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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography

Minnesota Byway Signs

A Photo Tour Of Minnesota
State Byway Signs


Over the past few years, a number of colorful highway signs have popped up along Minnesota highways. After driving past what seems like a limitless variety of different signs, I decided to look into the topic a bit further. After learning about the Byways and Named Highways programs, I decided that I would start photographing these signs as I find them in the wild.

The Byway and Named Highway signs break down into the following categories:

•  National Scenic Byways Program
•  Minnesota State Scenic Byway
•  National Forest Byways Within Minnesota

Each highway type and their members are described below. As of August, 2010, I have visited each of these byways and have photographed an example of their marker signs. If any new byways are created, I will track them down and add them to this list.


Byways Recognized By The
National Scenic Byways Program

The National Scenic Byway Program was established by Congress in 1991. It was reauthorized and expanded in 1998. In 2005, Congress requested that the NSBP establish a brand name for what is now called America's Byways, and help increase tourism by actively promoting the byway program. The NSBP has funded over 2000 projects to advertise and enhance the byway experience.

The NSBP inventory contains number of types of roads. This includes National Scenic Byways, All-American Road, National Parkways, USDA Forest Service Byways, and BLM Back Country Byways. This list includes all 7 byways recognized by the NSBP.

Byway Road Sign   National Scenic Byway Logo Sign

This sign is the logo for the National Scenic Byway Program. This example is posted on Iowa 26 at the Minnesota and Iowa state line along the west bank of the Mississippi River on the Great River Road.

Byway Road Sign   Edge Of The Wilderness

The Edge Of The Wilderness byway runs 47 miles along MN-38 from Grand Rapids north to Effie. This route is noted for pristine lakes, forests, swamps, and rolling hills.

Byway Road Sign   Grand Rounds Scenic Byway — Auto Tour

The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway is a marked auto tour that covers the many parkways in the City of Minneapolis and nearby suburbs. It includes the Mississippi River Parkway, Minnehaha Parkway, the Chain Of Lakes, the Minnesota Mile near Saint Anthony Falls, Theodore Wirth Parkway, Victory Memorial Parkway, and the Saint Anthony Parkway. A final link is being built between the Milling District and Saint Anthony.

Byway Road Sign   Grand Rounds Scenic Byway — Bicycle Path

The green signs above mark the Grand Rounds auto tour. The square sign shown here is the new logo for the Grand Rounds adopted since it became a national scenic byway. The new style signs have been posted along the bicycle path that is a central feature of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway.

Byway Road Sign   Great River Road

The Great River Road was established in 1938 as a system of existing roadways and future parkways that would parallel the great river from the Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Most areas of the river have a national Great River Road posted on one side of the river, and a state Great River Road on the other side. Above Hastings, MN, there is only one route, which is both the state and national route.

Byway Road Sign   Gunflint Trail - Grand Marais to Saganaga Lake

The Gunflint Trail covers 57 miles through the wilderness of the Minnesota Arrowhead region between Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The trail was upgraded to National Scenic Byway status in 2009.

Byway Road Sign   Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway

This byway follows 88 miles of the route of former US-16 (now MN-16) from La Crescent (on the Mississippi River) to Dexter (where MN-16 meets I-90). The eastern segment travels through the bluffs and along the Root River. The western section passes through the heart of a Minnesota farming area.

Byway Road Sign   Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway

Established in 1996, the MN River Valley Scenic Byway covers 287 miles from Belle Plaine (just southwest of the twin cities) to Ortonville (near the South Dakota state line). The route follows US, state, county, and township roads, some unpaved, giving a spectacular overview of one of Minnesota's lessor known river jewels.

Byway Road Sign   North Shore Scenic Drive

The North Shore Scenic Drive runs for 154 miles along the east coast of Lake Superior. The path has a dedicated roadway from Duluth to Two Harbors, and follows MN-61 the rest of the way to Canada. The views of the water and bluffs make this one of the most spectacular drives in the nation, on par with the Pacific Coast Highway.

Byway Road Sign   Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway

The Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway covers 54 miles of county highway to the east of MN-371 between Brainerd and Bemidji. The route includes the cities of Pine River, Jenkins, Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point, Crosslake, Manhattan Beach, and Ideal Corners.

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Byways Recognized By The State Of Minnesota

The State of Minnesota has established a series of byways similar in nature to the national program. Some state byways are also national byways, while other state byways are improved national forest byways. Some of the byways are relatively new, and are not fully signed. This is believed to be a comprehensive list of all 15 state byways.
Byway Road Sign   Apple Blossom Scenic Drive

The Apple Blossom Scenic Drive follows 17 miles of county roads through the river bluffs on the Minnesota side of the river near La Crosse, Wisconsin. The two times of the year to visit are in spring when the apple blossoms are out, and in fall when apple harvesting is in full swing.

