Life is a Byway: The Roads Less Traveled

Experience the cultural, historical, recreational, and scenic qualities of these roads less traveled

These routes are perfect for spontaneous Sunday drives or pit stops along a greater cross-country journey.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, National Forest Byways, and Back Country Byways. Another type of scenic byway is a National Parkway, which is a type of protected roadway within federal park lands that is managed by the National Park Service for recreational use.

Sometimes a road can have multiple honorary designations. If a particular parkway or scenic byway is especially outstanding, it may sometimes be bestowed with the additional title of “All-American Road.”

Not sure where to start planning your next road trip? We’ve listed a few of our favorites below.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sky Island Scenic Byway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 27.2 miles

Plan for three to six hours to drive, including backtracking.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your journey among giant saguaro cacti of the Sonoran desert and climb to shady conifer forests at nearly 9,000 feet, passing biological diversity equivalent to a drive from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles. Enjoy spectacular views and recreational opportunities from hiking and camping to picnicking and skiing.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

All-American Road

Length: 124 miles

Allow three hours to drive or three days to experience the byway.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional 124 mile route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. You’ll encounter archaeological, cultural, historical, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities while driving this exhilarating byway.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Tennessee: Cherohala Skyway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 44 miles

Two hours to drive the byway

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. It is a 2-laned road with wide shoulders and 15 scenic overlooks.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

All-American Road

Length: 180 miles

Depending on route, allow four or five hours to drive or two days to visit the byway.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail meanders through marshes, prairies, and along the Gulf of Mexico. As you loop through Calcasieu and Cameron parishes in Southwest Louisiana, view alligators and birds up close and in the wild, along with colorful wildflowers and rare cheniers shaped by salty winds

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

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 40 miles

Three hours to enjoy the byway

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

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado and Utah: Trail of the Ancients

National Scenic Byway

Length: 480 miles

Nine hours to drive (including backtracking) or six days to enjoy the byway

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the long and intriguing occupation of the Four Corners region by Native American peoples. Travel through the archaeological heartland of America while crossing the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. World-renowned Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley Tribal Park, and Four Corners Monument are highlights on the trail.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jamie Francis

On the Road to Mount Lemmon

Approximately an hour drive from Tucson’s city center, Mount Lemmon is a favorite day trip and camping spot

Climbing more than 6,000 feet, the Sky Island Scenic Byway begins with forests of saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert and ends in a cool, coniferous forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

On the road to Mount leaving Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prepare yourself for breathtaking views and a climate change that would be similar to driving from Southern Arizona to Canada in a mere 27 miles. Each thousand feet up is like driving 600 miles north offering a unique opportunity to experience four seasons in one trip.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Often referred to as Mount Lemmon Highway or General Hitchcock Highway, Sky Island Scenic Byway drive begins at the northeastern edge of Tucson.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the road climbs among the giant saguaro cactus and brittlebush, enjoy hairpin curves as you arrive at the Babad Do’ag Viewpoint which overlooks the desert cacti studded Tucson Valley and the Rincon Mountains. There are interpretive signs at the lookout and if you’re up for a longer hike—try the moderate 5-mile round trip Babad Do’ag Trail. Incredible desert vistas of saguaro, wildflowers, and mountains await.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing up the road, you’ll enter Molino Canyon. The road hugs the canyon’s cliff until the Molino Canyon Overlook. The overlook offers a short hike to a creek and series of waterfalls. Towards the center of the canyon is the Molino Basin, home to a campground and trailheads for a variety of hikes. Hiking here is especially fascinating due to the transition from desert to a forest dominated by cottonwood, oak, sycamore, and willow trees.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each turn of the road reveals a new perspective. Entering Bear Canyon, the forest transforms once again into a lush, cool environment with cypress, juniper, pine, sycamore, and walnut trees. Granite pinnacles soar into the sky, and with rocky outcroppings and stony hoodoos, some of Arizona’s best rock climbing is found here.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next stop, Windy Point offers the most amazing views along the entire scenic drive. Wind-sculpted rock formations, views of the Huachuca, Patagonia, and Santa Rita Mountains, and the Tucson Basin await at 6,400 feet elevation.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geology Point Vista, offers another spectacular viewpoint. Sweeping panoramas and precariously perched rocks create a surreal and photogenic landscape.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, you climb through forests of ponderosa pine, fir, and spruce. Rose Canyon Lake is stocked with trout and surrounded by absolute beauty; this seven-acre lake is a perfect stop for fishing, picnics, and camping in the Rose Canyon Campground.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly afterwards, you arrive at the San Pedro Vista which overlooks the San Pedro River Valley. From this stop, enjoy the 4-mile hike around Green Mountain to the General Hitchcock Campground.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly after the viewpoint is the Palisade Visitor Center. Self-guided displays inform about the Coronado National Forest and it’s a great location to get more information about hikes. Two of the most popular are the Butterfly Trail and Crystal Springs Trail with trailheads one mile from the center. Both trails are long, but you need not do the entire trail to enjoy the shaded, dense forests. Butterfly Trail features such a diverse biology, it has been designated a Research Natural Area. If you are up for a challenge, the medium-to-difficult Crystal Springs Trail will bring you to Mount Lemmon’s summit.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the sky up close at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter. There are daytime and after-dark programs using their 32-inch Schulman Telescope. Reservations are required. The SkyCenter is at an elevation of 9,157 feet.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic drive officially ends in a small town mostly filled with summer chalets, appropriately named Summerhaven. A great retreat for people to escape the summer desert heat.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While here, consider a few short side trips. For spectacular views in every season, Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, the southernmost ski area in the country, can be reached via East Ski Run Road. The ski hill offers an opportunity to ride the ski lift for breathtaking vistas at 9,100 feet. Continue a few miles further and turn onto Summit Road. At the road end is the actual summit of Mount Lemmon, an amazing way to end this scenic drive.

The Forest Service has done a great job with the road and attractions along the route including campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads, pullouts, vista points, and interpretive overlooks.

Worth Pondering…

Stay close to nature, it will never fail you.

—Frank Lloyd Wright