America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Fall Road Trip

Discover America’s scenic byways on a fall road trip adventure

There’s nothing quite like packing up your car or recreation vehicle and heading out onto the open road. With over four million miles of roads crisscrossing the country, how do you choose where to travel?

In much the same way Congress set aside lands to be protected as national parks, the Department of Transportation has designated a network of spectacular drives that are protected as part of America’s Byways collection. Currently, the collection contains 184 National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads in 48 states. To become part of America’s Byways collection, a road must-have features that don’t exist anywhere else in the United States and be unique and important enough to be destinations unto themselves.

Related: Introducing New Scenic Byways and All-American Roads

Without further ado, here are 10 of the most scenic and culturally significant byways in America for your fall road trip adventure.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

Designation: All-American Road (1996)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: North Carolina, Virginia

Length: 469 miles

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 123 miles

Related: 5 Utah Scenic Byways for Leaf Peeping

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1998)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: New Hampshire

Length: 100 miles

Mount Washington Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The White Mountains have long been known for natural splendor, cultural richness, historical charm, and beautiful scenic vistas. The White Mountains Trail is a loop tour that winds through sections of the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest and past many of the region’s most popular attractions.  The Trail offers New England’s most rugged mountain scenery as it travels easily 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.

Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2009)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic

Cradle of Foresty © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Location: North Carolina

Length: 17 miles

Cradle of Forestry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back in time and explore the history and beautiful scenery on the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway (U.S. 276) through the Pisgah National Forest. As you wind your way on old settlement roads past mountain peaks and cascading waterfalls, imagine how this landscape looked over a century ago when modern forestry began. Pause for a while at the Cradle of Forestry. It was here that the first school of forestry in America—the Biltmore Forest School—was founded by Dr. Carl Schenck, chief forester for George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1998)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: North Carolina, Tennessee

Length: 41 miles

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

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Skyway offers the cultural heritage of the Cherokee tribe and early settlers in a grand forest environment in the Appalachian Mountains. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. Popular stops along and near the Skyway include Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Santeetlah Lake, and many Cherokee sites. This byway in particular is known for its fall colors.

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newfound Gap Road Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: North Carolina. Tennessee

Length: 31 miles

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Newfound Gap Road Byway corridor lies wholly within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At an elevation of 5,046 feet, the Newfound Gap is the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On either end, located just outside the Park, are the “gateway” communities of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina.

Lakes to Locks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lakes to Locks Passage

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Recreation

Location: New York

Length: 234 miles

Lakes to Locks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the story-filled regions that connect New York’s historic water of Lake Champlain and Lake George with the Champlain Canal and Hudson River to the south and the Chambly Canal to the Richelieu and St. Lawrence Rivers of Quebec to the north.

Old Frankfort Pike © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Frankfort Pike Historic and Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic

Location: Kentucky

Length: 15.5 miles

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old Frankfort Pike National Scenic Byway extends 15 miles through a rural landscape that embodies the Bluegrass unlike any other. Here, internationally recognized Thoroughbred horse farms, diversified farms, country stores, railroad towns, and scenic landscapes have evolved over the past 250 plus years. Along the Byway are opportunities for a horse farm tour or a short side trip to neighboring attractions like Keeneland Race Track National Historic Landmark, Weisenberger Mill, and the historic railroad town of Midway.

Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2000)

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: Georgia

Length: 40 miles

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest surrounds this route as it encircles the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. Winding through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians, you will find vistas atop Brasstown Bald that are jaw-dropping and the cooling mists of waterfalls are plentiful. Everywhere scenic wonders fill this region. Colorful wildflowers, waterfalls, and dazzling fall colors are some of what you will see. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream.

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

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock All American Road

Designation: All-American Road (2005)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic, Recreation

Location: Arizona

Length: 8 miles

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, this route is often called a “museum without walls.” The byway winds through the evergreen covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric Red Rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.

Worth Pondering…

Our four simple rules: No Interstates, no amusement parks, no five-star accommodations, and no franchise food (two words which do not belong in the same sentence!)

—Loren Eyrich, editor/publisher Two-Lane Roads

Spotlight on New Mexico: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

New Mexico is a truly unique place with gorgeous landscapes ranging from white sand deserts to snow topped mountains

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly. 

There isn’t a single amazing thing about New Mexico. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe

Santa Fe is one of the top destinations in the American Southwest. A city that embraces its natural environment, Santa Fe is a city whose beautiful adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape. A city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals. Santa Fe draws those who love art, natural beauty, and those who wish to relax.