Byway Road Sign   Avenue of Pines - TH 46, Deer River to Northome

The Avenue of Pines is a 46 mile long state trunk highway that runs through the Chippewa National Forest and the Leech Lake Indian Reservation. The highway is lined with towering evergreen trees. As of spring of 2010, the highway was signed with National Forest signs. The byway route signs are not yet posted.

Byway Road Sign   Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway

This byway starts at US-71 in Wilmar and wanders along secondary roads for 245 miles between west central Minnesota cities such as Alexandria, Glenwood, and Sauk Centre. The state route has additional spurs that are not recognized by the national program. The trail features a series of lakes that were created by glacial action 10,000 years ago.

Byway Road Sign   Highway 75 - King of Trails Scenic Byway

The route that is known today as US-75 dates back to 1917 when it was mapped out by the North-South Trail Association. The route used by the King of Trails is reported to have followed an old migration route used by Native Americans. The King of Trails was officially named by the state of Minnesota in 2001, and became a byway in 2004.

Byway Road Sign   Lady Slipper Scenic Byway

The Lady Slipper is the official Minnesota State Flower. It is a rare wildflower that is most often found in bogs and swamps. This 28 mile long byway near Cass Lake passes a number of wetlands where this flower can be found.

Byway Road Sign   Lake Country Scenic Byway

The Lake Country Scenic Byway consists of an 88 mile journey along MN-34 between Detroit Lakes and Walker, Minnesota, with a spur along US-71 from Park Rapids to Itasca State Park. This route passes through three different types of forests, many lakes, and the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River.

Byway Road Sign   Otter Trail Scenic Byway

The Otter Trail Scenic Byway makes a 150 mile loop around Otter Tail County. The trail features rolling hills and lakes, passing many of the 1,000 lakes located in this county. The best access to the byway is by exiting I-94 at Fergus Falls.

Byway Road Sign   Rushing Rapids Parkway

The Rushing Rapids Parkway is the name given to MN-210 as it travels through Jay Cooke State Park along the Saint Louis River from the Gary New Duluth area over to Carlton (near Cloquet). In the 9 mile length of the parkway, the Saint Louis River drops from an elevation of 1,069 feet at Thomson down to the 601 foot elevation of Lake Superior, making for a 9 mile long 450 foot tall cascade.

Byway Road Sign   Saint Croix Scenic Byway

The Saint Croix Scenic Byway runs 124 miles along the west side of the Saint Croix River in eastern Minnesota. It starts at Point Douglas, and heads north through Afton, Stillwater, Taylors Falls, Rush City, Hinckley, and Sandstone before ending at I-35 near Askov. These signs were erected in early 2010.

Byway Road Sign   Shooting Star Wildflower and Historic Route Scenic Byway

The Shooting Star Scenic Byway follows 32 miles of MN-56 from the Iowa state line to I-90 in south-central Minnesota. The shooting star is a rare and unusual wildflower. The leaves bend back, resulting in a flower that looks like a meteorite with a long tail of flames. While the best time of year to visit is when the flowers are blooming, you can watch the farming operations in this historic agriculture area throughout the year.

Byway Road Sign   Skyline Parkway Scenic Byway

Skyline Parkway runs about 25 miles along the top of the face of the bluffs in Duluth, MN. The parkway runs from the far south part of the city near Gary and New Duluth to as far north as the Seven Bridges Road near the Lester River on the north side of Duluth. The road is well marked, but can be a little tricky to follow. No matter where you end up, the views will be superb.

Byway Road Sign   Veterans Evergreen Memorial Drive

Dedicated to the veterans of Carlton, Pine, and Saint Louis counties. The route covers 50 miles of MN-23 from I-35 near Sandstone to the Wisconsin state line near the Gary New Duluth neighborhood of Duluth. The rolling hills and modest curves in the highway make this a fantastic drive during the fall color season.

Byway Road Sign   Waters of the Dancing Sky Scenic Byway

The Waters of the Dancing Sky Scenic Byway runs for 191 miles along MN-11 in the far north part of the state. It passes though International Falls and Baudette, and runs along the Rainy River. The byway is named for the Northern Lights, which can often be seen dancing in the sky at night.

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National Forest Byways

The US Forest Service, an agency of the US Department of Agriculture, has established and maintains byways within the National Forests located in the state of Minnesota. The Forest Service has standardized on a style of marker sign that features its logo that depicts an evergreen tree between the letters U and S.
Byway Road Sign   Chippewa National Forest Scenic Highway

The Chippewa National Forest Scenic Highway runs north from US-2 near Cass Lake to Blackduck. It runs 24 miles through the Chippewa National Forest. The Scenic Highway route is also part of the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway. It is expected that the National Forest route designation will fade away over time.

Byway Road Sign   Superior National Forest Scenic Byway

The Superior National Forest Scenic Byway runs for 54 miles between Silver Bay on Lake Superior and the Iron Range city of Aurora. This is a good chance to see what the wilderness looked like before the iron mining boom rearranged much of northeastern Minnesota.

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