the footsteps of history, with every mile narrating tales of ancient civilizations, early explorations, and epochs of change.
From dense forests and rolling hills to glistening waterways, the parkway offers a diverse tableau of the South’s natural beauty. The Cypress Swamp in Mississippi, with its hauntingly beautiful water, tupelo and bald cypress trees, or the Birdsong Hollow in Tennessee with its double-arched bridge, are just glimpses of the scenic feast in store.
Scattered along the parkway are unique landmarks that add depth to the journey. The Meriwether Lewis Monument, honoring the famed explorer of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, or the Emerald Mound – the second-largest ceremonial mound in the United States – are sites that enrich the drive with cultural and historical significance.
The parkway is not just for driving; it’s a call to immerse oneself in the environment. Numerous trails beckon hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders. Whether it’s exploring the rich flora and fauna, picnicking by a serene waterfall, or camping under starlit skies, the parkway offers a slice of adventure for everyone. The diverse ecosystems along the Natchez Trace make it a hotspot for birdwatching. From the red-tailed hawk soaring over open fields to the vibrant prothonotary warbler flitting in swampy woods, it’s a symphony of avian wonders.
What sets the Natchez Trace Parkway apart is the absence of commercial traffic, billboards, and urban distractions. This ensures a serene, uninterrupted experience, allowing travelers to truly connect with the landscape and its stories.
The Natchez Trace Parkway is more than a road; it’s a journey into the heart of America. It captures the essence of the Deep South – its rich tapestry of history, its diverse cultures, and its breathtaking natural beauty. To drive on this road is to experience the rhythms of the land, the whispers of its past, and the promise of discovery around every bend. It’s not just a great American road trip; it’s a soulful sojourn that lingers long after the journey’s end.
Drenched in neon lights, lined with vintage diners, and echoing the anthems of a restless generation, Route 66 isn’t just a highway; it’s a cultural phenomenon. This legendary road, stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica, has been immortalized in songs, movies, and countless road trip tales. Here’s why Route 66, snaking its way through states like Arizona, California, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, stands as the epitome of the American road trip fantasy.
Route 66, established in 1926, encapsulates the spirit of several American eras, from the Dust Bowl migrations of the 1930s to the automobile boom of the 1950s. As you drive, you’re not just covering distance but traveling back in time, revisiting slices of America’s 20th-century history. Whether it’s the vintage gas stations in Illinois, the Blue Whale of Catoosa in Oklahoma, or the Wigwam Motels in California, Route 66 is sprinkled with quirky landmarks and retro architectural wonders that offer a delightful sense of nostalgia.
From the urban charisma of Chicago and the rolling hills of Missouri to the vast deserts of Arizona and the beaches of Santa Monica, Route 66 presents a topographical tapestry that showcases the vastness and variety of the American landscape. Route 66 also serves up a delectable smorgasbord of culinary experiences. Dive into Chicago’s deep-dish pizzas, savor Oklahoma’s onion burgers, relish New Mexico’s spicy green chilies, or enjoy a classic diner experience in California. Each state adds its unique flavor to the gastronomic journey.
The neon signs, the classic car shows, the old-school drive-in theaters – Route 66 is a glowing tribute to mid-20th-century Americana. It’s a living museum where visitors can immerse themselves in a bygone era’s charm. As the highway winds its way through various states, it touches upon diverse cultures, histories, and traditions. Native American arts in New Mexico, cowboy legacies in Oklahoma, or the musical blues of Chicago—Route 66 is a mosaic of unique cultural experiences.
Route 66, often dubbed “The Mother Road,” is more than just a stretch of asphalt; it’s an emblem of America’s love for the open road, an ode to freedom, and a journey into the nation’s heart and soul. Navigating its length is not merely a road trip; it’s an exploration of dreams, stories, and the ceaseless allure of adventure. For many, Route 66 isn’t just a route; it’s a rite of passage, a pilgrimage into the essence of the American spirit.
New England, with its rich tapestry of history, culture, and nature, is home to many enchanting scenic drives. Among them, the Connecticut River Scenic Byway stands as a testament to the region’s serene beauty and multifaceted heritage. Stretching alongside the Connecticut River, this byway winds its way through Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, offering a captivating journey that combines scenic vistas with profound historical depth. Here’s why a road trip along the Connecticut River Scenic Byway is an essential New England experience.
