Byways 101

Part 1: Program Overview

Learning Objective #1: What Is A Byway?

Define what a byway is, including key concepts and broad definitions such as byway, intrinsic qualities, byway story, grassroots and visitor experience.

What Is A Byway?
The National Scenic Byways Program defines a “scenic byway” as:

…A public road having special scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, archaeological, and/or natural qualities that have been recognized as such through legislation or some other official declaration. The terms “road” and “highway’” are synonymous. They are not meant to define higher or lower functional classifications or wider or narrower cross-sections. Moreover, the term “byway” refers not only to the road or highway itself but also to the corridor through which it passes (FHWA Interim Policy, May 18, 1995).

Byways offer driving experiences “off the beaten path” where drivers can explore and experience the scenery, culture, history and special features of an area, that provide opportunities we might otherwise miss. You might think of byways as roads that tell a story—gateways to unique adventures and paths to better understand America’s history and cultures.

Do All Scenic Byways Need To Be Scenic?
The National Scenic Byways Program defines scenic byways as roads that have special significance not only for their scenic quality, but also for their archaeological, cultural, historic, natural or recreational intrinsic qualities. Because the National Scenic Byways Program’s purpose is to recognize outstanding roads that have special attraction for travelers, most roads considered for designation possess some scenic appeal, supporting the visual experience for travelers.

What Are Intrinsic Qualities?
Intrinsic qualities arise from a byway’s particular combination of resources that define its character, interest and appeal. These resources are the special views, places, buildings, sites and other features that residents enjoy and interest travelers. A resource can be natural, such as a gorge, mountain or lake; or it may be the result of human activity, such as a historic building, battle site or well-designed parkway.

The National Scenic Byways Program defines six intrinsic qualities that provide the basis for designating a road or highway as either a National Scenic Byway or All-American Road. Intrinsic qualities mean “scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, archaeological or natural features that are considered representative, unique, irreplaceable, or distinctly characteristic of an area” (FHWA Interim Policy, May 18, 1995).

To be designated as a National Scenic Byway, a road or highway must significantly meet at least one of the six scenic byways intrinsic qualities. The characteristics associated with the intrinsic qualities are distinct and most representative of the region. The significance of the features contributing to the distinctive characteristics of the corridor’s intrinsic quality is recognized throughout the region.

To be designated as an All-American Road, the road or highway must meet the criteria for at least two of the intrinsic qualities. The road or highway must also be considered a destination unto itself. To be recognized as such, it must provide an exceptional traveling experience; visitors recognize the highway as a primary reason for driving the route. The characteristics associated with the intrinsic qualities are those which best represent the nation and which may contain one-of-a-kind features. The significance of the features contributing to the distinctive characteristics of the corridor’s intrinsic quality is recognized nationally.

Note: See Part 2 of Byways 101 for more information on Intrinsic Qualities.

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