By Chelsea Lewis, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Three Wisconsin roads have received new National Scenic Byway designations from the Federal Highway Administration, confirming them as some of the state’s best places for scenic drives.

The Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway and Door County Coastal Byway have both been declared National Scenic Byways, while Wisconsin’s Great River Road – already a National Scenic Byway – has been declared an All American Road.

Wisconsin’s 250-mile segment of Great River Road follows Highway 35 from Prescott to Kieler along the Mississippi River through the western part of the state. The road follows the river for its entire 3,000 mile course from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2012, readers of Huffington Post voted it “America’s prettiest drive.”

A boost for tourism

“More attention means more visitors to the states that border the mighty Mississippi,” Anne Lewis, chair of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, said in a press release. “More travelers bring more money spent in stores, restaurants, hotels and attractions, an economic boost that is vital to the communities along the Great River Road.”

Mississippi River The Great River Road winds around Maiden Rock Bluff along Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River
Photo by Chelsey Lewis / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

To be designated an All American Road, a route must be “considered a destination unto itself” and “provide such an exceptional driving experience for travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip,” according to the National Scenic Byways Program. In addition, the road must have two of six “intrinsic qualities” – scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archeological, and recreational – with features that “best represent the nation.”

National Scenic Byways must have one of those qualities and be regionally significant.

Wisconsin’s 70-mile Lake Superior Scenic Byway follows Highway 13 through the Bayfield peninsula from Barksdale to Cloverland, offering views of the greatest of the Great Lakes.

The 66-mile Door County Coastal Byway loops around the Door County peninsula along Highway 57 from Sturgeon Bay to Northport and back down Highway 42 to its starting point.

The three routes are Wisconsin’s only designated National Scenic Byways, but the Badger State is home to two other state scenic byways: the Lower Wisconsin River Road, a charming route along highway 60 from Lodi to Prairie du Chien; and the forested Nicolet- Wolf River Scenic Byway along Highways 55, 32, 70 and 52 in the northeast part of the state.

Editor’s Notes:
According to recent bulletins from Scenic America, these are some of the first new designations of National Scenic Byways since 2009, made possible by new funding in environmental legislation enacted by the federal government during 2020, following the passage of the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act in September, 2019.

In August 2020, President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law. This was a victory for conservationists because it provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund which supports the creation and maintenance of national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, state parks, and more.

The National Scenic Byways Program was established in 1991, and besides bringing scenic conservation and environmental benefits, it has become a critical part of America’s travel and tourism industry.

Reprinted from an article that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on February 28, 2021