The National Scenic Byways Program

They’re from the government, and they’re here to help you have a great ride

Here’s a common question among motorcyclists: Where shall we go riding? As a group, we’re always on the prowl for new roads, and at times it can be tough to come up with new ideas for scenic riding destinations. Well believe it or not, we riders have some friends from the government and they’re here to help. In fact, over many years they’ve assembled a mighty impressive list of great roads all across the USA that will take even the most devoted of touring riders quite some time to check every one off the “to do” list. And every road included on this list is guaranteed to be a most worthwhile route.

San Juan Skyway, CO. Photo: ©2004 Robert Reinhard

San Juan Skyway, CO. Photo: ©2004 Robert Reinhard

Trout Lake, San Juan Skyway, CO.

Trout Lake, San Juan Skyway, CO.

San Juan Mountains, San Juan Skyway, CO. Photo: Sally Pearce

San Juan Mountains, San Juan Skyway, CO. Photo: Sally Pearce

Called the National Scenic Byways Program, this listing of roads was first established in 1991 by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. The program is a grass-roots collaborative effort established to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States—the most memorable rides this country has to offer. Since 1992, the National Scenic Byways Program has funded 3,049 projects for state and nationally designated byway routes in 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway, CA. Photo: ©2010 Daniel Peckham

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway, CA. Photo: ©2010 Daniel Peckham

Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway, CA. Photo: Kevin Wing

Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway, CA. Photo: Kevin Wing

Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway, CA. Photo: Kevin Wing

Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway, CA. Photo: Kevin Wing

America’s Byways is the umbrella term used when referring to the entire collection of 150 distinct and diverse scenic roads included under the headings of National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads. The definition of “scenic” reaches beyond breathtaking vistas; designations are based on one or more archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities.

Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway, CA. Photo: ©2005 Jill Foster

Route 1 – Big Sur Coast Highway, CA. Photo: ©2005 Jill Foster

Beartooth Highway, WY. Photo: Phil Armitage

Beartooth Highway, WY. Photo: Phil Armitage

Clark’s Fork Valley, Beartooth Highway, WY. Photo: Talbot Hauffe, Wyoming Department of Transportation

Clark’s Fork Valley, Beartooth Highway, WY. Photo: Talbot Hauffe, Wyoming Department of Transportation

All of America’s Byways are “scenic,” representing the depth and breadth of scenery in America—natural and man-made panoramas; electrifying neon landscapes; ancient and modern history coming alive; native arts and culture; and scenes of friends, families and strangers sharing their stories. However, the cream of the crop have earned the designation as All-American Roads, as these 31 roads offer two or more of the above stated “scenic” qualities.

Beartooth Lake at Beartooth Butte, Beartooth Highway, WY. Photo: ©1997 Rick Dunn

Beartooth Lake at Beartooth Butte, Beartooth Highway, WY. Photo: ©1997 Rick Dunn

Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway, VA. Photo: 2006 Bob Ward

Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway, VA. Photo: 2006 Bob Ward

Mount Mitchell State Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC. Photo: ©2010 Kolin Toney

Mount Mitchell State Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC. Photo: ©2010 Kolin Toney

All of these roads have been assembled as part of a voluntary, grassroots program. Joining this unique collection involves much more than simply taking a few photos and filling out the online application. It can take months to prepare a Byway and its organization for this identification process. What that means to us riders is that we can rest assured that officially designated Byways will offer a truly exceptional experience.

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC. Photo: Kevin Wing

Blue Ridge Parkway, NC. Photo: Kevin Wing

Bryce Canyon Hoodoos, Scenic Byway 12, UT. Photo: ©2004 Utah Travel Council

Bryce Canyon Hoodoos, Scenic Byway 12, UT. Photo: ©2004 Utah Travel Council

Red Canyon, Scenic Byway 12, UT. Photo: Jessica Dungan

Red Canyon, Scenic Byway 12, UT. Photo: Jessica Dungan

In fact, when going over this list it wasn’t much of a surprise to find many of our favorite roads that we’ve ridden over the years. Stellar examples include: the San Juan Skyway in Colorado; Big Sur Coast Highway/Route 1 in California; the Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming; the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina; Utah’s Highway 12 through Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks; and the 445 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Escalante, Scenic Byway 12, UT. Photo: ©2004 Todd Hess

Escalante, Scenic Byway 12, UT. Photo: ©2004 Todd Hess

Mississippi State Capitol building, Natchez Trace Parkway, MS. Photo: ©2007 Neil Li

Mississippi State Capitol building, Natchez Trace Parkway, MS. Photo: ©2007 Neil Li

Double Arch Bridge, Natchez Trace Parkway, TN. Photo: Brian Crow

Double Arch Bridge, Natchez Trace Parkway, TN. Photo: Brian Crow

Of course, these six roads mentioned above hardly scratch the surface of the 150 total in the Byways collection. For more information about the National Scenic Byways Program and America’s Byways, go to http://byways.org and shop around for some scenic roads that you might enjoy. Start a checklist, and keep on going until you’ve crossed off all 150. Then do it again!

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