Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Located in Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is one of the most scenic drives in the world

The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. There are 75 scenic overlooks that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side (right side if you are traveling south) of the road. These posts help you find your way through the park and help you locate areas of interest. The mileposts begin with 0.0 at Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the park. The speed limit is 35 mph. It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day. Clearance for Marys Rock Tunnel (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) is 12 feet 8 inches.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.

The Park has three districts, each with its own characteristics—North, Central, and South. Explore each district. Try new places and discover new wonders!

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Front Royal to Thornton Gap

Driving Distance: 31.5 miles

This most northerly section, winding through the park’s North District rises from the town of Front Royal. Climb to historic Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (MP 4.6), once a dining hall with a stellar view. After orienting, consider walking the Fox Hollow Interpretive Trail. Next, stop at Hogback Overlook (MP 20.8), the longest overlook in the park. Views stretch wide to match the overlook. Walk to Piney River Falls from Milepost 22.1.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overnight at Mathews Arm Campground (MP 22.2) and enjoy numerous hikes directly from your campsite. Grab some ice cream during the warm season from Elkwallow Wayside (MP 24) or enjoy your own meal at the adjacent picnic area. Don’t miss the view from Thornton Hollow Overlook (MP 27.6) before rolling into Thornton Gap.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap

Driving distance: 34 miles

The Central District from Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap is the land of superlatives—highest park elevation, highest point on Skyline Drive, most land mass, two lodges, two campgrounds, historic cabins, trails galore, and two visitor centers. Some would argue the best views, too. Start your view-fest from both road and trail by hiking to Mary’s Rock from Meadow Spring parking area (MP 33.5).  Mary’s Rock has 360-degree vistas from an outcrop and is a favorite lookout in the park. Pinnacles Overlook (MP 35.1) presents auto-accessible views and a nearby picnic area.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider an overnight at Skyland Lodge (MP 41.7) and combining it with a hike to Stony Man, highest spot on the Appalachian Trail in the park. Speaking of high points, it is a ritual to head to Hawksbill, the park’s highest peak, from milepost 46.7. At the peak you will find an embedded directional indicator, pointing out all the sights you will see from this lofty height.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next must-stop is Big Meadows (MP 51) where deer are often spotted. Big Meadows includes a lodge, campground, visitor center, dining, and picnicking facilities. Explore the displays here; this visitor center is a great place to stop and learn about the park. Big Meadows Campground is the park’s highest at 3,500 feet. Load up with goodies at the camp store or hit the lodge dining hall. Nearby waterfall walks include Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, and Lewis Spring Falls.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the site of the first presidential retreat from Milam Gap (MP 52.8), Rapidan Camp where Herbert Hoover trout fished and entertained world leaders. Agile teens and adults will have fun navigating the boulders of the Bearfence Mountain Rock Scramble (MP 56.4). Enjoy great views, too. Consider renting a cabin or pitching your tent at smallish Lewis Mountain Campground (MP 57.5). It offers a more serene experience than does Big Meadows Campground. Finally, visit 83-foot South River Falls from the South River Picnic Area (MP 62.8).

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swift Run Gap to Rockfish Gap

Driving Distance 40 miles

The South District holds claim to the longest and most quiet section of Skyline Drive. It is also long on wilderness and less on developed facilities. Known for its extensive rock formations, talus slopes, and outcrops, the South District reveals the most untamed side of the park highlighted by the trails of the Big Run area. Interestingly, despite being very rocky the area also has the park’s biggest stream in Big Run, plus other aquatic destinations such as Doyles River and Moormans River. The primary developed area is at Loft Mountain with a camp store and the largest campground in the park. Dundo Picnic Area and group camp is the only other developed facility in the South District.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overlooks are plentiful from this segment of Skyline Drive. Heading south from Swift Run Gap you can see the geologically revealing peaks from the Rocky Mount Overlook (MP 71.2) where boulder fields, known as talus slopes, are exposed. Another geological show is revealed at Rockytop Overlook (MP 78.1). At the Loft Mountain area (MP 79.5) you can obtain supplies, books, and souvenirs at the camp store. A side road takes you to Loft Mountain Campground that also offers showers. 

