Whether you’re seeking an afternoon car trip or an extended motor tour, be sure to pack your camera, because the public lands offer motorists a stunning variety of scenic drives, interpretive loops, and charming back country byways. Depending on the area you choose, you may see diverse wildlife, unique geologic features, wild horses or burros, ancient petroglyphs, fossil areas, historic mining remnants, ghost towns, or traces of American explorers and pioneers. Many of these public lands routes have been formally designated as back country byways, BLM’s system of roads and trails through picturesque lands with high public interest. Byways vary from narrow, graded roads, passable only during a few months of the year, to two-lane, paved highways providing year-round access. Some byways follow national trails, routes designated by Congress for their historic or scenic significance.
Colorado’s Gold Belt Tour National Scenic Byway leads visitors through mountainous terrain along historic miners’ routes connecting Cripple Creek and the Victor Mining District, site of the largest Gold Rush in history. Lunar Crater Back Country Byway near Tonopah, Nevada, follows a 24-mile unpaved loop road through the ghostly Lunar Crater Volcanic Field, a veritable moonscape of unique geologic features. And the Lewis and Clark Back Country Byway and Adventure Road takes travelers from river bottoms to forested mountains as it winds its way from Idaho’s Bitterroot Range to the Continental Divide, crossing it at Lemhi Pass as explorers Lewis and Clark once did.
History, geology, archaeology, wildlife —so many choices! But thankfully, there’s no need to select only one pursuit. With some judicious route planning, motor recreationists can design public lands excursions to keep the whole crew happy, or, for longer trips, drivers can cruise from one route to another as they meander from state to state.
• Obey all signs.
• Minimize impacts—stay on legally designated roads and trails.
• Bring along a map of the area— know where you are!
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Green, S.M. 2001. Scenic Driving: Back Country Byways (Second Edition). Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing Co. 296 pp.
Green, S.M. 1995. Bureau of Land Management Back Country Byways: Your Complete Guide to the West’s Most Scenic Back Roads (Second Edition). Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing Co. 176 pp.