The Connecticut River, New England’s longest river, serves as the spine of this scenic route. Its meandering course is framed by rolling hills, lush woodlands, and fertile farmlands. Depending on the season, travelers are treated to a vibrant display, be it the verdant hues of summer, the fiery colors of fall foliage, or the pristine white blanket of winter snow.
This byway is a gateway to New England’s storied past. Quaint towns like Deerfield, Massachusetts, with its preserved 18th-century homes, or Windsor, Vermont, the birthplace of Vermont’s statehood, dot the route. Each town and village provides glimpses into the region’s colonial history, indigenous cultures, and rich industrial heritage. As you traverse the byway, you’ll encounter beautiful examples of New England architecture, from the iconic covered bridges of Vermont to the stately mansions and meetinghouses of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The river and its surroundings beckon outdoor enthusiasts. Kayaking, canoeing, and fishing are popular water-based activities. Meanwhile, the adjacent landscapes offer hiking, birdwatching, and, come winter, opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
New England’s culinary traditions are a highlight of the journey. From maple syrup in Vermont sugar mills to fresh produce in riverside farmstands and the delectable seafood offerings in local inns, the region’s gastronomic delights are a feast for the senses. The scenic drive is also a cultural corridor. Visit museums that delve into the local history, galleries showcasing regional art, and performance centers offering everything from traditional folk music to contemporary theater.
The Connecticut River Scenic Byway is not just a route—it’s an immersive experience. As the river flows, guiding travelers through the heart of New England, it tells tales of ancient forests, pioneering spirits, and the timeless dance between land and water. To journey along this byway is to embrace the soul of New England, with its harmonious blend of history, nature, and the enduring charm of its communities. In its gentle curves and historic stops, travelers find both tranquility and inspiration, making it a truly unforgettable road trip.
The vast expanses of America are woven together by scenic drives that capture the essence of its landscapes and history. Among these is the Ohio River Scenic Byway, a path that traces the contours of one of the nation’s major waterways and tells tales of frontier adventures, civil war epochs, and the rhythmic pulse of America’s heartland. Winding its way through Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, this byway presents a captivating blend of natural beauty and cultural depth. Here’s why the Ohio River Scenic Byway deserves a spot on every road trip enthusiast’s bucket list.
The Ohio River serves as a constant companion on this journey, with the byway often hugging its shores and offering panoramic river views. The ever-changing moods of the river—from serene morning mists to fiery sunset reflections—provide a visual treat and a sense of nature’s grandeur. The Ohio River was a critical frontier in early American history, a boundary between the settled east and the wild west. The byway offers a portal into the past, with historic towns like Madison, Indiana, and sites like the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, chronicling tales of exploration, conflict, and hope.
Beyond the river, the byway meanders through diverse landscapes: rolling farmlands, dense woodlands, and picturesque valleys. In the fall, the route becomes a riot of colors, while spring brings forth a bloom of wildflowers, making each season a unique experience.
The heartland’s rich agricultural tradition is reflected in its culinary offerings. Whether it’s indulging in farm-to-table delicacies in local eateries, sipping on wines from Ohio’s vineyards, or savoring the sweetness of Illinois’ famed apple orchards, the byway promises a gastronomic journey. The towns and cities along the route often come alive with festivals celebrating their local heritage, from riverboat races in Indiana to arts and crafts fairs in Illinois. Engaging with these events provides a deeper connection to the region’s culture.
Beyond driving, the Ohio River Scenic Byway is a gateway to various recreational activities. Boating, fishing, and kayaking on the river, hiking in the nearby nature preserves, or simply picnicking by the riverside—all beckon travelers to immerse themselves in the region’s natural beauty.
The Ohio River Scenic Byway is more than a stretch of road; it’s a narrative of America’s heartland. It speaks of times when the river was the nation’s lifeblood, of communities that thrived on its banks, and of the timeless allure of open-road adventures. As travelers embark on this scenic drive, they are not just spectators but participants in a tale that weaves nature, history, and the spirit of exploration into a tapestry that is quintessentially American. This byway is not just a road trip; it’s an odyssey through the pages of time and the soul of a region.
The American Southwest, with its sun-drenched landscapes and tapestries of cultures, harbors secrets of ancient civilizations, preserved over millennia. Among the pathways that lead one into the heart of these mysteries is the Trail of the Ancients. Spanning Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, this scenic drive offers more than just miles of road—it’s a gateway to understanding the early narratives of America, long before its modern incarnation. Here’s why the Trail of the Ancients is a transcendent American road trip experience.
