Historic Drives: Four of America’s Greatest Roads



March 16, 2012

Did you know there are roughly 150 federally protected roads in United States? Find out which ones Congress considers significant to America’s rich car culture and then weigh in on your favorite place to drive and why.  

Within the complex system of American roads and highways are 120 “National Scenic Byways” and 31 “All-American Roads” designated by the United States Department of Transportation. These roads are deemed extraordinary —worthy of recognition and special protection—much in the same way certain historical landmarks, old buildings, and manmade monuments in this country are special. 

All-American Roads—described by Congress as “destinations unto themselves”—include the Las Vegas Strip and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina. National Scenic Byways are recognized for their archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and/or scenic qualities. These include Alaska’s Marine Highway, Death Valley Scenic Byway, and the Great River Road, which follows the length of the Mississippi River. As the name implies, National Scenic Byways are more about an area’s unique and region-specific scenery and, in the case of a few, the direct links to America’s deep-rooted automotive history. These include:

Woodward Avenue

Woodward Avenue has been the main artery of Detroit's transportation network since 1805. In 1909, the stretch of Woodward Avenue between Six Mile and Seven Mile Roads became the world’s first mile of public road to be paved with concrete.

The total length of Woodward Avenue (also known as M-1) is 21.48 miles. Many historically significant sites are still located along its route, but it is safe to say that most historic vehicle enthusiasts know Woodward best for the annual summertime Dream Cruise that draws thousands to the area to celebrate Detroit's automotive heritage.

The Lincoln Highway

A portion of America’s first transcontinental highway, U.S. Route 30 (also known as Lincoln Highway), runs through urban cityscapes and riverfront towns for roughly 179 miles in northern Illinois. From its eastern portal at Lynwood to its Mississippi crossing at Fulton, the Illinois section of the Lincoln Highway is the only stretch of the original route that has been designated a National Scenic Byway.   

Historic Route 66

U.S. Route 66 was established on November 11, 1926. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in America, originally ran for 2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, before ending in Los Angeles. Today, only a few original stretches of the “Mother Road” still exist in Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Route 66 remains a fixture in American driving culture. Over the years, many preservation groups have worked successfully to save and “landmark” many of the old motels and neon signs along the road.       

Roads Less Traveled—Tell Us Yours

Great roads are in the eye of the beholder. What makes a road desirable to a big-city commuter or a family stuffed in a minivan for a summertime road trip tends to be the stuff drivers of historic vehicles would rather avoid.

The Historic Vehicle Association would like to hear from its members about some of those “roads less traveled”—great driving roads that offer little congestion and lots of sheer driving pleasure. For instance, one great stretch of highway you have probably never heard of is northern Michigan’s M-22. This 116-mile, winding country road follows the Lake Michigan shoreline through the up-and-coming wine country of the Leelanau Peninsula and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a place ABC’s Good Morning America last year named “The Most Beautiful Place in America”

We’re looking for the unknown and under-appreciated—American roads that manage to blend history, scenery, and sheer open-road pleasure. Take a moment to comment below or head on over to the HVA’s Facebook page and tell us about your favorite. We’ll spotlight select members’ most popular choices in a future eNewsletter.

 

Comments

  1. Henry Treni FL - FLORIDA

    The Natchez Trace

  2. Henry Treni FL - FLORIDA

    The Natchez Trace

  3. douglas mortimer Robbinsvillle, NC

    For an absolutely spectacular drive...check out the Cherohala Skyway, registered as a National Scenic Byway. The road opened in 1996 and is in great shape. It crosses the Cherokee and Nantahala National forests from Robbinsville,NC to Tellico Plains,Tenn. The road has many pull over areas to check out spectacular views of the almost 40 miles of road which goes from 900 to 5400 feet in elevation. Fantastic drive for classic car enthusiasts.

  4. John Green Oaks, IL

    Two great roads are "the Dragon" US 129 along the eastern TN border near Deal's Gap, TN and the other is the road up to Cheehah State Park in Alabama, part of the Talladega National Forest, Hwy 281.

  5. paul helman Evanston,il

    Check out Route 12 which is one of the oldesty highways in the United States dating back to when it was an Indian trail. Goes from near Ann Arbor all the way to the west coast. A few years ago our Windy City Morgan Owners Group did a large part of the Michigan section and found it quite worth while.Paul

  6. Larry Nirenberg Massachusetts

    When I 1st met my wife I had a '65 Corvette 2 top roadster and my favorite road was to drive Rte 100 through Vermont. It wove through the mountains and many of its curves were banked as if calling to me to put a little more foot into the gas pedal. New love, Corvette and winding country road through the beauty of Vermont, doesn't get any better than that.

