North Carolina and the National Scenic Byways

November 21, 2013

Triangle Land Conservancy

We all have vivid memories of drives we have taken. Family trips, cross-country excursions, or just local exploring reveal natural places we could never have imagined. North Carolina was featured in a USA Today destination article on scenic drives to explore whenever the adventuresome spirit strikes:

“In a state where the Blue Ridge Parkway showcases the southern Appalachians and the Outer Banks' NC 12 wedges between sweeping dunes and the Atlantic, a lesser-known scenic drive features the more subtle charms of North Carolina's Piedmont interior. From Rougemont north of Durham head east on Red Mountain Road into a rolling countryside of white-fenced horse pastures and forest where traditional fox hunts still occur. Continue on the two-lane road into stately Oxford, where the central business district and surrounding residences are on the National Register of Historic Places.

•Recommended by Joe Miller, outdoor adventure writer and author of the blog” – USA Today

But what does it take to become a nationally recognized scenic byway?

Scenic America has the answer: “To be designated a National Scenic Byway, a road must possess characteristics within at least one of the intrinsic qualities.” Intrinsic qualities include scenic, archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, and recreational characteristics.  Not only that, each scenic byway must be designated by its state first in order to be considered for National Scenic Byway status.

North Carolina features spectacular scenery, both on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the scenic drive described above in the Piedmont interior. Scenic byways not only provide access to these scenic and historic venues, they also provide a boost to the local economy. According to Scenic America, “Visitors spent $1.8 billion in counties adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway, according to a 1995-96 study. These expenditures resulted in over $147 million in tax revenues and supported more than 74,614 jobs in the region.” The smaller, perhaps undesignated byways also bring in significant visitor traffic and dollars to different regions throughout North Carolina.

A host of new road trip websites and smart phone applications have sprung up in recent years to help users plan their own automobile journeys. Roadtrippers, for example, allows you to choose your destination, but also what sights you want to see along the way, all while sending turn by turn directions to your phone. GPS maps, smart phones, and websites like Roadtrippers make finding and exploring scenic byways all that more accessible.

Fall is the perfect time to hit the road and do a little leaf peeping. In addition to exploring our scenic North Carolina roads – the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cherohala Skyway, Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway, and the Outer Banks Scenic Byway – check out some of the 150 nationally recognized scenic byways.

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