from the North Carolina Department of Transportation
Leaves changing color is one of the most visual indications that autumn is headed our way. A great way for sightseers to see the beautiful change of crisp, seasonal colors is to travel along North Carolina’s scenic byways.
The N.C. Department of Transportation’s Scenic Byways program features 55 designated scenic byways that total 2,300 miles and give residents and visitors a chance to explore North Carolina’s history, geography and culture. By driving along these less traveled roads, motorists can take in breathtaking glimpses of the Tar Heel state that may not be visible along busy urban corridors.
To get the best views of fall’s bright orange, yellow and red hues, NCDOT suggests exploring a few of the following byways known for their unique scenery.
Forest Heritage Scenic Byway — rich with color throughout its forests and mountain farms — is noted as a Nationally Designated Scenic Byway. Beginning on U.S. 276 North and ending at the U.S. 64/N.C. 280 intersection near Brevard, this road runs through the Pisgah National Forest, as well as the Pisgah Forest Nation’s Fish Hatchery. A sight to behold while riding on this Byway is the 85-foot Looking Glass Falls, complimented by Sliding Rock Falls, a popular summer swimming location. Less than 3 miles from Sliding Rock Falls is the great Cradle of Forestry, the birthplace of forestry education and scientific forestry. Heading south to Bethel on N.C. 215, travelers will find that this route follows the West Fork of the Pigeon River while passing farmland, waterfalls and Cold Mountain. The final eight miles run parallel to the French Broad River and onto U.S. 64.
Pisgah Loop Scenic Byway is known for its 47-mile landscape-rich loop that begins and ends on N.C. 181. Dotted along this route are numerous named sites that are picturesque during all seasons, especially autumn. They include the route of Kirk’s Raiders of the Civil War, Linville Falls and Wiseman’s View. Motorists can drive up Dog Back Mountain to get impressive bird’s eye views of Table Rock Mountain, Hawksbill Mountain and the Chimneys.
Piedmont Region — Uwharrie Scenic Road takes its travelers through the Uwharrie Mountains, parts of the Uwharrie National Forest and the area known as the “Carolina Slate Belt.” This scenic route stands out because of its historic roots in exploration. Visitors can see leaves changing as they hike the rolling hills, tour the Reed Gold Mine state historic site, or stop at the restored buildings of Denton Farm Park. This 50-mile route begins at the intersection of N.C.49 and U.S. 64 in Asheboro, home of the state’s zoo. It ends at the intersection of N.C. 49 and Old Charlotte Road near Concord, and takes about an hour to drive.
Averasboro Battlefield Scenic Byway — This particular battlefield is as abundant in fall foliage as it is in history. The byway travels through the heart of one of the Civil War’s last battlefields in Cumberland and Harnett counties. To access the byway, motorists must take Exit 65 off Interstate 95 and follow N.C. 82 West through the community of Goodwin. As the byway begins, motorists will see small farms and patches of woodland that dot the route. This area forms a small plateau between the floodplains of what used to be known as the Cape Fear and Black plantations. This is one of the shorter scenic byways at 4.7 miles long.
Edenton-Windsor Loop — This coastal byway is much like a time machine, carrying motorists through several colonial-era communities along a figure eight-like route. The Loop begins and ends in Edenton, the Chowan County seat. This area, settled in 1685, was once one of the most prosperous ports in colonial America. This path follows tree-lined streets through town and over the two-mile-wide Chowan River, bringing us to the community of Midway. Passing through Midway, the byway allows travelers to see rural farmlands, woodlands, the Cashie River, the lands of Windsor and the quaint community of Mackys. Towards the end of the byway, the road follows the route of Old American Indian trails back out to Windsor. The drive time for 87-mile byway is estimated at two hours.
Alligator River Route allows motorists to travel and explore expansive wetlands and open farmlands. The 71-mile route runs through Hyde, Tyrrell and Dare counties beginning at the intersection of U.S. 264 and N.C. 94. Lake Mattamuskeet, the relaxing freshwater lake that spreads over 50,000 acres is located along this byway. The route shows travelers and motorists how vivid colors can bring coastal flat lands, shallow lakes and rivers banks to life. When driving along this route, motorists should stop at Mattamuskeet’s old pumping plant, which is now used as an observation tower, so viewers can get a panoramic look at the changing leaves and abundant local wildlife.
For more information on NCDOT’s Scenic Byways program, visit ncdot.gov/travel/scenic.