Nicholas DeRenzo
Sep 2020

Turns out, taking the road “less traveled by” is more than a lovely and wise line of Robert Frost verse; it’s also something that the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization takes to heart. Sunday, September 27th marks the UN’s World Tourism Day, and this year, the organization is promoting rural development and the discoveries that await when you travel beyond the expected (read: overcrowded) urban hubs. Rustic journeys not only reward you the traveler (natural splendor, fresh air, open space), they benefit rural communities economically.

In the U.S., travelers can honor this mission by flying into rural regions and taking in the natural beauty along a National Scenic Byway. Here, five of our favorite rural routes to help you plan your next trip.

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Schoodic Scenic Byway
As vacationers clog other parts of New England looking for fall foliage, this jagged stretch of the Maine coastline remains blissfully crowd-free. That means you can stop for a lobster roll without an hour-long wait, and you’ll see more harbor seals than human beachgoers. Snap your requisite photos of Tidal Falls and the Prospect Harbor Lighthouse, and as you round Schoodic Point, check Acadia National Park off your bucket list: The peninsula includes about five percent of Acadia’s total landmass — the only part on the mainland — and it attracts a mere 10 percent of the park’s annual visitors.

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Top of the Rockies
What’s the best part of this dramatic mountain byway? As Miley Cyrus would say, “it’s the climb.” Beginning in Aspen, this route is all about altitude: It rarely dips below 9,000 feet; it passes through Leadville, America’s highest incorporated city at 10,152 feet; and it offers views of the state’s two tallest fourteeners, Mt. Elbert (14,433 feet) and Mt. Massive (14,421 feet). A particularly breathtaking stretch — literally — is Independence Pass, which sits above the tree line in an alpine tundra environment that’s home to pikas, marmots and mountain goats.

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Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway
There’s a trapped-in-time quality to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where you’ll encounter tidewater landscapes and quaint fishing villages. The pleasures here are simple: Watch sailboats drift along the horizon, peer up at bald eagles and ospreys wheeling overhead and always end the night with steamed-to-order blue crabs.

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Kaibab Plateau-North Rim Parkway
This ponderosa-pine-lined road leads directly to the Grand Canyon’s crowd-free North Rim, which only sees about 10 percent of the visitors of the South Rim. This stretch 1,000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim (be sure to check for snow conditions before you go), and cuts through aspen groves and meadows filled with wildflowers in summer. Keep your eyes peeled for rare Kaibab squirrels, which have tufted ears, dark bodies and white tails and live nowhere else on earth.

Credit: Getty Images

Outer Banks Scenic Byway
North Carolina
This grand tour of the Tarheel State’s pristine barrier islands includes six lighthouses and beaches where wild horses roam free. One of the most unexpected highlights is Jockey’s Ridge State Park, home to the tallest sand dunes on the East Coast at 80 to 100 feet. They’re so high, in fact, that you can hang glide from the top! Remember, there’s historic precedent for catching the wind here: The Wright Brothers took their first flight just six miles north in Kill Devil Hills.

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