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
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
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.