The byway showcases footprints of prehistoric civilizations and provides an intimate look into the lives and cultures of ancient Puebloan societies. Sites like Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients, Utah’s Hovenweep National Monument, and New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park unveil the architectural prowess and societal structures of these early inhabitants.
The route unfurls through a stunning backdrop of dramatic mesas, buttes, and vast desert expanses. From the iconic Monument Valley, with its towering red rock formations, to the intricate canyon networks of the Colorado Plateau, nature’s artistry is on full display. The landscapes along the Trail of the Ancients beckon outdoor enthusiasts. Whether it’s hiking through the rugged terrains of Mesa Verde, mountain biking in the Moki Dugway, or exploring the depths of dark sky preserves, the byway is a playground for those seeking adventure.
- Living Indigenous Cultures:
While the trail celebrates ancient histories, it also shines a light on the living legacies of Native American tribes. The Navajo, Ute, and Hopi communities in the region offer insights into their vibrant cultures, arts, and traditions. From ancient petroglyphs and rock art to contemporary Native American pottery and weaving, the trail offers a journey through the diverse artistic expressions of the region’s inhabitants, past and present.
Many sites along the byway, such as Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument or the sacred springs of Ojo Caliente in New Mexico, have deep spiritual significance. These places, steeped in ritual and reverence, offer moments of reflection and connection.
The Trail of the Ancients is not just a scenic drive; it’s a pilgrimage into the depths of time. It challenges travelers to look beyond the horizon, to hear the whispers of ancient stories in the winds of the desert, and to witness the timeless dance of man and nature. This byway is a testament to the enduring spirit of the Southwest, a place where history is etched into every rock and where the past and present converge in a symphony of colors, cultures, and landscapes. Embarking on this journey is to embrace the soul of America in its most raw and profound form.
Nestled in the vast plains of the Dakotas, the Standing Rock National Native American Scenic Byway stands as a poignant reminder of the rich tapestry of indigenous cultures that have called this land home for millennia. Connecting North Dakota and South Dakota, this byway is more than just a scenic drive—it is a journey into the heart, history, and heritage of Native American tribes. Here’s why the Standing Rock Scenic Byway stands out as a deeply resonant and enlightening road trip.
The byway’s deep historical roots trace the ancestral lands of the Dakota and Lakota Sioux tribes. Historic sites, markers, and interpretative centers along the route delve into the complex tapestry of indigenous history, from ancient rituals to pivotal moments in the tribes’ struggles and resilience. The Standing Rock Reservation, around which the byway runs, is home to vibrant Native American communities that continue to uphold their traditions, arts, and ceremonies. Participating in powwows, exploring tribal museums, and engaging with local artisans offer immersive experiences.
The byway is dotted with places of spiritual significance to the indigenous tribes. Sites like the Sitting Bull Burial Monument not only commemorate iconic figures but also invite reflection on the spiritual beliefs and practices deeply rooted in the landscape. The Standing Rock Scenic Byway also offers insight into contemporary challenges and triumphs of indigenous communities.
The byway meanders through some of the Northern Plains’ most evocative landscapes. Sweeping vistas of rolling prairies, winding rivers, and rugged badlands serve as the backdrop, each telling a tale of the symbiotic relationship between the land and its people. The diverse ecosystems along the byway are home to a variety of wildlife. Bison herds grazing on open plains, eagles soaring over the Missouri River, and deer darting through forests make for unforgettable sightings and a deeper appreciation of the region’s ecological richness.
Driving the Standing Rock National Native American Scenic Byway is not merely about covering miles; it’s about traveling through time, understanding deep-seated narratives, and forging connections with the land and its original stewards. This byway offers a window into the soul of indigenous America—a journey of reverence, respect, and realization. As the landscapes unfold, so do stories of bravery, spirituality, and an enduring bond between people and place. It’s not just a road trip; it’s an odyssey into the essence of a rich and enduring heritage.
The Pacific Northwest is a realm of unparalleled natural wonders, where earth, fire, and water have collaborated for millennia to sculpt a breathtaking tableau. Among the routes that offer a deep dive into this landscape, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway stands tall. Spanning the states of California and Oregon, this byway is a 500-mile odyssey through some of the region’s most iconic volcanic landscapes. Here’s a glimpse into why the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway should be on every traveler’s list.