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy three major waterfalls on one loop hike from Browns Gap (MP 83.0)—two on Doyles River and one on Jones Run. Browns Gap is also a jumping off point for exploring the wilds of Big Run with cool clear pools for a summertime dip. The park narrows heading south, limiting opportunities. However, a short walk to Chimney Rock from Riprap parking area (MP 90.0) will put an exclamation point on your Skyline Drive experience. 

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson

Shenandoah National Park: Daughter of the Stars

Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park presents the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the heart of the Appalachian Trail

Stretching more than a hundred miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia, Shenandoah National Park offers a patchwork quilt of wilderness and pastoral landscapes underpinned by stories from more than 300 years of history. Located between the Shenandoah Valley in the west and the Piedmont region in the east, the park is an expanse of wooden hollows and breezy summits, waterfalls and mountain streams, more than 500 miles of hiking trails, and nearly 80,000 acres of designated wilderness.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” Natives used the area for hunting and shelter. Miners and loggers used it to harvest valuable resources. Soldiers used it as a fighting ground. Shenandoah is the name of a river, mountain, valley, county, and much more, so, the origin of the National Park name is unclear. Daughter of the Stars! That’s beautiful!

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five hundred miles of trails consisting of 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, lead visitors to waterfalls, panoramic views, protected wilderness, and preserved human history in the Shenandoah Valley. A park full of recreational opportunities for the entire family, Shenandoah is worth repeat visits.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Shenandoah so special? First, consider panoramic views from overlooks scattered on lofty Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles down the length of the 300-square-mile sanctuary. Additionally, beyond Skyline Drive lies another Shenandoah where bears roam the hollows and brook trout ply the tumbling streams. Trail side flowers color the woods. Quartz, granite, and greenstone outcrops jut above the diverse forest allowing far-flung views of the Blue Ridge and surrounding Shenandoah Valley. It is this beauty near and far that create the unforgettable Shenandoah experience.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Scenic Byway rides along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and through the heart of Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive draws over 1.2 million visitors every year and is famous for bursting into a landscape of rainbow-colored foliage every autumn.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive, as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurel.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are four entrances to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, located at:

  1. Front Royal, accessible via I-66 and U.S. 340
  2. Thornton Gap, accessible via U.S. 211
  3. Swift Run Gap, accessible via U.S. 33
  4. Rockfish Gap, accessible via I-64 and U.S. 250
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the 105-mile stretch which climbs to 3,680 feet above sea level, you’ll have the opportunity to pull off the road at 75 scenic overlooks and take part in an array of recreational activities—from hiking, horseback riding, and rock climbing.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stops along the way bring you to trailheads where you can explore the forests, waterfalls, rocky areas, and hopefully have a wildlife sighting. It’s a pretty amazing place in terms of wildlife—there are black bears, deer, woodpeckers, owls, raccoons, skunk, fox, coyotes and wild turkeys, just to name a few of the types of animals you might run into out there. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A climb to the top of Old Rag Mountain is Shenandoah’s most popular and most dangerous hike. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But those who are ready to take on the challenge will find themselves in the clouds. Be sure that you are physically able to complete this hike. The circuit hike is about 9 miles. There is a significant elevation change (2,415 feet) and a strenuous rock scramble that requires good upper body strength. Allow 7-8 hours and sometimes longer depending on how many people are out there—a line up to pass through scrambles is par for the course. The best time to enjoy Old Rag is during the week when there are significantly fewer people. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park has an entrance fee of $30, payable at one of the four major entrance stations. The fee is good for 7 consecutive days, even if you leave the park.

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

—Bill Bryson

Red Rock Scenic Byway: All-American Road

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls”

The fifteen-mile stretch of State Route 179 from Interstate 17 (Exit 298) is the primary route that millions of tourists use to visit Sedona, a premier world tourist destination. Visitors winding their way along this route are treated to one of the more incredible scenic drives in America. 

The Red Rock Scenic Byway is a tourist attraction onto itself. Many will claim that the natural beauty along this winding road is unparalleled anywhere else in the nation.

Forest Service Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Forest/Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center

Your first must-stop is the beautiful Forest Service Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center, located just south of the Village of Oak Creek on SR 179. Get maps and tons of Red Rock Country “fun things to do” information, as well as your Red Rock Pass for trailhead parking. Learn all the stories and history of this amazing area, like how the rocks and mesas were formed and named.

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Crossing on Oak Creek

As you leave the Visitors Center driveway, turn north (left) on SR 179 and you’ll see a major intersection with a stoplight. Turn west (left) onto Verde Valley School Road and drive 4.7 miles where the road dead-ends at the Red Rock Crossing parking lot. Do not park anywhere but the parking lot. This road travels through residential areas so be aware of the 30-35 mph speed limit; also, for the last 1.2 miles, the road is unpaved as well as curvy, hilly, and subject to flooding after excessive rains.

Oak Creek near Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the parking lot, it is a very short walk to the pathway that will lead you down to the unique red rock banks of Oak Creek. Don’t forget your camera, because you’re at one of the most photographed sites in the country as well as one of the most naturally beautiful settings in Sedona.

Cathedral Rock near Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If it’s a Saturday, chances are there’s a small wedding taking place at the north end of the crossing. Most days there will be artists painting or photographers setting up their shots or people just soaking up the inspiring view.

If the creek water’s low enough, step across the red rock stepping stones which is the crossing to Crescent Moon Ranch State Park situated on the other side.

Bell Rock Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock Vista and Pathway Southern Trailhead

Turn east (right) out of the Red Rock Crossing parking lot and take Verde Valley School Road 4.7 miles back to its stoplight intersection with SR 179, where you will turn north (left).

Bell Rock Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Proceed through the Village of Oak Creek and just past the next stoplight on your right hand side will be the entrance to the Bell Rock Vista and Pathway parking lot. Here’s where you’ll discover the size and power of the red rocks; this is a travelers up close experience with mystical Bell Rock and mammoth Courthouse Butte. Feel the red rock energy and enjoy the views.

There are many pathways to choose from all going to or near Bell Rock that can be done in a half hour or as long as you feel like walking.

Hiking along the Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little Horse Trail and Bell Rock Pathway Northern Trailhead

Turn north (or right) out of the parking lot onto SR 179; proceed straight and be on the lookout for signs that say “Little Horse Trail” and “Bell Rock Pathway”; entrance to this stop’s parking lot will come up fairly quickly, on your right.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover a little serenity among the glorious hiking and biking trails that meander to hidden washes and breathtaking red rock panoramas. Little Horse Trail is a local favorite, rated moderate, and 6.5 miles if you do the full round trip. Remember the rules of the trail, and have fun!

Also at this stop, view the “Three Nuns” with the renowned Chapel of the Holy Cross perched below.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Officially, the scenic road ends just beyond this point so after your hike, and before resuming your drive, take a moment to look west and gaze upon famous Cathedral Rock, a huge rock formation with multiple red rock spires. Whether it is silhouetted against a glowing sunset or shining in the midday sun, it is considered one of the most beautiful of all the red rock formations in the Sedona area, and surely a fitting way to end your day of Red Rock Splendor.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

The 8 Best Scenic Road Trips in America

With over 4 million miles of roads weaving their way throughout the US, there is no end of opportunities to explore

Few things having to do with travel will be unchanged in the post-coronavirus world but of all the ways we travel the road trip might be least affected—at least from a regulatory standpoint. No one will tell you to wear a mask or take your temperature, or demand blood work before you hit the road this summer.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Utah’s red rock country to Louisiana’s peaceful national wildlife preserves, these road trips deserve a spot on your bucket list. Whether you’re looking to experience a stunning mountain view, charming local towns, or rich American history, plan your next getaway with one of these scenic road trips.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Utah Road Trip: Scenic Byway 12

