Wander off the beaten path to find Iowa’s scenic side

River-bluffsBeautiful land, that’s the definition of the word Iowa (according to the 1987 General Assembly).  Summer is half way over, but there’s still a lot of time to get out and enjoy the treasures Iowa has to offer. The Iowa DOT is making exploring the state’s beauty a little easier by designating routes as scenic or heritage byways. Today, Iowa has nine state-designated byways and two nationally designated byways.

Our state is home to over 114,000 miles of public roads. From unmaintained dirt roads to concrete highways, we have it all. So what makes a road a scenic or heritage byway? Characteristics of an Iowa-designated byway include intrinsic, scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archeological, or recreational qualities. Each byway has scenic or historic focus along with a unique mix of attributes. 

BywaysLogoThe Iowa DOT began the state scenic byways program in 1993 as a way to preserve and promote Iowa’s scenic and heritage (historic and cultural) resources. To receive the designation, local entities work together to complete and submit an application to the Iowa DOT. The applications include the location of the proposed route and describe the scenic or historic elements along the way. Support letters from local city and county governments are key element to assuring that proposed routes are successful in becoming a byway.  Cooperation of the entities along the route is one of the most important elements to attracting visitors to the area which work to revitalize many of Iowa’s small communities.

  • State scenic and heritage byways
    • Delaware Crossing Scenic Byway
    • Driftless Area Scenic Byway
    • Glacial Trail Scenic Byway
    • Grant Wood Scenic Byway
    • Historic Hills Scenic Byway
    • Iowa Valley Scenic Byway
    • Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway
    • River Bluffs Scenic Byway
    • Western Skies Scenic Byway

There are also national byway designations. A national scenic byway is designated by the Federal Highway Administration. There are 150 distinct and diverse national routes that the FHWA calls “America’s Byways.” Iowa has two of them, the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway in western Iowa and the Great River Road National Scenic Byway in eastern Iowa. Iowa is the only state to have a national byway flanking its west and east borders. Each represents a globally significant land form that travelers from around the world come to experience.

In 2011, through a federal grant, the Iowa DOT provided new signage for the routes. Last year the agency revamped the byways website (, including a mobile-friendly format with information ranging from events and attractions, to the ability to develop a travel itinerary complete wiith maps. The site also allows you to request an Iowa Byways Travel Guide, send electronic postcards, save favorites from your most memorable trips and include travel notes to record trip details.


The Iowa DOT’s byways program currently does not provide funding , but assists local areas in highlighting unique attributes, attracting tourists and highlighting specific attractions. The Iowa DOT often helps route organizers research funding opportunities through other programs related to recreational trails, transportation alternatives, tourism, economic development, and other programs.

To find more information on Iowa’s byways designations and other historic routes you can visit


We want to hear from you. Tell us about your favorite byway through Iowa and what adventures or activities you’ve encountered along the way.


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