By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
When we decided to look into the National Scenic Byways Program, we had no idea of the breadth of possibilities. Not just any road qualifies as a National Scenic Byway or an All-American Road, which together have been designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as America’s Byways. It must include unique scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, archaeological, or natural features. Here are 13 of the 96 current roads that meet that criteria and are listed as America’s Byways.
1. Connecticut State Route 169, Connecticut
This National Scenic Byway follows essentially the same route the Norwich and Woodstock turnpikes used in the 1600s. Yes, there have been many changes over the years, but you still can get a sense of the history inherent to the area. Some 180 pre-1855 homes still stand, as do many village churches. At Lisbon you’ll feel part of an early American community. Canterbury is notable for its Georgian architecture, Brooklyn for its two historic districts, and Woodstock for its architectural gems clustered around the town common. All this can be seen in a 32-mile stretch of highway.
2. Payette River Scenic Byway, Idaho
Heading north out of Boise on State Route 55, this byway winds, twists, and crisscrosses the Payette River for 40-plus miles. The river is the reason for the designation, after all. It calmly pushes along, then turns wild, crashing over the rocks and down through the narrow river valley. Being safety-minded, you’ll want to pull off occasionally to absorb the sights, sounds, and rhythm of this famous whitewater river. It’s recommended that you allow two days to cover this byway’s 112 miles.
3. Ohio River Scenic Byway, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio
Here’s another route named for a river, this time in the Midwest. The Ohio River has had a tremendous impact on this area’s history. The byway’s winding, hilly route follows the Ohio River from western Illinois to eastern Ohio, through villages, farms, vineyards, and orchards. Along the way you’ll find impressive rock outcroppings, caves, and other scenic waterways. Pull over often; the limestone bluffs are abundant with wildlife. You also can brush up on your American history, with numerous Civil War and French and Indian War forts along the way, as well as Underground Railroad sites.
4. Death Valley Scenic Byway, California
Death Valley National Park contains the hottest, driest, lowest point in North America. Its location, in one of the most remote parts of California, doesn’t stop travelers from driving the byway’s State Route 190 through the valley. More than 75 percent of the summer visitors come from abroad. Because of the high number of summer visitors, you might want to pick another season to view the valley’s striking geological forms and to study rock art created 7,000 years ago. More recently, American Indians had Death Valley pretty much to themselves, until word of the California gold rush brought thousands of emigrants from the east. Part of their route is now this byway.
5. Santa Fe Trail, Colorado and New Mexico
The Santa Fe Trail once stretched from Missouri to New Mexico, but only the portion through southeastern Colorado and New Mexico has National Scenic Byway status. Thousands of wagons made the trip west, and even now, a century-and-a-half later, you can view wagon-wheel ruts winding their way across the prairie. Festivals, many historic sites, and museums bring Santa Fe Trail history to travelers. If you are really ambitious and want to follow the entire Santa Fe Trail, several good Web sites can help. This one, www.ku.edu/heritage/research/sft/, is somewhat busy, but it’s a good place to start.
6. A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Highway, Florida
This 71-mile byway travels along the east coast of northern Florida, mostly on barrier islands. Sometimes you see the Atlantic Ocean; other times the Intracoastal Waterway. The byway runs from Ponte Vedra Beach south to the Flagler/Volusia county line. It passes through St. Augustine, with 2,500 historic structures still standing. That’s not all; the byway includes two national monuments, several state parks, and Marineland of Florida, dubbed an “oceanarium.” The park system calls this byway a “natural theme park filled with authentic historical and recreational attractions.”
7. Loess Hills Scenic Byway, Iowa
The steep, sharply ridged topography along this 220-mile byway was created by glacial meltwater and shaped by strong winds. You’ll find classic prairie interrupted by steep impressive forested ridges. Stop in places like Council Bluffs and Sioux City to learn about this area’s culture and history. The Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, Hitchcock Nature Area, and Loess Hills State Forest offer insights into the native prairies of western Iowa.
8. Country Music Highway, Kentucky
This 144-mile-long scenic byway is devoted to the musical heritage and history of eastern Kentucky. More than a dozen country music stars, including Loretta Lynn, Tom T. Hall, and Wynonna and Naomi Judd, came to fame right there. Travelers who prefer other types of music can still enjoy the history of the American Indians, early pioneers, and the Civil War. The famous Hatfield and McCoy feud also took place in this region.
9. The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, Minnesota
Now for an urban byway. The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway in Minneapolis had its beginning more than a century ago: today it includes 52 miles of parks, parkways, bike paths, and pedestrian paths encircling the city. The byway winds through the city’s seven main sections, as well as along the shores of the Mississippi River and several lakes.
10. Turquoise Trail, New Mexico
When traveling between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, take this scenic route. The Turquoise Trail leads to Sandia Crest, the summit of the Sandia Mountains in Cibola National Forest. It’s an awesome view. The communities of Golden, Madrid, and Cerrillos have combined their ghost town mining heritage with arts, crafts, theater, music, museums, and restaurants. The drive is only a little more than 60 miles, but with so much to see, we spent an entire day.
11. West Cascades Scenic Byway, Oregon
This byway isn’t the shortest route between Portland and Eugene, but the views are incredible. If you want to see water, how about 220 miles of thundering waterfalls, ancient forests, whitewater rivers, and snowcapped peaks. Who needs a freeway? Since the byway frequently crosses major routes, those with less time can choose to cover only portions of the byway. Two segments, forest roads 46 and 19, are closed in the winter because of snow.
12. Mountains to Sound Greenway, Washington
You might not think that a 100-mile stretch of east-to-west interstate would qualify for National Scenic Byway status. But consider what you’ll see on Interstate 90 in Washington. When taking the drive from east to west, you begin on the dry plateaus of eastern Washington and then proceed through a series of pastoral valleys into the snowcapped Cascade Mountains. That’s ultra impressive, but you’re not finished. Next you’ll descend into an area of lush forest surrounding the blue waters of Puget Sound. The byway ends at Seattle’s historic waterfront, leaving you with the feeling you’ve traveled through several different worlds in a mere 100 miles.
13. The Great River Road (includes 10 states)
The Great River Road runs from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, south through Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Arkansas. It’s quite a trip, especially if you’re on horseback or riding in a wagon. The road also passes through Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico. These sections are not included in the National Scenic Byway Program but can be part of a terrific trip following the flow from start to finish of this mighty river.
Note: To check out other National Scenic Byways on the Internet, begin at www.byways.org. You also can order a map of the entire byway system at the site or by calling (800) 429-9297.