The road trip: One of the most beautiful stretches of road in the US, Scenic Byway 12 spans 124 miles in Utah’s red-rock country. The history and culture of the area blend together, making Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch, not far from Bryce Canyon National Park. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best South Dakota Road Trip: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

The road trip: Allow four hours to drive this 68-mile byway or one day to fully experience it. 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.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Highlights include Mount Rushmore, Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake, the Needle’s Eye, and Cathedral Spires rock formations.

Colonial Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Virginia Road Trip: Colonial Parkway

The road trip: 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 roadway stretches from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown.

Colonial Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: This All-American road connects Virginia’s historic triangle: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona Road Trip: Red Rock Scenic Byway

The road trip: The Red Rock Scenic Byway is your gateway to the world-famous Red Rock Country of Sedona. Take 20 minutes to drive this byway, but allow several days to include all activities along the byway.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Arguably the best way to experience the beauty of the Red Rock Country is to go into the wilderness and soak it in and that’s exactly what you’ll be doing by hiking any of over 80 trails interspersed throughout the area.

Smokian Resort on Soap Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Washington Road Trip: Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway

The road trip: Take a ride on the Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway, an amazing 150-mile road trip revealing the story of the Ice Age floods when vast reservoirs of water flooded and receded from this valley hundreds of times.

Smokian Resort on Soap Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Between three state parks, a national wildlife refuge, visits to the Grand Coulee Dam and Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, or Othello’s Sand Hill Crane festival (23rd annual, March 20-22, 2020), you’ll find something for the whole family.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best North Dakota Road Trip: Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit

The road trip: This 36-mile scenic road trip offers about two hours of breathtaking overlooks and trailheads. As you weave through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, keep your eyes open for wildlife, such as bison, deer, antelopes, and prairie dogs.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Walk through Ridgeline Nature Trail, go on a guided hike with a ranger, or spend the night at Cottonwood Campground.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Louisiana Road Trip: Creole Nature Trail

The road trip: The Creole Nature Trail, one of only 43 All-American Roads in the U.S., runs 180 miles through three National Wildlife Refuges.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: The main route is U-shaped with spur roads along the Gulf shoreline and angling into other reserves like Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge and the Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary. This is the Louisiana Outback.

Best Texas Road Trip: Gateway to Big Bend

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road trip: On this 80-mile drive from Marathon to Big Bend National Park, get comfortable and take in the dry, desert landscape of Texas. You’ll enjoy views of the Chisos Mountains, various species of cacti, and maybe even catch a glimpse of a coyote.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Big Bend National Park is the end destination, as well as the highlight of this scenic road trip with its mountains, canyons, wildlife, and more.

Worth Pondering…

There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.

—Jamie Francis

Creole Nature Trail: Bayous, Beaches & Birds

Experience the Louisiana Outback along the Creole Nature Trail

Water—seemingly everywhere—is a big part of the Creole Nature Trail experience. Part of America’s Byway’s system, this All-American Road is known for its distinct waters, pristine blue skies, and plenty of wildlife and bird watching.

