Byways 101

Part 2: Intrinsic Qualities & The Byway Story

Scenic Intrinsic Quality

FHWAInterim Policy Definition
Scenic quality is the heightened visual experience derived from the view of natural and manmade elements of the visual environment of the scenic byway corridor. The characteristics of the landscape are strikingly distinct and offer a pleasing and most memorable visual experience. All elements of the landscape—landform, water, vegetation, and manmade development—contribute to the quality of the corridor’s visual environment. Everything present is in harmony and shares in the intrinsic qualities. (FHWA Interim Policy, May 18, 1995)

Inventory And Designation Considerations
This intrinsic quality is the most difficult to inventory as it is the most subjective. What is beautiful? When is one view or scenic drive more beautiful than another?

Similar to other intrinsic qualities, scenic quality is determined by how the byway’s individual resources contribute to the overall quality. Resources are scenic features, primarily views and vistas, or elements such as the design of the roadway. A byway’s scenic quality is based on significant scenic views from the road and the absence of features that detract from the overall image of the road.

The byway’s features must also be considered representative, unique, irreplaceable or distinctly characteristic of an area. South Dakota’s Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, with its views of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, is one example of a byway offering scenery that is unusual and unique. On the other hand, a byway might represent an exceptional example of a common regional landscape such as Connecticut’s State Route 169. It travels through rustic farmlands and forests, passing by farmsteads, open spaces and historic structures that characterize rural New England. Both roads exhibit scenic quality because the individual scenic elements and their overall composition are significant.

Regardless of the specific type of views, byways should evaluate the presence of three important characteristics for this intrinsic quality.

1. Continuity Of Scenic Features
Scenic features and views should be frequent enough to give a sense of continuity to the drive along the byway. Conversely, a byway with a few dramatic views interrupted by commonplace landscapes or nondescript urban development is unlikely to have significant scenic quality.

2. Relationships Between Scenic Features And The Landscape
Scenic features should relate to each other, creating a coherent image of the byway. The way in which the roadway relates to its environment is also important to the sense of coherence. For example, the scenic qualities of the mountainous Natchez Trace Parkway and the ocean-side Pacific Coast Highway arise in part from their alignments, which closely follow the natural topography of their distinctive landscapes.

3. Variety Of Scenic Views
A variety of views enhances a byway’s scenic quality. For example, the changing perspectives of mountain scenery from a road winding through the valleys and over passes is more interesting than a single view seen continuously from a road traveling in a straight line. Variety can also be a function of seasonal changes: some landscapes vary dramatically at different times of the year, which often enhances their attraction for travelers.

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

  • Acadia Byway (Maine), All-American Road
  • Alaska’s Marine Highway (Alaska), All-American Road
  • Beartooth Scenic Byway (Montana, Wyoming), All-American Road
  • Big Sur Coast Highway, Route One (California), All-American Road
  • Billy the Kid Trail (New Mexico), National Scenic Byway
  • Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina), All-American Road
  • Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway (Oregon), National Scenic Byway
  • Cherohala Skyway (North Carolina, Tennessee), National Scenic Byway
  • Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway (South Carolina), National Scenic Byway
  • Chinook Scenic Byway (Washington), All-American Road
  • Connecticut State Route 169 (Connecticut), National Scenic Byway
  • Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (Arizona), National Scenic Byway
  • Death Valley Scenic Byway (California), National Scenic Byway
  • Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway (California), National Scenic Byway
  • Flint Hills Scenic Byways (Kansas), National Scenic Byway
  • Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway (Colorado), National Scenic Byway
  • Glenn Highway (Alaska), National Scenic Byway
  • Hells Canyon Scenic Byway (Oregon), All-American Road
  • Historic Bluff Country Scenic (Minnesota), National Scenic Byway
  • Historic Columbia River Highway (Oregon), All-American Road
  • International Selkirk Loop (Washington), All-American Road
  • Kaibab Plateau – North Rim Parkway (Arizona), National Scenic Byway
  • Kancamagus Scenic Byway (New Hampshire), National Scenic Byway
  • Lake Tahoe – Eastshore Drive (Nevada), National Scenic Byway
  • Las Vegas Strip (Nevada), All-American Road
  • McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway (Oregon), National Scenic Byway
  • Mountains to Sound Greenway – I-90 (Washington), National Scenic Byway
  • Natchez Trace Parkway (Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee), All-American Road
  • Nebo Loop Scenic Byway (Utah), National Scenic Byway
  • North Shore Scenic Drive (Minnesota), All-American Road
  • Old Canada Road Scenic Byway (Maine), National Scenic Byway
  • Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (Oregon), All-American Road
  • Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway (South Dakota), National Scenic Byway
  • Red Rock Scenic Byway (Arizona), All-American Road
  • Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway (Georgia), National Scenic Byway
  • San Juan Skyway (Colorado), All-American Road
  • San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway – Route 1 (California), All-American Road
  • Schoodic Scenic Byway (Maine), National Scenic Byway
  • Seward Highway (Alaska), All-American Road
  • Skyline Drive (Virginia), National Scenic Byway
  • Talimena Scenic Drive (Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma), National Scenic Byway
  • The Energy Loop: Huntington and Eccles Canyons Scenic Byways (Utah), National Scenic Byway
  • Top of the Rockies (Colorado), National Scenic Byway
  • Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow Road (Colorado), All-American Road
  • Turquoise Trail (New Mexico), National Scenic Byway
  • Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 – A Journey Through Time (Utah), All-American Road
  • West Cascades Scenic Byway (Oregon), National Scenic Byway
  • Western Heritage Historic Byway (Idaho), National Scenic Byway
  • White Mountain Trail (New Hampshire), National Scenic Byway

Visit for details related to these byways.

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