The National Scenic Byways Program is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. The program is a grass-roots collaborative effort established to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation recognizes certain roads as All-American Roads or National Scenic Byways based on one or more archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities.
The byway in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois follows along the twists and turns of the Ohio River and its surrounding communities and offers attractions for every sightseer. Presently covering three states and steeped in history both natural and cultural, every captivating stop on the 967-mile byway has a story to tell or a lesson to teach. This history-rich byway meanders along the Ohio River banks, hugging its shoreline and offering almost continuous views of the river. The history of the Ohio is found both in rural landscapes and quaint river communities, covering periods from Native American habitation through western settlement, affecting transportation patterns and industrialization.
Ohio River Scenic Byway - Pennsylvania
The Ohio River Trail Council proposes the development of the Ohio River Scenic Byway in Pennsylvania.
Ohio River Scenic Byway - Ohio
National Forest: Wayne National Forest
Length: 452.0 mi / 727.4 km
Time to Allow: Plan 5 days to enjoy the byway or about 10 hours to drive it.
Enjoy majestic views of the Ohio River along the entirety of this scenic route. Native Americans and early European settlers used the Ohio heavily. It marked the boundary between the North and South during the slavery era and was the gate to freedom for many.
The Ohio River Scenic Byway story is that of the Ohio River itself. Winding its way through the Ohio valley, this great river has shaped the landscape and economics of the region. From native prehistoric cultures to the children of the Information Age, the river has provided sustenance and transport for countless peoples. Since the opening of the west, to the great age of industry and the frenetic 20th century — all things in the region find their roots in the Ohio River.
The Ohio River Scenic Byway follows along the Ohio state boundary on the north. The scenery along the byway echoes the natural history of the valley and the historical use of the land and river.
Formed when glaciers diverted existing rivers 10,000 years ago, the Ohio River carries the waters of the Monogahela and Allegheny Rivers and many other tributaries to the Mississippi River. Creating splendid views of the winding path through the surrounding hills, the Powerful Ohio River is broad and relatively shallow.
Along the byway lie prehistoric burial mounds, mostly from the Hopewell culture, indicating the region's importance in ancient patterns of migration before the settlement of European descendents.
Meriwether Lewis and the people of his expedition passed through the region in 1803, camping and conducting business near Steubenville, Bellaire, Marietta, Belpre, Aberdeen, and Cincinnati to name a few places. William Clark later joined the group as the expedition moved West.
Prior to and during the Civil War, the Ohio River corridor was a hotbed of abolitionist and Underground Railroad activity as escaped slaves desperately tried to reach the Ohio side of the river and cross into free territory. At this time, the northern side of the river literally and figuratively shone like a beacon of freedom, as many Ohio town residents signaled a place of safe harbor from bounty hunters and slave owners searching for escaped slaves by keeping lights in their windows. The National Underground Railroad Freedom center, in Cincinnati, celebrates the heroism and bravery of both "passengers" and "conductors" on the Underground Railroad, such as New Richmond, Ripley, Aberdeen, and Ironton.
The communities that have grown up along the river are the byway's greatest assets. The remarkable charm and beauty of many nineteenth-century building styles can be enjoyed in towns all along the byway. Cincinnati, already renowned for its commerce, became known as the "Athens in the West." In the 1830's and 1840's, Cincinnati earned this repuation because of its fine cultural and artistic institutions. Today it remains the largest byway city with the the once heavily industrialized riverfront being converted to public spaces that celebrate recreation and the beauty of the river.
As the Ohio River winds its way along the Ohio shoreline, it traverses 462 miles of historic, cultural, scenic, and naturally abundant landscape. From East Liverpool to Cincinnati, there are many similarities in the people, industries, historical development , and favorite pasttimes that are shared. All the while, the Ohio River flows gracefully alongside the byway, beckoning the visitor on, weaving a seamless, meaningful experience.
Ohio River Scenic Byway - Indiana
National Forest: Hoosier National Forest
Length: 303.0 mi / 487.6 km
Time to Allow: 2 days to see the byway or about 6 hours to drive it.
Designated as one of America’s Byways in 1996, the Ohio River Scenic Byway in Indiana is a 302 mile journey through scenic southern Indiana. The byway features many historic, natural, and recreational sites. Travelers will enjoy agricultural countryside with well-kept barns, vineyards, and orchards; vistas of rural villages dominated by church spires and historic courthouses; and thriving cities with imposing architecture. The topography of the Ohio River Scenic Byway is diverse.