A+ Motel & RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We used A+ Motel & RV Park on Highway 27 in Sulphur, Louisiana, as our home base while driving the Creole Nature Trail and exploring the area. Conveniently located on the trail, A+ Motel & RV Park earns its name with 134 full-hookup sites, neatly trimmed grounds with a stocked fishing pond, two laundry/shower houses, and two pools, including an adults-only pool with a covered patio and a 75-inch flat-screen TV. New in 2008, A+ is big rig friendly with pull-through and back-in sites and conveniently located 30/50-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections, and cable TV.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two exits onto the trail from I-10; one near our home base at Sulphur, and, to the east, near Lake Charles. While both towns boast the usual stores, fuel stations, and cultural attractions like museums, casino gaming, and restaurants serving Cajun cuisine, we quickly drove into wild Louisiana wetlands. This is the Louisiana Outback.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Creole Nature Trail, one of only 43 All-American Roads in the U.S., runs 180 miles through three National Wildlife Refuges. The main route is U-shaped with spur roads along the Gulf shoreline and angling into other reserves like Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge and the Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We head south, passing through small towns, then farms, and, just past Hackberry, the landscape becomes meandering waterways with islands of grass as far as the eye can see. The road courses along the west side of brackish Calcasieu Lake. At 8 miles wide and 18 miles long, the lake earns its “Big Lake” nickname. Along the roadway, brilliant orange, daisylike flowers flutter in the breeze.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop is Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, at 125,000 acres, the largest along the trail. We pull into an area marked “Recreation” where a dozen locals are fishing.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a hop down the road, we stop at the Blue Goose Trail and wildlife overlook, a paved 1-mile walking trail and raised wildlife viewing platform. Atop the tower, the breeze through the grasses and bird tweets, cheeps, and squawks are the only sounds.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Creole Nature Trail is filled with prairie grasslands and miles of freshwater, brackish, and saltwater wetlands rich in marsh grasses, crustaceans, and small fish, making it a key stopover for birds passing through the Central and Mississippi flyways. In fact, this area boasts more than 5 million migratory waterfowl and 400 species of birds, making it one of the top birding spots in the country.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While visitors will see birds and the occasional alligator along the road, the best way to explore the Creole Nature Trail is to hike refuge trails and walkways. We walked the Wetland Walkway, a raised, 1.5-mile-long boardwalk that wends through 6-foot-tall grasses to a two-story observation tower with a sweeping view.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sun, now fully emerged from the clouds, makes me glad I brought along my Tilley, a broad-brimmed hat. We spot roseate spoonbills, great white egrets, great blue herons, tricolored herons, white ibis, and red-winged blackbirds, and, while there are Alligator Alley warning signs, no gators.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another stop is Holly Beach, a community of beachfront homes leveled in 2005 by Hurricane Rita. Like a phoenix, the colorful stilted beach cabins have been rebuilt, and this “Cajun Riviera” is once again popular for sunbathing, swimming, and shelling.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center features exhibits about Sabine, Cameron Prairie, Lacassine, and Shell Keys National Wildlife Refuges, and their coastal habitats and inhabitants. Exhibits include a diorama theater with Cajun animatronic characters, a scale model of a water control structure for hands-on learning about marsh management, natural habitat dioramas, impressive alligator displays, an interactive computer, and a fiber-optic migration exhibit.

On your next adventure out, consider a scenic drive on the Creole Nature Trail; you never know what may be lurking ’round the next bend.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s not just a drive.

It’s an experience.

5 Utah Scenic Byways for Leaf Peeping

Explore the best scenic drives in Utah for fall foliage paired with unexpected adventure

The lure of fall foliage is no secret. Bursts of saturated yellow and fiery red demand your eye and call you to the open road. With forecasting apps and digital foliage maps, terms like peaking and peeping are common language among RVers with a craving for visual fall flavor.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But when it comes to Utah’s fall foliage, travelers pursue the leaf peeping road-less-traveled. Often overlooked for New England or the Smoky Mountains, Utah’s wide array of forests and state and national parks—each located at different elevations and receiving varying amounts of rainfall—make for a diverse foliage spectacle.

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s geography creates a multitude of peak viewing times throughout the state, so you can come early or late in the season and still spot breathtaking colors courtesy of the canyon maples, quaking aspens, scrub oaks, Douglas hawthorns, serviceberries, and more.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good gauge is to assume that the colors begin in the highest elevations in mid-September and wrap in mid-October across most of the state. The season beckons for weekend drives on Utah’s scenic byways and taking in views as you make your way to the trailhead. Find something pumpkin flavored, fill your apple cider canteen, button up your flannels, and hit the open road for some awe inspiring leaf peeping.