  7. Jeff Roessler San Clemente, CA

    One of my favorite roads is really a combination of two "segments" of the same road, each with a different name, linked by a section that is better forgotten. It is SR 78 which starts in San Juan Capistrano, Ca and is known as the Ortega Highway. It winds about 25 miles up and over the mountains through the Cleveland National Forest after which it drops quickly down into Lake Elsinore. Here is where you need to close you eyes for about 25 miles as it passes around Lake Elsinore and on through Hemet, California. Once past this stretch, open your eyes and start the pines to Palms Highway which goes up and over the San Jacinto Mountains and the San Bernardino National Forest on down into Palm Springs. I have driven this road when I have seen everything from bright warm sunshine in San Juan to snow in the San Jacinto Mountains to high winds out in the desert...never a dull moment.

  8. CJ Traverse City, MI

    The Mt. Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire should be mentioned. This historic road was a big deal when it was built in 1861 because of the steep grade and amazing views it offers.

  9. Mark Mowbray Wisconsin

    In 1912, a group of small town businessmen in South Dakota undertook an ambitious project to create a useful automobile route, the Yellowstone Trail, across America. This was at a time when roads weren't marked, there were few maps and slippery mud was the usual road surface. The Yellowstone Trail Association located a route, motivated road improvements, produced maps and folders to guide the traveler, and promoted tourism along its length. It became a leader in stimulating tourist travel to the Northwest and motivating good roads across America. The Lincoln Highway Association, formed in 1913 by industrialists, created a similar route across the U. S., but used big organizational and public relation budgets. Today, almost all of the route of the Yellowstone Trail is on slower, less traveled roads. Some sections of the Trail, especially in the West, have remained little changed and are a delight to visit. www.yellowstonetrail.org

  10. Daniel WA

    For sheer beauty of engineering and landscape setting the Columbia River Gorge Historic Highway in Oregon would be a a top contender. Built in 1915 through 1922, the highway runs approximately 6o plus miles from Troutdale, Oregon to The Dalles, Oregon. This was the first real highway through the gorge. Much of the original highway was destroyed or improved when Interstate 84 was built. but there are still several miles that are driveable and being maintained as an historic highway. Abandoned sections of the road are being restored for hiking and biking.

  11. glen TX

    If roads had no signs, excepting street names or nearest town, they would all be memorable. I've long sense passed paying attention to roads with signs.

  12. Gary E. Smith Lewiston NY

    Cook City Highway going over the mountains from Red Lodge MT to Yellowstone's West Gate.

  13. Mike Lopez Overseas highway, Florida Keys

    Specifically beginning at the start of the Seven Mile Bridge (approximately mile marker 45) southbound Into Key West. The whole 106 mile length of it is beautiful, but that is the best section.

  14. Jim VanDerZee Charlevoix, MI

    M-119 as the prettiest road in the Midwest. It winds high above Lake Michigan from Petoskey to Cross Village in the northwest Lower Peninsula, a 20-mile or so trip that will take you the better part of an hour. M-119 as the prettiest road in the Midwest. It winds high above Lake Michigan from Petoskey to Cross Village in the northwest Lower Peninsula, a 20-mile or so trip that will take you the better part of an hour. M-119 in Northern MI from Harbor Springs, MI north along the Lake Michigan shorline The Wilderness State Park In the summer, the Tunnel of Trees is clogged with bicyclists, motorcyclists, motorists and walkers who marvel at the lush greenery that surrounds this two-lane road. It’s also gorgeous in the fall, as you’ll see in this video. But in the winter, you’re likely to have long stretches to yourself. On a clear winter afternoon, you’ll enjoy a heartstopping blue sky and see breathtaking bluffs and beaches, magnificent trees and some impressive homes. Image via Wikipedia In the summer, the Tunnel of Trees is clogged with bicyclists, motorcyclists, motorists and walkers who marvel at the lush greenery that surrounds this two-lane road. It’s also gorgeous in the fall, as you’ll see in this video. But in the winter, you’re likely to have long stretches to yourself. On a clear winter afternoon, you’ll enjoy a heartstopping blue sky and see breathtaking bluffs and beaches, magnificent trees and some impressive homes.

  15. Jim VanDerZee Charlevoix, MI

    Looking for the unknown and under-appreciated—American roads that manage to blend history, scenery, and sheer open-road pleasure? Where: Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway, the first planned scenic highway built in the U.S. (back in 1922). You pick it up on the outskirts of Portland, at Troutdale and it goes all the way to The Dalles, about 75 miles east. We took it as far as Hood River.

  16. Steve Krueger Atlanta, GA

    How 'bout The Dragon's Tail in TN/NC? Challenging driving and beautiful scenery!

  17. Larry Snell Colorado

    I live in southern Colorado now ,but grew up in the Denver area . There is a main road that starts on the far East side and goes all the way to the West side , they used to say it was the longest uninterrupted street in the country , It is named Colfax Avenue ,I believe named after a local historic figure . Two cents isn't worth much but here is mine . Thanx Larry Snell

  18. Vince Manto 90505

    Highway 1 from morro Bay, thru Carmel, 17 mile drive to Pebble Beach, should be on every car guy's Bucket List....

