Scenic Byways

Scenic byway designation recognizes noteworthy travel routes that provide unique travel experiences. Arkansas has several national and state scenic byways, in addition to others that are located within the boundaries of U.S. national forests.

The U.S. Congress established the National Scenic Byways program as part of 1991’s Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act to help communities “balance economic development and resource conservation.” The program was strengthened by subsequent federal legislation in 1997 and 2005. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.

To qualify as a National Scenic Byway, a route must exhibit one or more “intrinsic qualities”: it must be scenic, historic, natural, recreational, cultural, or archeological. Applications for National Scenic Byway status require “strong community support” and must include detailed plans for marketing, preservation, and improvement of the route. National Scenic Byway status originally included funding that could pay up to eighty percent of byway projects. That funding dried up in 2012 but was renewed in March 2022.

Arkansas has three National Scenic Byways. The first to be designated was the Crowley’s Ridge National Scenic Byway, which covers 198 miles on highways, county roads, and city streets. First designated an Arkansas scenic byway in 1997, it received the federal designation the following year. The second designee, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, was initially established as the Great River Road, the Mississippi River national parkway, in 1938. The road’s 362 miles in Arkansas were made a state scenic byway in 2001 and became a National Scenic Byway in 2002. The third designee was the Talimena Scenic Drive National Scenic Byway, which follows Highway 88 from Mena (Polk County) to the Oklahoma state line. It became an Arkansas scenic byway in 1998 and was named a National Scenic Byway in 2005.

Shortly after the creation of the National Scenic Byways Program in 1991, the Arkansas Highway Commission created a statewide system following similar guidelines “to facilitate Arkansans’ recognition of special routes within the state.” Since 1993, there have been seven routes designated as Arkansas scenic byways in addition to the three that were elevated to national status:

Since 1989, the head of the U.S. Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been able to designate routes within national forests as national forest scenic byways. In Arkansas, there are nine such byways in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, including the Pig Trail Scenic Byway and the Sylamore Scenic Byway, and at least one in the Ouachita National Forest. In addition, several of the state’s national and state scenic byways traverse land owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

For additional information:
“About Scenic Byways.” Scenic America. (accessed March 3, 2023).

“America’s Byways.” U.S. Transportation Department, Federal Highway Administration. (accessed March 3, 2023).

“FWHA Announces First Availability of National Scenic Byways Program Funding Since 2012.” U.S. Transportation Department, Federal Highway Administration. (accessed March 3, 2023).

“Ouachita National Forest Scenic Driving.” U.S. Forest Service. (accessed March 3, 2023).

“Ozark National Forest Service Scenic Byway (Line).” Arkansas GIS Office. (accessed March 3, 2023).

“Scenic Byways.” Arkansas Department of Transportation. (accessed March 3, 2023).

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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