AAA Magazines

4 scenic byways to drive close to home

In Eastern Kentucky, Dewey Lake at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park is roughly at the midpoint of the Country Music Highway. Photo by Patrick Jennings/

I started my day at a Potomac riverbank monument where America’s first steam-powered boat made its debut. A few hours later, I eased into spa waters drawn from the same spring that once soothed George Washington. And later that day, I hiked more than a mile in a dark tunnel that required 14 years to complete in the mid-1800s.

It’s amazing what you can find on a byway.

Over its 136 miles, West Virginia’s Washington Heritage Trail includes sites the Founding Father visited as a teenager when he was hired to survey the area. The trail is one of nearly 200 federally recognized scenic byways. These thematic, curated road trips highlight natural beauty and spotlight history and culture.

Here are 4 scenic byways that showcase the best of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

1. West Virginia: Washington Heritage Trail

Harpers Ferry

At the far end of West Virginia’s east panhandle, Harpers Ferry is seen here from Maryland Heights across the Potomac River. Photo by Jonbilous/

The Washington Heritage Trail is easily accessible from Interstate 81. Like other byways, it’s best to think of it as an anti-interstate, a way to drive back roads and take in the sights. This byway kept me busy for nearly 3 fun days.

I started in Harpers Ferry, a National Historical Park at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. Historic riverfront buildings tell one of the nation’s most dramatic stories: Abolitionist leader John Brown’s 1859 raid on a federal armory. Now, the town’s restored red-brick stores and warehouses contain exhibits and show short films about the failed coup that helped lead to the Civil War.

While it’s not the exact midpoint, Harpers Ferry is also considered what some call the “psychological halfway point” of the Appalachian Trail, the 2,100-mile hiking path from Georgia to Maine. Visitors can stop at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy visitors center for a map offering a brief taste of the adventure. As it passes through town, the trail climbs to the Jefferson Rock overlook and crosses the Potomac on a protected pedestrian walk.

Just down the road in Shepherdstown, a monument honors James Rumsey, who chose the city to show off his steam-powered boat in 1787. “She moves, by God, she moves!” one of the witnesses exclaimed.

The area’s biggest town, Martinsburg, was an important stop on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Its rare 19th-century railway roundhouse was used to maintain and store locomotives until the late 1980s.

George Washington bath tub

George Washington bathed here: Berkeley Springs is a stop on West Virginia’s Washington Heritage Trail. Photo by Larry Bleiberg

From there, it’s a winding drive to Berkeley Springs. Home to a small rock trough it points to as the “George Washington’s bath tub,” the city proudly calls itself “America’s First Spa.” Guests can book a private soak at the recently renovated Old Roman Bathhouse, which dates to 1815.

The trail swings west on State Route 9 to the town of Paw Paw, where visitors can walk through a 3,118-foot tunnel. It took 14 years to build, all so canal boats could avoid 6 miles of river bends and curves.

Finally, the route loops back, stopping in Charles Town, which still uses the courthouse where John Brown was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. But the town is perhaps prouder of its connection to Washington. More than 70 of his relatives and their descendants are buried in the cemetery at Zion Episcopal Church.

As I turned toward home, I realized I had learned a whole new side of our first president. From his early days as a teen surveyor, to his “bath tub,” to the resting place of his kin, the byway had covered it all.

You may also like: 6 best places to go hiking in West Virginia

2. Kentucky: Country Music Highway

Loretta Lynn shack

A highlight of Kentucky’s Country Music Highway is the shack where Loretta Lynn grew up in Butcher Hollow. Photo courtesy Pikeville-Pike County Tourism CVB

Cue up a playlist because you’re going to want a soundtrack for this ride through the heart of Appalachia—and music history.

The 7-county, 144-mile journey offers an easy driving trip. Pass by state parks, mountain lakes, and small towns, many with a connection to the surprising number of stars who grew up in the region.

Start your journey in the northeastern Kentucky town of Ashland, birthplace of music legends such as Billy Ray Cyrus and the mother-daughter duo The Judds. Check to see if there’s a show at the art deco Paramount Arts Center before heading south.

Next stop: Paintsville and the U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum. More than a dozen displays honor luminaries like Tom T. Hall, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, and Gary Stewart. The museum often offers Front Porch Pickin’ events with live bluegrass music on Thursday evenings.

For many, the highway highlight comes 10 miles away in Butcher Holler, home to the shack made famous by the 1980 movie Coal Miner’s Daughter in which Sissy Spacek portrayed Loretta Lynn.

