Scenic Byways across America Await Exploration

On the road again

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

“On the Road Again” is easily considered Willie Nelson’s signature song. On a flight together, Nelson was asked by the producers of the Honeysuckle Rose film to write a song about touring to be used as the movie’s theme song. By the time they had landed, the lyrics to “On the Road Again” had been composed. The song rolled up to No. 1 in 1980 and earned a spot in the Grammy Song Hall of Fame.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many aspects to travel. We go to places we’ve never been because we want to be surprised. We travel to see new sights and experience fresh things. We seek new places that might teach us about the world and ourselves.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While your plans may be for travel to a specific destination, a road trip need not be limited to getting to one location as fast as possible. Throughout America there are National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads, ready to introduce you to memorable adventures off the interstate while driving toward your primary destination.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The two road designations include a collection of 150 diverse tracks identified by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as possessing intrinsic qualities that make each route particularly worthy of a driving experience.

Alabama Coastal Connection (Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A National Scenic Byway designation recognizes roads with one (or more) of six attributes contributing toward a unique travel experience. They must be scenic (natural and manmade), natural (undisturbed beauty), historic, recreational, archaeological, or culturally significant.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All-American Roads meet the same criteria, but must also feature multiple qualities of national significance. Also, All-American Roads must be considered worthy as stand-alone destinations.

Related: Introducing New Scenic Byways and All-American Roads

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“These roads are truly unique,” says Doug Hecox, a spokesman with the Federal Highway Administration. “They are special routes that offer unequalled ways to enjoy different facets of America. Sadly, too few people know they exist.”

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To get your “personal mental engine” started thinking about the possibilities, here is a sampling of these federally recognized routes to whet your appetite for adventure as you get “on the road again.”

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

State: Utah

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 123 miles

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. This All-American Road connects US-89 near Panguitch on the west with SR-24 near Torrey on the northeast. It is not the quickest route between these two points but it is far and away the best.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail

State: Louisiana

Designation: All-American Highway

Length: 180 miles

Often referred to as “Louisiana’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s “Last Great Wildernesses.” Alligators, over 400 bird species, marshlands teeming with life, 26 miles of natural Gulf of Mexico beaches, fishing, crabbing, and Cajun culture await discovery along this route through the marshes of Louisiana.

Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway

States: Colorado and Utah

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 512 miles

If you have children interested in dinosaurs, this route encompasses one of the best areas in the world to find dinosaur fossils and for the public to see what paleontologists have uncovered. Key attractions include active quarries where you can watch paleontologists search for fossils embedded in stone, backcountry sites where you can view dinosaur fossils and footprints, and museums that display fossils, replicas, and information about dinosaurs. Nearby “side trips” include Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

States: North Carolina and Virginia

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 469 miles

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic roadway offering stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals and providing a variety of recreation opportunities for enjoying all that makes the Blue Ridge Mountains so special.

Related: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Santa Fe Trail and Historic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway

States: Colorado and New Mexico

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 565 miles

The Santa Fe Trail was one of America’s first trade routes. Operating between 1821 and 1880, it was critical to westward expansion, and remnants can still be seen along the byway. The byway partially follows the route and passes Fort Union National Monument where 170-year-old wagon ruts are still visible. Other points of interest include stage stops, trading posts (Brent’s Old Fort), pictographs, and the longest dinosaur track in North America.

Alabama Coastal Connection (Fort Gaines) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

State: Alabama

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 130 miles

This route and the waterways it follows are significant to the state of Alabama and the region for many reasons. Among them are the National Historic Landmarks of Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines, the protected lands of the Dauphin Island Audubon Sanctuary, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Gulf State Park, beaches and sand dunes, salt and freshwater marshes scrub forests, freshwater swamps, and uplands.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

State: South Dakota

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 68 miles

This byway will lead you on a delightful adventure as it winds its way around spiraling “pig-tail” shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles, and over pristine, pine-clad mountains. Highlights include Mount Rushmore, Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake, the Needle’s Eye, and Cathedral Spires rock formations.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country Byway

State: Ohio

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 76 miles

Discover the cultural and historic treasures of the Amish and northern Appalachian people as you drive around the curves and over the hills of the pastoral countryside. Experience simple living and sustainability along charming country roads, taking you to a bygone era still present, manifest in the people and their lifestyle.

White Mountain Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountain Trail

State: New Hampshire

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 100 miles

The White Mountain Trail offers New England’s most rugged mountain scenery as it travels through three historic “notches” or mountain passes. Views abound of villages and unspoiled National Forest. Stops include views of Mount Washington and the grand Mount Washington Hotel, mountain cascades, wildlife, and the Appalachian Trail.

Related: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Great River Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great River Road

States: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 3,000 miles

This byway twists and turns through 10 states as it meanders vertically through the center of the nation. It follows the entire route of the iconic Mississippi River from its Minnesota source at Lake Itasca to where it enters the Gulf of Mexico. Along the byway, there are thousands of places to visit, and more than 70 official interpretive centers such as museums and historical sites, as well as charming, small river towns and one-of-a-kind mom and pop restaurants.

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway

States: Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 180 miles

The 180-mile Journey Through the Hallowed Ground byway corridor from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Monticello, Virginia is “Where America Happened.” It is said that this three-state route spanning Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia holds more historic sites than any other in the US. It was an active transportation route during the Revolutionary War, a critical transition zone for the Underground Railroad, and a key battleground during the Civil War.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Parkway

State: Virginia

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 23 miles

The Colonial Parkway not only illustrates the English colonial experience in America but is also an outstanding example of American parkway design. Retaining its original scenic and historic integrity to a remarkable degree, the 23-mile route connects the historic sites of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

States: California and Oregon

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 500 miles

Several scenic days await exploration along this route connecting Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lava Beds National Monument, and Tule Lake National Monument. Crater Lake National Park is also on the route. The violent eruption of the Mt. Mazama volcano 7,700 years ago was 42 times as powerful as the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State. Lava flows sealed the bottom of the caldera, creating Crater Lake, the seventh-deepest lake in the world. Along the route, a 33-mile drive around the rim of the lake offers spectacular views.

Related: The 7 Most Scenic Drives in the Country to Add to Your Bucket List

The scenic byway also passes numerous mountain communities as it traverses the dramatic volcanic landscapes.

Worth Pondering…

Life is a Highway

Life is like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind

Life is a highway
I wanna ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I wanna drive it all night long
Come on. Give me give me give me give me yeah

—recorded by Tom Cochrane from his second studio album, Mad Mad World (1991)