The scenic drive derives its name from the chain of majestic volcanoes that dot its path. Mount Shasta in California, with its snow-capped peak and mythical aura, and Oregon’s Crater Lake, born from the remnants of the ancient Mount Mazama, are just a couple of the volcanic wonders that command awe along the route. From the expansive Lava Beds National Monument, with its intricate maze of underground lava tubes, to the serene waters of Klamath Lake and the dense evergreen forests in between, the byway showcases a wide range of Pacific Northwest terrains. Witness the Earth’s fiery power at sites like Lassen Volcanic National Park, where boiling springs, steaming fumaroles, and mud pots serve as reminders of the region’s volcanic vitality.
The diverse ecosystems nurtured by this volcanic terrain are teeming with wildlife. The Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges are a haven for birdwatchers, with hundreds of species, including bald eagles and migrating waterfowl, calling it home. Adventurers find a paradise along the byway. Whether it’s hiking the rugged trails around Mount Shasta, kayaking in the waters of Crater Lake, exploring the subterranean wonders of lava caves, or camping under starry skies, the byway is a treasure trove of outdoor experiences.
The byway is steeped in indigenous histories. The Modoc War, a poignant chapter in Native American history, unfolded in this region. Sites like Captain Jack’s Stronghold in the Lava Beds offer insights into the legacy of indigenous tribes and their interactions with settlers.
The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is more than just a road; it’s a narrative of the Earth’s incredible power and the ever-evolving dance of creation and change. As travelers venture along this scenic drive, they’re invited to reflect on the majesty of nature, the intricate balance of ecosystems, and the timeless stories etched into the landscape. This byway is not just a journey across miles; it’s an exploration of eons of geological wonders and the enduring spirit of the land. Every twist and turn reveals a new chapter of the Pacific Northwest’s captivating saga, making it a road trip of legendary proportions.
The open road has always held an irresistible allure in the American ethos, symbolizing freedom, adventure, and the vast, diverse beauty of the nation’s landscapes. From the cultural tapestries woven along the Historic National Road and the echoes of ancient civilizations on the Trail of the Ancients, to the iconic sprawl of Route 66 and the serene majesty of the Blue Ridge Parkway, each of these storied routes offers a unique journey into the heart of America. Whether it’s the soulful reflections evoked by the Natchez Trace Parkway, the historic reverence of the Standing Rock Byway, the picturesque embrace of the Connecticut and Ohio River Scenic Byways, or the awe-inspiring geologic tales of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, there’s a narrative waiting to be discovered. Every mile driven on these roads unveils not just the physical expanse of the country but also its deep-rooted histories, diverse cultures, and the unyielding spirit of exploration. As we traverse these paths, we don’t just travel across terrains; we journey through time, narratives, and the very essence of what makes the American road trip an enduring, iconic experience. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a curious explorer, these great American road trips beckon with promises of wonder, discovery, and the timeless magic of the open road.
Introductory History of the National Scenic Byways Program
Initially established in 1991 by Congress in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), the National Scenic Byways Program was strengthened by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1998 and the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) in 2005.
The first designations, in September of 1996, included:
Alabama: Selma to Montgomery March Byway
California: Big Sur Coast Highway
Colorado: Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway & San Juan Skyway
Connecticut: Connecticut State Route 169 & Merritt Parkway
Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail
Minnesota: Edge of the Wilderness Byway
Nevada: Lake Tahoe – Eastshore Drive & Pyramid Lake Scenic Byway
New Hampshire: Kancamagus Scenic Byway
New York: Great Lakes Seaway Trail
North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway
South Dakota: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
Tennessee: Cherohala Skyway
West Virginia: Highland Scenic Highway
Natchez Trace Parkway (Alabama, Mississippi & Tennessee)
Designations continued annually until October 2009 with 150 National Scenic Byways and 39 All-American Roads across 46 states.
In 2012, funding and administration for the program were eliminated.
The passage of the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019 was the first step in re-authorizing the program. In December 2020, a stimulus bill authorizing $16 million in funding for the program was signed by the President. The 117th Congress will address the program’s future funding, and new byways designations will be announced in early 2021.
As The National Voice of Scenic Byways & Road, NSBF has led advocacy efforts resulting in re-authorization and stimulus funding. Your membership in, and grassroots support of, NSBF is critical to restoring funding for byways competitive grants.