Along the Road Less Traveled

Forget making time. Instead pick a byway and make memories exploring America’s storied history and astounding beauty.

Interstate highways can get you from Point A to Point B—quickly. But byways are a way to get an up-close look at America’s history and scenic natural beauty. Some routes are designated National Scenic Byways because of their viewing, historic, recreational, cultural, or archaeological interest. Others are dubbed All-American Roads, with qualities that make them unique. There are over 150 of both such roadways in the U.S., as well as parkways and scenic drives. Whatever the road is called, it’s a great time to pack up your Volkswagen, hit the road, and explore these four less-traveled vistas.

Red Rock All-American Road, Arizona
SR 179 between Interstate 17 and Sedona
7.5 Miles

You could drive right through this little gem in under 20 minutes, but why on earth would you do that? This is the gateway to Red Rock Country, full of ancient layered stone plateaus, carved millions of years ago by water redirected from the uplift that gave us the Grand Canyon. Iron creates the landscape’s red hue, a color that contrasts vividly against the blue desert sky.

So few miles, so much to do, including biking, all levels of hiking, golfing, and even dining and shopping in the little Village of Oak Creek. On the byway’s southern end, stop by the Coconino National Forest Red Rock Ranger Visitors Center. There you can learn more about the amazingness around you, pick up any required park passes and choose your options. Consider adding to your list a stop at Bell Rock, about three miles north. Trails of all types and difficulty levels surround the iconic dome shape formation.

Florida Keys Scenic Highway, Florida
Hwy 1 from Key Largo to Key West
110 Miles

Island-hop by car on this engineering wonder, the historic Overseas Highway, connecting 43 of Florida’s world-famous keys — Key Largo, just off the southern coast, to Key West, at the crescent-shaped archipelago’s southwest tip. With 42 bridges, including a span of bridge nearly seven miles long, you drive over turquoise and emerald waters nearly as often as land: the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The route offers up paradise classics, including palm trees, coral reefs, dolphins, bucket-list sunsets and lots more.

Stops on the route include the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum (plus its resident six-toed cats) in Key West, and countless restaurants serving up island cuisine and ambiance. But the spectacular parks, refuges and sanctuaries can make choosing difficult. For example, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is the nation’s first underwater park, which you can explore by snorkel or glass-bottom-boat tour. And the National Key Deer Refuge in Big Pine Key protects an endangered white-tailed deer subspecies found nowhere else in the world, averaging just three feet tall.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
From Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Virginia Border
252 Miles

This byway is a true classic, rolling along the backbone of a great American mountain range. It’s an undulating journey past small towns and working farms; through flowery valley meadows and noble, gentle peaks carpeted in trees. Those abundant trees give off a lingering vapor that appears hazy-blue from afar, the inspiration for this range’s name. North Carolina’s section of the byway runs through 17 counties and 25 tunnels, accessing enough trails, cultural destinations, historic sites and natural wonders to keep travelers busy for days.

Two solid options: Folk Art Center, six miles east of Asheville at milepost 382, is a popular stop, offering traditional and contemporary Southern Appalachian crafts, as well as demonstrations, March through December. And don’t just marvel at the engineering feat that is the Linn Cove Viaduct. The S-shape section of parkway is seemingly suspended for 1,234 feet along the face of Grandfather Mountain at milepost 304. You can walk the trails to admire it up close, too.

Pacific Coast Highway, Oregon
US 101 from California to Washington
363 Miles

“California” might be the first state you think of when you hear “Pacific Coast Highway,” but make no mistake: Oregon’s rocky, winding section of the storied road is a top-notch destination drive. You’ll find beaches, boardwalks and barking sea lions, plus forests, farmland, and lots of less quintessential coastal draws, all while hugging that rolling, crashing vision of an ocean.

In the southern section at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area you can hike, take a dune buggy tour, or otherwise explore some of the 40 miles of ancient dust eroded from the nearby Coast Range Mountains as it rolls, shifts and tapers off into the Pacific. In the northern section, enjoy a self-guided tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where milk from a 100-year old dairy cooperative becomes the delicious end product. Sample it at the on-site ice cream or fudge counter, or at the Creamery Cafe, where everything’s coming up cheddar.

A symbol of the open road
When the Volkswagen Bus made its first appearance on U.S. shores in the 1950s, it was less about freedom and more about utilitarianism. But the 1960s changed all that: The Bus, also known as Type 2, became a symbol of the open road, a pathway to freedom via the roads less traveled.

That VW Bus romance is one that Americans can’t seem to shake. Maybe you don’t want to buy your own Bus, but if you feel the tug of the blue highways, you can still rent one and road trip to your heart’s content.