Pair with the World’s Heaviest Organism: Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) and Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway (SR-153)

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These two scenic byways bookend Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis that features three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approaching from the east on Fish Lake Scenic Byway, you’ll pass the forest’s prize jewel, Fish Lake, which is known for its recreational bliss and yellow-blazen aspen forests. Seize the opportunity for a scenic drive in Utah to see the leaves change on an aspen clone known as Pando, which is believed to be the heaviest organism ever found at nearly 13 million pounds. Pando is located about 1 mile southwest of Fish Lake on State Route 25. If you want to pair your drive with mountain biking, hiking, camping, or fishing for eager-to-bite mackinaw and rainbow trout, make sure to add this spot your autumn itineraries bucket list.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the western side of the forest, the Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway climbs from the town of Beaver to a high point at Eagle Point Ski Resort. If you’re feeling adventurous and your clearance allows, continue the route on the unpaved Kimberly/Big John Scenic Backway over volcanic remnants that are now the 12,000-foot Tushar Mountains and down into the Sevier River Valley corridor.

Pair with a Miraculously Resilient Landscape: Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway (SR-143), Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway (SR-14), and Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway (SR-148)

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This high-elevation and densely forested area of Southern Utah offers a particularly unique leaf peeping experience this fall. During June and July, a fire consumed 70,000 acres near the area of Brian Head, though the town and resort were fortunately saved. In many ways, the patches of charred backdrop make the contrast of the multitude of spared trees even more dramatic.

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yes, you will see fire damage along Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway, but you will also see maples and aspens, golden and fiery red along your journey up to a 10,000-foot plateau. Remarkably, this area connects three scenic byways and features the outstanding Cedar Breaks National Monument—the topmost rise of the geological Grand Staircase.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Southern Utah’s Fall Color Loop, begin your loop in Parowan at the start of Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway (S.R. 143), weaving through a patchwork of historic towns, geological formations, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities. The pink cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau glitter in the distance as an ancient lava field sprinkled with aspen trees line the road.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue as long as you like, but at some point turn (or make your way back to) the junction of S.R. 143 and S.R. 148, which becomes the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway as you head south. Along this journey you will encounter the large, natural amphitheater of Cedar Breaks, which creates a supreme backdrop for fall leaves. To finish the loop, turn west back towards Cedar City at the junction of S.R. 14. You’re now on your third scenic byway: the Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

Scenic Byway 12: An All American Road

Located in southwestern Utah, Scenic Byway 12 is nestled between two national parks—Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon

A 121-mile-long All-American Road, Scenic Byway 12 winds and climbs and twists and turns and descends as it snakes its way through memorable landscapes, ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests, and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history and culture of the area blend together, making Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly after entering the southwestern terminus at Highway 89, the scenic byway passes through U.S. Forest Service’s Red Canyon and two short tunnels in bright red rock masses.

Established in 1924, Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its towering eroding-sandstone pillars called hoodoos. The breathtaking three-mile-wide amphitheater is especially colorful at sunrise and sunset from Bryce and Inspiration points.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other major attractions include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Hell’s Backbone, Hole-in-the-Rock, Cottonwood Canyon, Burr Trail, Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area, and The Hogsback, a narrow ridge barely wider than the two-lane roadway with cliffs falling away on either side.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, there are nine communities along Scenic Byway 12, each with a character all its own. Settled by Mormon families who established homes and ranches in the area, the towns proudly display their unique heritage and invite you to visit.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Settled in 1889, Boulder was America’s last town to receive mail by mule (until 1972). The town’s main attraction, the Anasazi State Park Museum, encompasses the ancient ruins of the Coombs archaelogical site. Excavated in 1959, the site’s ruins and exhibits provide an interesting  look into how the Anasazi or ancient ones lived almost a thousand years ago.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 20 miles south of Boulder, the Hole-in-the-Rock Scenic Byway dirt road cuts south into the Escalante Canyons where you’ll find dozens of arches, ancient Native Indian rock art, and the mind-boggling rock formations of Devils Garden.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante is often called the “Heart of Scenic Byway 12” as it is nestled between the elevated meadows of the Aquarius and Kaiparowits Plateaus and the low desert country surrounding the Escalante Canyons in the middle of the byway.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About two miles northwest of town is Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. A series of short hiking trails leads to groupings of petrified logs, thousand-year-old petroglyphs, and dinosaur bones dating from the Jurassic period. In the center of the park, the Wide Hollow Reservoir offers great canoeing and bass fishing. Camping is available.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thirty miles west of Escalante, you’ll come to the small town of Cannonville and the Highway 400 turnoff to Kodachrome Basin State Park. The changing warm light on the park’s towering sandstone chimneys prompted the National Geographic Society to name the park Kodachrome in 1949.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other?