Lynn, her little sister and fellow musician Crystal Gayle, and 6 other siblings grew up in the wooden cabin that’s now commemorated with a historic marker and offering seasonal tours. The family still lives in the area, and you may run into relatives at Webb’s General Store, where you can pick up souvenirs.

Down the road in Prestonsburg, the Mountain Arts Center offers another chance to hear live music. Nearby Jenny Wiley State Resort Park welcomes visitors with scenery so inspiring you may be tempted to write your own song.

The byway continues past Pikeville, where markers note the bloody Hatfield and McCoy family feud; through the town of Jenkins and its David A. Zegeer Coal-Railroad Museum; and ends in Whitesburg, where the Lilley Cornett Woods preserves a 554-acre stand of old-growth forest.

You may also like: Ashland, Virginia, is one of the nation’s best train-watching spots

3. Ohio: Hocking Hills Scenic Byway

Waterfall in Hocking Hill State Park

In Southern Ohio, Hocking Hills State Park is so nice that it has its own scenic byway. May is Drive Ohio Byways Month. Photo by Larry Knupp/

At just 26 miles, this Southeastern Ohio road trip might sound like a mere detour. But drivers following State Route 374 immediately discover why that track through thick forests flanked by sandstone cliffs is often called the prettiest drive in Ohio. Focusing on Hocking Hills State Park, it is one of the nation’s newest themed routes—federally designated as one of America’s Byways in 2021.

The byway starts in the small town of Rockbridge. It soon reaches Cantwell Cliffs, where hiking trails lead past wildflowers and a waterfall. Back on the road, the route passes a rare Mail Pouch chewing tobacco advertisement painted on a barn. A few minutes later, The Spirits of the Hills Shop welcomes lovers of wood art.

Then comes the town of Mound Crossing, likely named for a ceremonial site created by the Adena culture more than 2,000 years ago. They also carved the nearby Rock House, a deep cliffside cave, where there’s archaeological evidence of cooking and water storage.

Other notable stops include the rugged Conkle’s Hollow gorge; the John Glenn Astronomy Park, where dark skies offer ideal conditions for stargazing; and Old Man’s Cave, set in a deep gorge rimmed with waterfalls.

Want to stay and see more? The park has rental cabins, campgrounds, and a lodge that opened in 2022.

You may also like: Explore covered bridges in Ohio’s Ashtabula County

4. Pennsylvania: Great Lakes Seaway Trail

Lake Erie coast beside the Great Lakes Seaway Trail

Toward the west end of the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, Erie Bluffs State Park is one of several attractions along Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie coast. Photo by Faina Gurevich/

One of the nation’s best coastal drives is nowhere near the ocean.

The Great Lakes Seaway Trail passes more than 1,000 islands, dozens of lighthouses, and memorable maritime scenery. One of the longer byways, it stretches more than 500 miles, starting near Erie, Pennsylvania, and ending at New York State’s northeastern tip. The trail hugs Lake Erie and the Niagara River before skirting Lake Ontario’s southern shore on its way to parallel the St. Lawrence River.

It could take weeks to explore it all, but the 64-mile Pennsylvania section offers a great introduction. Beginning on US Highway 20 at the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, drivers are soon lured by the sweeping lake views at Erie Bluffs State Park near North Springfield.

The lake is home to a wide array of wildlife, and perhaps even a sea monster. You’ll learn about the legend of Bessie, along with the region’s more documented natural and human history at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center in Erie. It offers exhibits and a 75-foot lake observation tower rising from the ground like a glass beacon.

The center overlooks Presque Isle State Park, a sandy 3,200-acre peninsula with swimming, bird-watching, a boardwalk, and a chance to see 3 lighthouses.

The byway continues along the Lake Erie shore, offering hiking opportunities at Shades Beach Park, and then eases into New York State, passing through Buffalo and Niagara Falls on the way to hundreds more miles of lake shore.

Larry Bleiberg is an award-winning writer, travel editor, and creator of

You may also like:

Follow us on Instagram

Follow @AAAAutoClubEnterprises for the latest on what to see and do.

Read more articles

You'll find more of the articles you love to read at AAA Insider.

Travel offers & deals

" "

Hot travel deals

Get the latest offers from AAA Travel’s preferred partners.

" "

Travel with AAA

See how we can help you plan, book, and save on your next vacation.

" "

Entertainment savings

Save big with AAA discounts on tickets to your next adventure.

" "

Travel with confidence

Purchase travel insurance with Allianz Global Assistance.

back to top icon