“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” ― John Muir, The Mountains of California
American Presidents once had the time and the inclination to go camping for a few nights with environmental activists. It was Theodore Roosevelt who headed out in 1903 with co-founder of the Sierra Club John Muir, to enjoy the wilderness of Yosemite Valley. Having shown the President the beauty of Mariposa Grove, Sentinel Dome and Bridal Veil Falls, Muir urged him to set aside land for national parks – starting with Yosemite. It took three years, but Roosevelt came good and not only created Yosemite National Park but dedicated a grand total of 148 million acres to parks nationwide.
For motorcyclists, the ideal way to enjoy these parks as well as a lot of other wonderful scenery is the American Scenic Byway network. These roads, all over the US including Alaska and Hawaii, are designed to make the most of the land they traverse and are signposted to make them easy to follow. Often they provide access to places you’d never think to reach by road, and just as often they are brilliant motorcycling roads.
You can find them easily at https://scenicbyways.info/. The website includes not only a comprehensive list but also an excellent interactive map. There are five different kinds of byways. The first, and particularly special, roads are called All-American Roads. They include roads like Scenic Byway 12 in Utah and even the Las Vegas Strip. Some of them are singled out as Parkways, including the like of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Natchez Trace.
Then there are the National Scenic Byways, and there are lots of those including the Great River Road following the Mississippi and the Mount Hood Scenic Byway. Be aware that not all the parts of a Scenic Byway will indeed be either scenic or a byway. Washington’s Pacific Coast road, for example, is outstanding where it circles around the Olympic Peninsula, but rather less so from Aberdeen to Chinook. Likewise, in my opinion the International Selkirk Loop National Scenic Byway lives up to its impressive name more in the Canadian than the US section.
More interesting to us as riders are the National Forest Scenic Byways. These tend to be in less developed parts of the country and include such roads as the Great Divide Highway and the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway at the head of the Mississippi. The Bureau of Land Management has its own selection as well with the BLM Back Country Byways, some of which are a bit rougher, more demanding and inevitably more fun.
The website also includes a listing of a huge number of ‘Other’ Scenic Roads, and these might be the most interesting of all. Among them is one of my very favorite roads in the United States, Bayou Teche Scenic Byway. If you want to experience the Old South, and especially Acadiana, this is the road to follow. Mind you, it’s more than just a little complex.
You can see a map of the Bayou Teche road on the website, because this is fully interactive. Below the general map of the US there is a list of States; click on the one you’re interested in and it takes you to a map of the State showing its Byways; click on those and you get a general description, length and driving time plus a more detailed map which also shows mountains. Alternatively, you can click on the names of the roads in the main listing to get the same information.
The information pages also show you some books that you might like to buy and read about your upcoming travels, along with details of how to buy them. And something else makes this website interesting, and useful. It provides free and unlimited access to trip planning software Furkot. Experienced travelers will almost certainly know of this, but if the rest of this story is new to you, Furkot might be, too. Check it out on the site or at http://trips.furkot.com.
I should warn you at this point against allowing your mind to be saturated by too much information. It’s best to go riding with a fresh and clear mind – not an uninformed one, but not a fully made up one, either. John Muir pointed out the dangers in his book Travels in Alaska, where he says “Most people who travel look only at what they are directed to look at. Great is the power of the guidebook maker, however ignorant.”