Hit the Road on NC’s Scenic Byways
Routes preserve character and legacy throughout the stateBy Scott Gates
North Carolina is peppered with little roadside signs marking a simple yet profound designation: NC Scenic Byway. Once you start looking for them, you’ll see these signs pop up all over the place, and it’s always a good indication to keep driving — you’re in for a treat.
Our state currently boasts 60 of these scenic byways, making up 2,300 miles of road through the mountain, Piedmont and coastal regions that have been recognized for their natural beauty and historical, recreational or cultural significance to North Carolina. The byways range from 1.5 miles (Airlie Road in New Hanover County) to 173 miles (Lafayette’s Tour), from curvy mountain roads to ferry rides across coastal waterways.
“Each time I ride a byway, I see something new in the landscape or I learn something more about the history or culture of North Carolina,” says Connie Morgan, Scenic Byway coordinator with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). “I also meet the locals and learn what makes their community special. These people are the heart and soul of North Carolina.”
Preserving Roadside Treasures
Although these roads have long been known to the locals who drive them, it wasn’t until the mid- to late-1980s that North Carolinians began petitioning the state to create its own official network of scenic roads. That public push led to the creation of a task force, and by March 1990 the NC Board of Transportation approved the Scenic Byways program and designated an initial set of 31 roads. The General Assembly passed a bill in 1993 that authorized the program and prohibited any new billboards from going up along designated routes.
The program was officially kicked off in 1994 along the French Broad River, which makes for idyllic scenery along several of the designated mountain routes.
New routes are being considered and added all the time. The newest, Big Horse Creek Byway in Ashe County, was designated in April 2016. Those wishing to nominate a stretch of road should notify NC Scenic Byway Program staff and obtain an NC Scenic Byway Study List Application.
The Scenic Route
The best way to find a route is by using the free guide provided by NCDOT. The list of NC Scenic Byways includes four nationally-recognized routes; visit America's Byways for more information on each.
When planning your trip, keep in mind that byways typically are true “scenic routes,” and don’t often make for the shortest trip between points A and B. Make sure you will start the journey with enough daylight to enjoy the road, although some routes do make for an amazing sunset. And although the views provide a welcome distraction, the driver should pay close attention to the road — many are also enjoyed by cyclists and motorcycles, and wildlife will likely be more plentiful along these routes.
“North Carolina is so diverse and has so many hidden secrets,” Morgan says. “I love discovering them on our byways that travel through the most beautiful scenic areas of our state.”
Download your free guide here or request by mail:
NCDOT Scenic Byways Program
1557 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1577
A Teacher’s Guide is available by request, providing lesson plans developed to tie into the North Carolina Standard Course of Study for fourth grade.
More from this years Travel Guide