As the heart of the city and the place where Santa Fe was founded, the Plaza is the city’s most historic area. Surrounded by museums, historic buildings, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and endless shopping, the Plaza is the place to start understanding Santa Fe.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

Shaped like giant waves, the dunes in the park are part of the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The area was once part of the Permian Sea where an ancient lake evaporated and left the gypsum deposits behind. Tucked away in southern New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, the park offers plenty to do. If you just want to see the dunes without getting dusty you can drive the eight-mile-long Dunes Drive. But the best way to explore is by hiking, horseback, or biking—and don’t miss out on the thrill of sledding down the soft white sand (you can bring your own plastic snow saucers or buy them at the gift shop).

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petroglyph National Monument 

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. These images are a valuable record of cultural expression and hold profound spiritual significance for contemporary Native Americans.

Main Street Downtown Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces

Las Cruces, the second largest city in New Mexico, offers museums, theaters, historical sites, wonderful food, golf courses, bird watching, hiking, and gracious hospitality. Located in southern New Mexico less than an hour from the Texas border, Las Cruces enjoys warm weather and 320 days of sunshine per year. Las Cruces offers visitors a wide range of outdoor activities such as golfing, biking, hiking, and tennis, as well as a diverse assortment of museums, shopping, and festivals.  The weekly Farmers & Crafts Market has been rated one of the best outdoor markets in the U.S. Held every Saturday and Wednesday mornings on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces, the market has over 300 vendors who gather to offer fresh local produce, honey, herbs, spices, arts and crafts and much more.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro National Monument

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, this massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable year-round source of drinking water at its base made El Morro a popular campsite in this otherwise rather arid and desolate country. At the base of the bluff—often called Inscription Rock—on sheltered smooth slabs of stone, are seven centuries of inscriptions covering human interaction with this spot.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1939 to protect migrating waterfowl, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is home to more than 350 species of birds. Tens of thousands of snow geese and sandhill crane winter in the refuge as well as Ross’s Geese and many species of duck. Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge host a Festival of the Cranes in November (weekend before Thanksgiving) that includes events, classes, and even a photography contest. A 12-mile auto tour and numerous hiking trails are the primary means of exploring the refuge.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla

Step back in time and visit Old Mesilla, one of the oldest and most unique settlements of southern New Mexico. Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid walked the streets. The famous trial of Billy the Kid was held here. Today Mesilla is a part of living history. Great care has been given to preserve the original adobe buildings and the beautiful plaza. People from all over the world stop to experience the history, art, architecture, quaint shopping, and unique dining that Mesilla has to offer.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park is a beautiful refuge 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Over 900 acres of land including Rio Grande wetlands and part of the Chihuahuan Desert with an education building for nature study. Visitors have opportunity to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Mesilla Valley Bosque is an Audubon designated IBA (Important Birding Area).

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations. In the area known as Chain of Craters, 30 cinder cones can be found across the landscape. La Ventana Natural Arch is easily accessible. Trails lead up to the bottom of the free-standing arch for a closer look at this natural wonder

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system.  Established in 1937 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds, the refuge plays a crucial role in the conservation of wetlands in the desert. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented on the Refuge.

Along the Camino Real © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Camino Real

In 1598, Don Juan de Onate led 500 colonists through the remote and unfamiliar country now known as New Mexico. The route Onate followed became El Camino Real, “the royal road.” 

The byway begins just north of Las Cruces, in Fort Selden, built in the mid-1800s to protect local settlers and travelers on El Camino Real and continues to cross 90 miles of flat but waterless and dangerous desert, the Jornada del Muerto (“journey of the dead man”) before reaching Socorro. The road then heads north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe reaching its end at San Juan Pueblo, the first capital of New Mexico and the end of Don Juan de Onate’s journey. 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Just two trails (and an elevator) exist for hikers hoping to explore Carlsbad Caverns on their own. The Big Room Trail, the largest single chamber by volume in North America can be accessed via a 1.25-mile trail or a .6-mile shortcut. The relatively flat terrain weaves through a series of curious hanging stalactites and passes through park gems like the Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit, and Crystal Spring Dome.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is just over an hour north of Las Cruces bordering the Rio Grande. As New Mexico’s largest state park, there are plenty of outdoor activities for everyone. Fishing, boating, kayaking, and jet skiing are all commonplace at Elephant Butte Lake. For less water-based activities you can enjoy the 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails around the lake. Camping is allowed, including along the beach.

