Byways 101

Part 2: Intrinsic Qualities & The Byway Story

Natural Intrinsic Quality

FHWA Interim Policy Definition
Natural quality applies to those features in the visual environment that are in a relatively undisturbed state. These features predate the arrival of human populations and may include geological formations, fossils, landform, water bodies, vegetation and wildlife. There may be evidence of human activity, but the natural features reveal minimal disturbances. (FHWA Interim Policy, May 18, 1995)

Inventory And Designation Considerations For Natural Quality
The distinction between natural quality and scenic quality, as defined for the National Scenic Byways Program, may seem unclear at first. Many scenic byways derive their scenic quality from the views that they provide of natural features such as forests, mountain ranges or water bodies. At the same time, the definition of natural quality encompasses aspects of the environment that are both visible and relatively undisturbed.

When should a roadway be considered for its natural quality as well as its scenic quality? The National Scenic Byways Program uses three criteria to make this determination.

1. Significance Of The Natural Resources
To meet the criteria for natural quality, the byway corridor must contain natural features that are representative, unique, irreplaceable or distinctly characteristic of the area. A road may have great scenic quality based on its natural environment, but this outstanding beauty may simply be how that road relates to its environment rather than any unusual characteristics of the resources within its corridor.

2. Visibility Of Resources From The Byway
The resources that contribute to the byway’s natural quality must be visible from the roadway, as discussed in Archaeological Quality. The fact that a byway might provide access to natural features that are unusual or distinctive would not be relevant to the natural quality determination if travelers could not see these features from the byway. The National Scenic Byways Program places great emphasis on the visual experience of traveling along a byway.

3. Integrity Of The Resources In Their Natural State
Natural features visible from the byway should be relatively undisturbed by human activity. Many byway corridors include areas that exhibit great natural beauty but which are managed or used in some way by humans, such as rangeland or managed forests. The degree to which these landscapes may have been altered from their state before the arrival of human populations is an important consideration.

Some byways pass through areas that have substantial evidence of human activity but also contain natural resources of outstanding significance. For example, California’s Pacific Coast Highway provides visual access to the cliffs of the Monterey coastline and the Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park carries the traveler across the Continental Divide. These two roadways include areas with significant human alteration, but the traveler’s primary impression is of coming into contact with great natural beauty and grandeur.

Many byways with great natural beauty will not meet the Federal definition of natural quality for the reasons outlined above. They may still meet other intrinsic quality categories that encompass the interaction of people with the environment, such as scenic, cultural or recreational.

Take A Look!
Examples from America’s Byways® of some of the routes designated for natural intrinsic qualities include:

  • Alaska’s Marine Highway (Alaska), All-American Road
  • Beartooth Scenic Byway (Montana, Wyoming), All-American Road
  • Colonial Parkway (Virginia), All-American Road
  • Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway (Washington), National Scenic Byway
  • Creole Nature Trail (Louisiana), All-American Road
  • Crowley’s Ridge Parkway (Arkansas, Missouri), National Scenic Byway
  • Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway (Colorado, Utah), National Scenic Byway
  • Edge of the Wilderness (Minnesota), National Scenic Byway
  • Flaming Gorge-Uintas Scenic Byway (Utah), National Scenic Byway
  • George Washington Memorial Parkway (Virginia), All-American Road
  • Hells Canyon Scenic Byway (Oregon), All-American Road
  • Highland Scenic Highway (West Virginia), National Scenic Byway
  • Illinois River Road (Illinois), National Scenic Byway
  • Indian River Lagoon Scenic Highway (Florida), National Scenic Byway
  • Loess Hills Scenic Byway (Iowa), National Scenic Byway
  • Logan Canyon Scenic Byway (Utah), National Scenic Byway
  • Outback Scenic Byway (Oregon), National Scenic Byway
  • Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (Oregon), All-American Road
  • Pyramid Lake Scenic Byway (Nevada), National Scenic Byway
  • Red River Gorge Scenic Byway (Kentucky), National Scenic Byway
  • Selma To Montgomery March Byway (Alabama), All-American Road
  • Sky Island (Arizona), National Scenic Byway
  • Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway – SR 112 (Washington), National Scenic Byway
  • Tioga Road/Big Oak Flat Road (California), National Scenic Byway
  • Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway (New Mexico), National Scenic Byway
  • Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road (Colorado), All-American Road
  • Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway (California, Oregon), All-American Road
  • Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway (Kansas), National Scenic Byway

Visit for details related to these byways.

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