I love going for a drive. Getting on the road, with very little structure to the trip, will make for an exciting journey. It makes it a very simple thing to investigate any object or place that catches your eye. Fortunately, the United States is full of beautiful, scenic drives. They meander through some of the world’s most amazing scenery. Fortunately, too, the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration has created an excellent program for travelers who want to experience what the country has to offer in terms of scenic drives. It is called the National Scenic Byways Program.
The NSBP helps to recognize and preserve special routes throughout the United States. It is a collection of 151 roads, according to National Scenic Byways Online. One of the great services of the NSBP is a free brochure complete with maps and photos. I enjoy reading mine and dreaming up new trips to take. You may request one from the website, www.byways.org.
Although all of the byways described in the brochure are excellent for one reason or another, here are my picks for some truly great drives. Each of these ten byways is a road that I have been down before and can heartily recommend. Consider one of these scenic drives for your next road adventure.
1. Glenn Highway
This highway runs from Anchorage to Glennallen. It is an amazingly beautiful drive as you leave Anchorage. The road goes past imposing mountains and rugged glaciers. Various informational boards are posted along the route describing the geology and history of the area. Very few services are available along the highway, so planning is necessary. I would recommend packing food and having a full tank of gas before starting out. Seeing this byway would probably be best as part of a drive to Valdez. However, lodging can be found in the bigger towns, such as Palmer. Winter travel can be hazardous, with temperatures reaching well below zero. Therefore, it’s advisable that those not used to driving in such conditions travel during the summer, when more services are open.
2. Seward Highway
The Seward highway runs between Anchorage and the town of Seward. This highway is more traveled than the Glenn. The sights are just as majestic, though. Magnificent mountains, lakes, and fjords abound. A special treat is seeing beluga whales. For skiers, the town of Girdwood is on the highway, home to a ski resort. A lot of lodging and dining options are available in the nearby area. Seward is also a great town, with a lot to offer. Although more services are available along this highway, I would still recommend having a full tank of gas before starting out, as well as some food and water. It is a matter of wisdom while traveling in Alaska.
3. Historic Columbia River Highway
The Columbia River is an amazing route to follow for a byway. It is beautiful and provides some great scenery. Historically, the river was part of Lewis and Clark’s journey west, as well as the last portion of the Oregon Trail for many. For the modern driver, it travels between The Dalles and Troutdale. Multnomah Falls is an excellent place to stop and hike, enjoying the views. Either endpoint offers various lodging options, and food can be found along the way. Hood River also hosts quite a few tourist stops.
4. Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
This is perhaps one of my most favorite roads to travel. I spent much of my childhood in the Hells Canyon area, fishing, camping, and hiking. The grand rocks that make up the canyon are built of golden browns and deep reds that are simply amazing. But this particular drive offers so much more. It goes through the town of Joseph, located near Wallowa Lake. The lake is set within Alp-like mountain peaks. In the winter, the lake freezes and it is gorgeous. However, the summer will find you with a lot more activities available. In addition, portions of this scenic byway may be closed during the winter. All around the lake and within Joseph are numerous bed and breakfasts, hotels, and cabins for rent. All of the food I have had there is great. Travel further, and the byway ends in La Grande, which contains a few motels and hotels. I recommend Ten Depot, located at 10 Depot Street for an excellent dinner and occasional live music.
5. Mt. Hood Scenic Byway
Mt. Hood is quite majestic. It is home to some excellent skiing. But it is also the home to a wonderful drive between Troutdale and Hood River. In the summer, you may pass produce stands with delicious farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. Exercise caution if traveling during the winter to hit the slopes, but be assured that you will find lodging and food on the mountain.
6. Pacific Coast Scenic Byway
This route follows the entire coastline of Oregon, from Astoria to Brookings. It is absolutely amazing. One thing that I love about the Oregon coast is the access to the beach. It’s possible at numerous places to clamber over driftwood to the ocean and play along the shore. I always enjoyed visiting in the winter, when fewer tourists are filling the sand with footprints. Unfortunately, this can increase the chance of rainy days, but usually there will still be a nice sunny one. Explore various antique shops on any bad weather day. However, my favorite part of traveling this scenic route is enjoying the food. I adore seafood. The clam chowder at Mo’s is absolutely the best. You will find one of these restaurants in Newport, Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, Otter Point, or Florence.
7. Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway
What a beautifully scenic drive between Roseburg and Gold Hill. It encompasses a varied landscape, from coniferous forests to white river rapids and oak trees. There are quite a few cascading waterfalls to experience. The byway passes by some amazing fishing spots, so definitely give it a try if that is the sort of activity you enjoy. Crater Lake is a unique sight that is only a short distance away. Roseburg will have plenty of lodging and dining options available for the weary traveler.
8. Northwest Passage Scenic Byway
This route runs between Lolo Pass and Lewiston. It is very beautiful in the summer, when rivers gleam and plants are growing wonderfully. I enjoy the fields that pass by. This byway was also part of Lewis and Clark’s expedition and so has much historical value. Enjoy Nez Perce history at the Nez Perce National Historical Park Museum in Spalding.
9. Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
I love South Dakota. It has the most fantastic thunderstorms I have ever seen. I remember seeing the sky turn strange shades of green while thunder and lightening explode. This byway passes through some amazing country, over bridges and through rock tunnels. However, the greatest highlight to me is Mt. Rushmore. What a magnificent example of engineering and artistry. Start in Custer to follow the circular route.
10. Kancamagus Scenic Byway
This byway travels between Lincoln and Conway. It is a very scenic drive through the White Mountains and passes by beautiful river scenes. Stop and explore. I went through in late May, which was incredibly gorgeous. However, this byway is really known for its fall foliage. It is a lot of beauty packed into a short drive, so lodging and dining probably won’t be necessary.
Details taken from the NSBP website.