They are the roads less traveled, places where traffic jams are unheard of and where fast-food chains have yet to get a toehold. They are also places where natural beauty and the man-made world intersect, often with captivating results.
That said, the Oregon Coast Scenic Byway and Black Bear Scenic Byway, each part of the National Scenic Byways program, could not be more different. The one thing they have in common, however, is that they literally are the “scenic route,” chosen more for the sheer pleasure of driving them than for their cold efficiency at delivering motorists from point A to point B.
The swimming hole at Alexander Springs is a tropical oasis and vestige of Old Florida; Courtesy of Visit Florida
OREGON COAST SCENIC BYWAY
Take one-part rocky sea-stack-studded coastline and one-part bucolic countryside, sprinkle generously with quaint fishing villages and artist colonies, and enjoy a scenic route on par with the best road trips in America.
This largely oceanfront byway is a bit out of the way, and that’s a big part of its charm. From the California redwoods, it runs north 363 miles to the Washington border at the mouth of the Columbia River, near where Lewis and Clark ended their legendary expedition in November of 1805.
Early in the trip, you’ll pass through the town of Gold Beach. There, right off Highway 101, you’ll find Jerry’s Rogue Jets, an outfit that will take you on a trip up the Rogue River, a designated Wild and Scenic River. Besides the unspoiled backcountry views and plentiful wildlife, the trip delivers its fair share of excitement as the captain periodically puts your highly maneuverable craft into 360-degree spins just to keep things interesting for the passengers.
Continuing north, pull off the pavement about 23 miles past the Rogue River Bridge for a slower-paced and more hands-on experience exploring the tide pools at Rocky Point Beach.
For an adrenaline-fueled show, continue up the road past the town of Brookings, and stop at Pistol River State Park. If the wind off the ocean is just right, you can watch kitesurfers (who often congregate here) perform high-flying stunts as they launch off the waves rolling into the beach.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area provides opportunities to explore on both land and water; Photo by Taylor Higgings
For some thrills of your own, visit Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area between North Bend and Florence. Rent your own single-seat quad or side-by-side ATV from any of numerous outfitters to explore 40 miles of sand dunes, some as tall as a 50-story building. There are also guided tours if you’d prefer to sit back and let someone else do the driving.
Depoe Bay is known as the whale-watching capital of the Oregon Coast; istock.com/wirestock
The main attraction in the small community of Depoe Bay, built around the world’s-smallest navigable harbor, is boarding an inflatable Zodiac powerboat for an up-close look at the 45-foot gray whales that hang out just offshore from mid-summer to early fall.
From its wild, windswept coastal scenery to the many opportunities to enjoy nature, this road trip will keep you entertained whether you’re in the car or out exploring.
BLACK BEAR SCENIC BYWAY
If you’re someone who believes that Florida is all theme parks and crowded beaches, this 123-mile scenic byway will change your mind.
Composed of two separate intersecting two-lane highways —State Route 19 runs north–south, and State Route 40 is oriented east–west—the Black Bear Scenic Byway bisects the lonely pine scrub of the Ocala National Forest (one of the few places in the state where you can still find the byway’s namesake). Located about an hour north of Orlando’s theme parks, the byway transports you to a time when Florida was essentially wild.
Four major springs highlight a road trip on Black Bear Scenic Byway; Photo by Alan Rider
To fully experience this scenic byway, get out of the car to immerse yourself in the great outdoors. The principal attractions are a collection of freshwater springs that discharge millions of gallons of crystal-clear water at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit to form the most perfect aqua-blue swimming holes you’ll ever dip a toe in. Each of the four major springs is distinctive, ranging from the rustic trappings at Juniper Springs to the tropical lushness of Alexander Springs.
High points include swimming, snorkeling and paddling a rented canoe through miles of unspoiled wilderness. Back on terra firma, hiking, biking and horseback trails abound. Silver Springs even offers classic glass-bottom boat tours and a small zoo where you can observe local wildlife, such as the endangered Florida panther, rare white alligators and black bears.
Kayaking is among the popular pastimes at Florida’s Juniper Springs Recreation Area; Photo by Steve Beaudet & Visit Florida
Or, take a guided nature tour aboard a small boat on the nearby St. John’s River, one of the only rivers in the US that flows from south to north. For a look at local history, spend a few hours poking about the open-air museum known as the Barberville Pioneer Settlement, home to 18 historic buildings, including a country store and schoolhouse dating to the turn of the last century. All are filled with artifacts, including farm equipment, looms, blacksmithing tools and more—everything the pioneers who settled here needed to make a go of it in this remote part of Central Florida.
And if things look familiar as you motor along the byway, that’s probably because it’s served as the backdrop for several Hollywood classics, from Tarzan to Creature from the Black Lagoon. Bottom line: The Black Bear Scenic Byway is your introduction to a slice of Old Florida.
There are millions of miles of paved roads in the US, but few offer more unique road-trip experiences than these two National Scenic Byways.