At times it closely follows the winding river and at other times it moves more inland on tree-lined winding back roads. As the byway travels further west, the land spreads out and visitors can see the river bottoms. Along the way scenic overlooks provide beautiful views of the Ohio River valley.
Traversing the lush hills and farmlands of southern Indiana, and paralleling the mighty Ohio River, this route marks a timeworn and history-rich corridor linking historic villages and farms through a picturesque landscape that has profoundly influenced the people and communities through which it passes.
Rock outcroppings, forested hills, caves, scenic waterways, and limestone bluffs will provide beautiful pictures for you to cherish.
Indiana was settled from the south to the north and the Ohio River served as a transportation route bringing settlers to what was then the new frontier. History buffs will enjoy the many historic sites along the Ohio River Scenic Byway.
Meriwether Lewis met up with William Clark at the Falls of Ohio and embarked on October 26, 1803 with a group of men from Kentucky and the Indiana Territory that would become the nucleus of the Corps of Discovery on their journey to explore the Louisiana Purchase and Pacific Northwest. Today visitors can see a replica of George Rogers Clark’s cabin at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. This is where Clark’s brother William was staying when he received a letter from Meriwether Lewis asking him to be co-commander of the expedition and where the group set off for their trip down the Ohio River.
Ohio River Scenic Byway - Illinois
National Forest: Shawnee National Forest
Length: 188.1 mi / 302.7 km
Time to Allow: 8 to 10 hours to enjoy the byway or 4 hours to drive it.
The natural features of the Ohio Valley in Illinois represent some of the most dramatic along the entire river. View unique limestone features such as Cave-in-Rock State Park and Garden of the Gods. Visit numerous historic places and structures. Plan to attend the many festivals and events that occur year-round.
The Ohio River National Scenic Byway, a 967-mile tri-state byway, is the only one in the nation to link together three national forests – Wayne in Ohio, Hoosier in Indiana, and Shawnee in Illinois. Illinois is home to 188-miles of this magnificent byway.
Motorists who seek a more relaxing pace, away from the crowded highways and interstates, need to exit off the fast lane and merge onto the Ohio River Scenic Byway, where they will find a relaxing drive across some of southern Illinois’ most picturesque scenery. This corridor is a mecca of historical and architectural sites, festivals, fall foliage, beautiful scenery, adventure and outdoor recreation.
The Illinois portion of the byway is home to many of nature’s architectural wonders. Garden of the Gods features 320 million year old sandstone rock formations, and inspiring views that will leave you with lasting memories. Visitors will find many interesting rock formations with names such as Camel Rock, Anvil Rock and Devil’s Smokestack. Cave in Rock State Park features a 55-foot-wide cave that was carved out of the limestone rock by water thousands of years ago. History boasts this cave was home to river pirates, and still today, in the deep, dark recesses you can immediately conjure up images of mystery, adventure and pirates. It is now a great vantage point from which to watch today's river traffic.
The terminus of the byway features the Confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, at Ft. Defiance Park in Cairo. The park is a beautiful place to watch the constant meeting of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers that refuse to merge. The Ohio River waters become a blue ribbon, rippling far down the brown Mississippi currents. Boatmen’s Memorial, dedicated to those who died on the rivers, provides a vantage point to observe the constant meeting and appreciate the vastness of these two great rivers.
History abounds throughout the byway corridor. Many forts from the Civil War and the French and Indian War were placed strategically along this route, and the Underground Railroad had many stops along this byway. Ft. Massac State Park and Museum features a replica of the 1802 American Fort and displays items from the fort’s French and American period, plus Native American and other artifacts. The third weekend of October each year is designated for the Ft. Massac Encampment. Highlights of this event include mock battles and tactical demonstrations, voyagers, traders, craftsman, music and period food and dress.
Cairo, positioned at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, was a thriving port city and an important strategic site during the Civil War, a history that's alive today in Cairo's many old houses and buildings. Historic Cairo houses many landmarks of its once important Civil War role. Many Civil War and historical artifacts can be found at the Cairo Custom House Museum. The Safford Memorial Library is Queen Anne architecture and houses a valuable collection of Civil War documents. There are even turn-of-the century mansions that can still be toured today, such as Magnolia Manor and Riverlore, both located along Millionaire's Row. Mound City National Cemetery, one of twelve original National Cemeteries, was designated in 1864 as a burial place for both Union and Confederate Soldiers. The cemetery contains over 2,400 “unknown” graves and one simply marked “Confederate Spy”.