Spend a few days or plan a whole trip exploring one or more of the fantastic thoroughfares that offer much more than just a pretty drive.
By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
We’ve written before about some of our favorite driving trips, selected from the list of 150 America’s Scenic Byways. Only recently we discovered that 31 of these byways have been given the special designation of All-American Road. These routes are so spectacular, they could be an actual vacation destination themselves. Not surprisingly, a number of the 31 All-American Roads were included in our earlier column (June 2009, page 80), so if one on the following list doesn’t fit into your summer plans, you might want to check your back issues of the magazine or visit www.byways.org.
1. Seward Highway – Alaska. The Seward Highway stretches 127 miles, connecting Seward with Anchorage. Although the road is open year-round, its travel “season” runs from May to mid-October. You’ll see jagged mountain peaks, meadows of wildflowers, and spectacular fjords where the second-highest tides in the world can cause a 38-foot change in water level. From late July through early August, thousands of red salmon spawn in the area around Ptarmigan Creek, and if your copilot watches carefully as you drive, he or she may see puffins, otters, eagles, and perhaps even some beluga whales.
2. Red Rock Scenic Byway – Arizona. On the Red Rock Road, near Sedona, Arizona, you’ll see just how much beauty can be packed into a short distance. The designated All-American Road is only 7 1/2 miles long, but the vivid red vistas will keep you from moving very fast. This was a favorite spot for filming Westerns in the 1940s and 1950s, and formations such as Cathedral Rock are still some of the most photographed places in Arizona.
3. Florida Keys Scenic Highway – Florida. Visit the islands without leaving your motorhome behind. Jumping from island to island through the Florida Keys, this 106-mile scenic highway crosses 42 bridges that span the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. From history (visit the Hemingway home), to world-class fishing, to state and national parks, and those fantastic Florida sunsets in Key West, here’s an island paradise you can experience without having to get on a boat.
4. Northwest Passage Scenic Byway – Idaho. This 202-mile-long All American Road follows the path of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as they searched for a passage between the Missouri and Columbia rivers in the early 1800s. Along the route you can explore expedition campsites as well as historical and cultural sites of the Nez Perce Indians.
5. Creole Nature Trail – Louisiana. In the southeast corner of Louisiana, the Creole Nature Trail winds 180 miles through coastal wetlands and marshes near the Gulf of Mexico. The road passes through four different national wildlife refuges: Sabine, Lacassine, Rockefeller, and Cameron Prairie, plus the Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary. And in case you want to capture an alligator (with your camera, of course), Louisiana has the second-largest wild alligator population in the United States.
6. Acadia Byway – Maine. Here you can combine an All-American Road with a trip to one of our favorite national parks. The byway is 40 miles long, with most of it inside Acadia National Park. Although the park itself is relatively small, it has 125 miles of hiking trails. If you’d rather go biking (or just go for a stroll), check out the 45 miles of maintained carriage roads. Nature-watchers can scan the sky for 338 species of birds, and since you’re right on the coast, you can look for at least four species of whales.
7. North Shore Scenic Drive – Minnesota. This scenic drive follows the shoreline of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake. For 154 miles you’ll see cliffs and beaches, splendid views of the Sawtooth Mountains, waterfalls, lighthouses, and eight state parks that provide hiking trails and other recreational opportunities.
8. Lakes To Locks Passage – New York. Stretching 234 miles from Albany, New York, to the Quebec, Canada, border, this All-American Road follows the interconnected waterways that once made up a trade corridor. Along the way you’ll find sites of pre-Colonial history, towns such as Glen Falls and Ticonderoga, and explore lakeside beaches as you follow the shore of Lake Champlain and the Champlain Canal. If you have a bike, bring it along. The Champlain Trail Bikeways are said to be some of the best in the country.
9. Hells Canyon Scenic Byway – Oregon. Looping from Baker City for 218 miles to La Grande, this sometimes narrow and winding All-American Road gives you expansive views of the 10,000-foot peaks of the Wallowa Mountains and an overlook where you can peer into the 8,000-foot depths of Hells Canyon. Here the Snake River has created the deepest river-carved gorge in North America.
10. Pacific Coast Scenic Byway – Oregon. Rugged cliffs, cascading waterfalls, beaches, and tide pools lie in one direction, and temperate rain forests in the other. It’s not surprising that these 363 miles of Oregon coastline traverse the most photographed area of the state. There are many lighthouses to visit, sand dunes to climb, and trails to hike, and you won’t want to miss the guided tour at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in the town of the same name.
11. Colonial Parkway – Virginia. For Colonial history buffs, what could be better than a scenic highway that connects Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown? Constructed by the National Park Service, the 23-mile, three-lane parkway is closed to commercial vehicles, and its 45-mph speed limit lets visitors enjoy the panoramic vistas and gently winding curves without holding up traffic.
12. George Washington Memorial Parkway – Virginia. Another All-American Road managed by the National Park Service, this 25-mile parkway parallels the Potomac River, connecting many Washington, D.C., attractions and ending at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Along the route are parks, historic sites, and hiking trails.
13. Chinook Scenic Byway – Washington. Traveling the Chinook Scenic Byway provides some of the most spectacular views of Mount Rainier, where you’ll find the largest single-peak glacier system (25 glaciers) in the United States outside of Alaska. The byway actually passes through the northeast corner of the national park on its way from Enumclaw to Naches.