  19. brian morse sedona AZ

    Did you folks know about the new hwy ( hwy 179) rom the Village of Oak Creek into Sedona< it was just opened last year as an All American Hwy. Sedona has been chosen countless times as America's most beautiful place and has had many famous westerns made here, John Wayne, Glen Ford, Elvis Presley,and many famous others who made Sedona home e.g. Lucille Ball, Ester Williams, too many to mention. This year a new movie came out called 'Sedona' really worth seeing just for the amazing Red Rock scenery. Lots of photo ops and many stories to tell too and close to route 66 Cheers Brian Morse ( Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Volante) ( Google Sedona)

  20. Ed Purinton Egg Harbor Township, NJ

    The scenic road that I nominate is US Route 40. It cuts across New jersey to the Delaware Memorial bridge then continues on the Nevada. It used to go all the way to Los Angeles but now stops in Nevada. In New Jersey it continues to Atlantic City on the east coast. Lots of interesting markers as it goes through NJ. It ran in front of Bader Field near Atlantic City. Bader was the USA's first air strip named an air port. As seaplanes used to come in and dock there. I always imagined traveling the entire way From Atlnatic city and taking pics along the way to the west coast. Perhaps in another life.

  21. Ken Beiser Whitefish, Montana

    check out Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park open about late June to early October, depending on weather and snow pack.

  22. Rich Werges San Diego

    NOTHING beats Pacific Coast Highway out here in beautiful Califonia ... drive that stretch and it'll change you!

  23. Joe Mancini NC

    Lot of good places mentioned. Love the dragon in NC/TN. But that is in my Mini. Rt. 1 from Portsmouth NH to anyplace north in Maine, but make sure you stop in Kennebunk for clams, Portland for a beer, Freeport for LL Bean's, Pemaquid for the lighthouse, Wiscaset if you need more clams, Camden for the harbor, Searsport at Dunkin Donuts where I bought my daughter her one and only coffee coolata, when I saw the price, 20 years ago and said "Enjoy this, cause it is the last one I am going to buy you" (never bought her another, she's OK, just asked), Ellsworth for gas and oil, and finally Bar Harbor and Acadia to the top of Mt. Desert at sunset. Better leave now.

  24. b. townes Pacific Northwest

    As an avid driver & traveler, I've discovered dozens of absolutely great twisty two-lane roads all over the U.S., but don't think for a minute I'm going to tell where they are. Roads crowded with motorhomes are no longer great. Highway 1 through California's Big Sur is a stellar case in point. I believe each driving enthusiast should find his/her own fine roads and enjoy them quietly. To do otherwise is to ruin them forever. Besides, the surprise of discovery is part of the pleasure.

  25. Bailey Durango, CO

    San Juan Skyway in Southwest Colorado. From Durango through the 19th century mining towns of Silverton, Ouray, Telluride and Rico. It also travels through Dolores and Mancos before completing the loop in Durango. It includes four mountain passes in excess of 10,000 feet and provides a view of the largest concentration of 14,000 foot peaks in the country. The portion between Silverton and Ouray is also called the Million Dollar Highway for having cost a million dollars a mile to construct during the 1920's. It is especially fun to drive the curving mountain roads in an open roadster during the fall when the aspens are changing colors. The San Juan Skyway was designated as a National Forest Scenic Byway in September 1988. It was later named a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway in 1989 and an All-American Road in September 1996

  26. Timothy Collins Bushnell,IL

    I grew up along the National Road (US 40),in Ohio, so it's a sentimental favorite. Unfortunately, I hadn't bought my '28 Model A sports coupe when I wrote an essay about returning home on the Daily Yonder website - http://www.dailyyonder.com/son-returns-mother-road/2011/05/02/3303 - but I hope to go that way soon. Fortunately, where I live now, the Great River Road, US 66, US 30 and US 40 are all relatively close, Because of our large rural area and small towns, this part of the world is classic car heaven!

  27. Mel Rustad Oklahoma

    I read with interest the article about Old Historic Rte 66 .I have dirven Rte 66 from where it enters Oklahoma in the east to where it exits in the west. I've heard for many years that Oklahoma has more miles of the old original Rte 66 than any other state. Is that true? Keep up the good work.

  28. Ted Louisiana

    Hwy 21 has to be it tons of history.

  29. Lee Pt. Jervis, NY

    We got some scenic roads in our neck of the woods. Rt 218 between West Point and Cornwall via the Storm King Mtn. The section of US6 along the Hudson Riv. between Peekskill, then across the Bear Mtn Bridge toward Central Vly. Also another scenic byway, NY97 (Hawks Nest Drive) between Pt. Jervis and Barryville along the Delaware Riv. Another interesting road, the Bronx River Parkway the first limited access highway built in the US. Fun to drive on, except during rush hour.

  30. Lee Pt. Jervis, NY

    We got some scenic roads in our neck of the woods. Rt 218 between West Point and Cornwall via the Storm King Mtn. The section of US6 along the Hudson Riv. between Peekskill, then across the Bear Mtn Bridge toward Central Vly. Also another scenic byway, NY97 (Hawks Nest Drive) between Pt. Jervis and Barryville along the Delaware Riv. Another interesting road, the Bronx River Parkway the first limited access highway built in the US. Fun to drive on, except during rush hour.

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