BY JIM WINNERMAN FOR L MAGAZINE
Before long (hopefully), we’ll start to feel comfortable taking planned road trips that have once again been delayed by the pandemic. When the urge to explore becomes sure, the lyrics to Willie Nelson’s song “On the Road Again” will mean more than ever. We will “go places (we) have never been and see things (we) may never see again”.
While your plans may be to travel to a specific destination, a road trip doesn’t have to be all about getting to one place as quickly as possible. Across America, there are National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads, ready to take you on memorable off-highway adventures while driving to your primary destination.
Both route designations comprise a collection of 150 diverse tracks identified by the US Secretary of Transportation as possessing intrinsic qualities that make each route uniquely worthy of a driving experience.
A National Scenic Byway designation recognizes routes with one (or more) of six attributes contributing to a unique travel experience. They must be scenic (natural and man-made), natural (undisturbed beauty), historic, recreational, archaeological, or culturally significant.
People also read…
All-American routes meet the same criteria, but must additionally exhibit multiple qualities of national significance. Also, all-American routes should be considered worthy stand-alone destinations.
“These roads are truly unique,” said Doug Hecox, spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration. “These are special itineraries that offer unparalleled ways to enjoy different sides of America. Unfortunately, too few people know they exist.
Hecox adds that this spring, 49 new lanes will be added to the program, expanding opportunities for off-grid travel as the pandemic wanes.
In the meantime, to get your “personal mental engine” started thinking about the possibilities, here’s a sampling of the existing 150 federally recognized routes to whet your appetite for adventure when you get back on the road.
This winding road winds along the rugged Maine coast before circling Acadia National Park. A notable stop includes Bar Harbor, a summer retreat for wealthy families such as the Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt clans.
Most visitors also stop at a narrow granite cavern known as Thunder Hole. As high tidal waves push seawater into a narrow crevasse, the water is catapulted 40 feet into the air, accompanied by a sound resembling a thunderclap.
At 1,532 feet from Cadillac Mountain, motivated morning climbers climb to the top to be the first to see the sun rise over the United States.
Beartooth Scenic Drive
Montana and Wyoming – 68 miles
Bearthooth is considered one of the most scenic drives in the United States. Travelers on this route can explore pristine alpine and mountainous landscapes and lush forests, all within a few miles.
It is one of the highest and most rugged regions in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation and glaciers visible on the northern flank of nearly every mountain peak. The road itself is the highest highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet) and Montana (10,350 feet) and leads to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
Creole nature trail
Often referred to as “the Louisiana Outback”, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey through one of America’s “last great deserts”. Alligators, over 400 species of birds, marshes teeming with life, 26 miles of natural Gulf of Mexico beaches, fishing, crabbing, Cajun culture and more await to be discovered along this road through the Louisiana swamps.
Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Road
Colorado and Utah – 512 miles
If you have kids 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 discovered. Top attractions include active quarries where you can watch paleontologists search for fossils embedded in stone, backcountry sites where you can see fossils and dinosaur footprints, and museums that feature fossils, replicas and information about dinosaurs.
Nearby “side trips” include Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway
Colorado and New Mexico – 565 miles
The Santa Fe Trail was one of America’s earliest trade routes. Operating between 1821 and 1880, it was essential to westward expansion, and remnants can still be seen along the route. The route partially follows the highway and passes Fort Union National Monument, where 170-year-old wagon ruts are still visible. Other points of interest include way stops, trading posts (Brent’s Old Fort), pictographs, and the longest dinosaur trail in North America.
The main river route
Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin – 3,000 miles
This road winds through 10 states as it winds vertically through the center of the nation. It follows the entire course of the iconic Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota at Lake Itasca to its entrance into the Gulf of Mexico.
Along the route there are thousands of places to visit and over 70 official interpretive centers such as museums and historic sites, as well as charming little river towns and unique family restaurants. There’s plenty of nature too, with options for camping, hiking and kayaking in parks along the way.
Volcanic Heritage Scenic Route
California and Oregon – 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, which is one of America’s first national parks, is also on the route. The violent eruption of Mt. Mazama volcano 7,700 years ago was 42 times more powerful than 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 road, a 33-mile drive around the edge of the lake offers spectacular views.
The scenic route also passes through many mountain communities as it passes through spectacular volcanic landscapes.
Washington Heritage Trail
West Virginia – 136 miles
Rich in historic attractions, this trip passes through 21 National Register Historic Districts and 126 National Register Historic Sites. The trail forms a loop through the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and traces the traces of George Washington’s life in the area.
For more information on the 150 National Scenic Byways and All American Roads, visit: