Who’s Up for a Drive? Here Are 4 Great Scenic Routes Across Pennsylvania.

By Kalena Thomhave

December 6, 2022

For some of the best views Pennsylvania has to offer, we’ve highlighted four scenic byways in each corner of the state.

The colder weather is the perfect time for exploring Pennsylvania’s less-traveled roads. A scenic drive allows you to enjoy the picturesque landscape while also, if you so choose, blasting your car’s heater. And when it warms up? That’s also a perfect time to adventure by car since you can make lots of stops to enjoy the sunshine.

We’ve highlighted four scenic byways in each corner of the state. You’ll never want for spectacular views, friendly people in small towns, and quiet, historical roads on these scenic drives.

SOUTHWESTERN PA

Historic National Road

Fort Necessity (Historic National Road): NPS Photo by Tom Markwardt

This scenic byway was the nation’s first federally funded road, its construction beginning in 1811 in order to connect the Eastern US to communities farther west. It actually cuts through six states, winding more than 600 miles through Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The Historic National Road is recognized as an All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration, meaning the road is among “the very best of the national scenic byways [and] considered a destination and reason for travel unto itself.”

The Pennsylvania corridor stretches 90 miles across the southwest corner of the state and serves as a “90-mile museum” of early Pennsylvania history as well as a conduit through beautiful forests and rolling hills. Begin your drive near the PA border just south of Addison on Highway 40, stopping at Fort Necessity National Battlefield, the site of one of the first battles of the French and Indian War. Follow the road between Farmington, where you can stop at Nemacolin Resort for some pampering, and Brownsville, where you can hit Nemacolin Castle for a history lesson. Then head up toward Washington, where you can explore the history of the Whiskey Rebellion, possibly by sampling some whiskey. You’ll finish the PA portion of the drive at the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border near West Alexander.

NORTHWESTERN PA

Great Lakes Seaway Trail

North Pier Light (Great Lakes Seaway Trail): Courtesy of Erie Maritime Museum

Travel this scenic byway if you’d like a change of pace from Pennsylvania’s stunning mountains to its Great Lake. The Great Lakes Seaway Trail, which hugs the shoreline of Lake Erie for more than 500 miles, runs mostly through New York. But a small section—about 64 miles—is all PA. At the border between Pennsylvania and Ohio, you’ll drive about two miles on US 20 before taking PA 5 the rest of the way. Soon you’ll have gorgeous views of Lake Erie. You can stop at Erie Bluffs State Park in Lake City to get even closer to the lake. Then, continue driving toward the city of Erie itself, where you can stop at Presque Isle State ParkBicentennial Tower, and the Erie Maritime Museum. As you continue west, you can stop at any number of wineries that dot the surrounding countryside. Once you hit the New York border, you could continue on and see Niagara Falls or the western shores of Lake Ontario. Or you could turn around and just keep sampling PA wine.

NORTHEASTERN PA

Viaduct Valley Way Scenic Byway

Tunkhannock Viaduct (Viaduct Valley Way Scenic Byway) by Navin75 // CC BY-SA 2.0 [Recommended for header since the road is in the photo]

The Viaduct Valley Way Scenic Byway, made up of PA 92 and PA 171, is named so for a reason: there are two viaducts along this 37-mile stretch of highway that are not only historic, but stunning. At the time of its construction, the Starrucca Viaduct in Lanesboro was the biggest and most expensive railroad bridge in the world. This viaduct was built in 1848 at a cost of $320,000—more than $10 million in today’s dollars. Meanwhile, the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct in Nicholson, built in 1915, remains the world’s largest concrete railroad bridge. Starting your drive near Dixon and ending near Lanesboro, you’ll also pass charming towns and scenic vistas as you travel through Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains.

SOUTHEASTERN PA

Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway

Longwood Gardens in Winter (Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway): Longwood Gardens

Not all of the byways in our state require urban dwellers to travel hours to rural areas. Indeed, the Brandywine Valley National Scenic Byway is very close to Philadelphia, and thus a perfect day trip—or weekend trip—for Philadelphians. This 25-mile byway joins PA 52 and PA 162. 

Start your journey in Chadds Ford, a town less than an hour from Philly. Visit the Twin Bridges Historic District, where you can see the old country estates that made up the lower part of the Brandywine Valley. Chadds Ford has a lovely historic district itself and is also the home of the fantastic Brandywine Museum of Art. Then, head west toward Kennett Square, where the majority of the US’s mushrooms are grown. We recommend visiting The Woodlands at Phillips Mushroom Farm to learn more about the Mushroom Capital of the World and also bring home some fungi to sample. You also can’t pass up Longwood Gardens, a popular botanical garden in Kennett Square that’s nationally known for its flora. On the next leg of your tour, drive toward West Chester, a cute small town with charming locally-owned shops and restaurants. If you’d like to spend even more time outdoors, stop by Stroud Preserve for a leisurely hike.

If you’d like to continue your trip, you can head back toward Chadds Ford, after which the byway travels into Delaware. But if the only Delaware you’d like to visit is the PA county, you don’t have to cross state borders.

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