The way that nature strings together the best that the Southwest has to offer in high density of scenery, iconic national parks, state parks, museums, and scenic backways.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mile for mile, few of America’s national scenic byways can compete with the diverse scenery and number of natural attractions along Scenic Byway 12. Recognized as one of the most beautiful drives in America, the byway showcases some of Utah’s uniquely scenic landscape.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When lighted by the morning sun the gorgeous chasm is an immense bowl of lace and filigree work in stone, colored with the white of frost and the pinks of glowing embers. To those who have not forgotten the story books of childhood it suggests a playground for fairies. In another aspect it seems a smoldering inferno where goblins and demons might dwell among flames and embers.

The Union Pacific System, 1929

A Byway Is Calling

America’s byways are gateways to adventures where no two experiences are the same

America’s byways provide unparalleled opportunities to experience the cultural, historical, ecological, recreational, or scenic qualities of the area.

There are several designations used to honor these routes. The most common type of designation is the National Scenic Byway, though there are also state scenic byways.

If a particular scenic byway is especially outstanding, it may also be recognized with the additional title of “All-American Road.”

Find the routes of your choice and get ready to hit the open road.

Arizona: Red Rock Scenic Byway

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All-American Road

Length: 7.5 miles

Take 20 minutes to drive, but allow several hours to include all activities along the byway.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All-American Road Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls.” Travelers are amazed by the high desert’s power, diversity, and sense of intimacy with nature. Inhabited for thousands of years, the stunning red rocks are alive with a timeless spirit that captivates and inspires.

Ohio: Amish Country Byway

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

National Scenic Byway

Length: 76.2 miles

Allow 1-2 days to enjoy the byway, or 3-4 hours to drive it.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Discover the cultural and historic treasures of the Amish and northern Appalachian people as you wend through 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.

South Dakota: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

National Scenic Byway

Length: 68 miles

Allow four hours to drive the byway or one day to experience the entire byway.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Virginia: Colonial Parkway

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All-American Road

Length: 23 miles

One hour to drive the byway.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

South Carolina: Edisto Island National Scenic Byway

Edisto Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

National Scenic Byway

Length: 16 miles

Drive the Edisto Island Scenic Byway and enjoy the peaceful barrier Edisto Island provides from the hectic 21st Century world of today. The route traverses salt marsh, creeks, maritime forests, farm fields, and historic churches from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean. Stop at a roadside stand and buy a handmade sweetgrass basket, fill it with fresh local produce at a roadside market and fresh seafood dockside.

Edisto Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Go for a picnic on the beach, keeping an eye out for dolphin and horseshoe crabs. Go shelling. But most of all, take your time and breathe deep: this “Edis-slow ramble” is a visual delight, with much that will soothe the spirit and awaken the senses.

North Carolina and Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

All-American Road

Length: 469 miles

Four days to enjoy the byway

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Parkway provides spectacular mountain and valley vistas, quiet pastoral scenes, sparkling waterfalls, and colorful flower and foliage displays as it extends through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.

Worth Pondering…

There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.

—Jamie Francis