Roswell UFO Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell

Roswell is a great trip if you want that out-of-this-world vacation without the hassle of kitting out your RV for spaceflight every time you want to leave the Milky Way Galaxy. This desert town promises a unique getaway unlike any other—on this planet, at least. The city had been around since the mid-19th century, but it only got its claim to fame in 1947 when a UFO allegedly crash-landed nearby in what became known as the “Roswell Incident.” While the truth is still out there the town has embraced its notoriety with enthusiasm from the one-of-a-kind UFO-centric McDonald’s to alien-themed playgrounds and buses. And if you’re not into exploring the outer limits, you’re still in luck here. The town also boasts a thriving arts scene, beautiful nature areas, and deep ties to the history of the Wild West. 

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Scenic Highway 28

Experiencing the history and culinary delights of the Southwest along a legendary trail that connects the centuries

The Don Juan de Onate Trail invites today’s travelers to follow in the hoof prints of the Spanish conquistador and his band of 400 colonizers in 1598 as they journeyed from New Spain (Mexico) north to find the fabled Cities of Gold in what is now northern New Mexico. 

Mesilla Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Onate and his men, traveling El Camino Real (The Royal Road) that stretched from Mexico City to northern New Mexico reached Paso del Norte (El Paso) on April 30. He claimed the land in the name of the King of Spain and continued days later along the Rio Grande to eventually establish the first Spanish capital at Okkay Owingeh Pueblo. The drive along the trail (Highway 28) is one of the Las Cruces area’s most scenic routes crossing and flanking the Rio Grande from El Paso to historic Old Mesilla.

Mesilla Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mesilla Plaza, a National Historic Landmark, represents an excellent spot to understand the area’s bicultural roots and begin an afternoon trek along the Don Juan de Onate Trail. The 1848 Treaty of Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War and established the village as part of Mexico. Mesilla became part of the United States in 1854 with the signing of the Gadsen Purchase on the plaza. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A number of historic 19th century stucco-clad adobe structures clustered around the plaza impart the look and feel of Old Mexico. Wander the plaza to learn about the colorful past of what in the 1880s was the largest town between San Diego and San Antonio.  Mesilla’s dirt streets saw the passing of the likes of Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and other Wild West legends. The sprawling La Posta Restaurant just off the plaza preserves the only station still standing on the Old Butterfield Trail (1850-1861).

Spotted Dog Brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today’s thirsty traveler might want to make a quick stop less than a mile from the plaza on Highway 28 at The Spotted Dog Brewery to try one of more than a dozen handcrafted beers. Continuing south through the fertile Mesilla Valley, the rural two-lane road passes fields of corn and cotton on its way through several small villages including San Miguel whose picturesque church and cemetery beckons to passing shutterbugs.

Stahmann Farms pecan trees © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further south, we slip beneath a verdant canopy of pecan trees that mark the world’s largest, family-owned pecan orchard, Stahmann Farms. Signs warn against the temptation to stop along the highway and pick up a few of the tasty nuggets from more than 180,000 trees that represent southern New Mexico’s largest crop.

Mesilla Valley cotton fields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further down the trail sits the community of La Mesa, home to a National Register of Historic Places property—Chope’s Café and Bar.  The rustic complex of three adobe buildings erected by the Benavides family, the oldest dating to circa 1880, is another must-see for any out-of-town guest. Here you can rub elbows with local Harley Davidson club riders and La Mesa farmers while watching sports on several big screen TVs and listening to country and rock classics on the digital jukebox.

Mesilla Valley red chili crop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A little further along El Camino Real are several stops on the Mesilla Valley Wine Trail in what is known as the oldest wine producing region in the United States: La Vina (the state’s oldest), Mesa Vista (one of the newest), and Sombra Antigua which operates amid the state’s oldest commercial vineyard. 

Rio Grande Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the return trip we make a stop at the Rio Grande Winery just a few miles south of Mesilla only to learn that it’s closed for tasting Monday through Thursday. What sets Rio Grande Vineyards & Winery apart from similar establishments in southern New Mexico is the incomparable view of the Organ Mountains. In their tasting Room, visitors may view a number of old photographs of their family, talk with the winemaker, or just relax and enjoy the grand view of the Majestic Organ Mountains and of course enjoy a Taste of New Mexico.

San Albino Cemetary along Scenic Byway 28 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the afternoon, I realize that like the Spanish explorer of more than 400 years ago, I may not have found the Cities of Gold, but I struck it rich in experiencing the history, wines, and culinary delights of the Southwest along a legendary trail that connects the centuries.

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe