Byways are roads that tell a story. Certainly highways are vital links in our transportation network but some roads are just a little more special than others. The best roads are the destination and not just the conduit to move from one place to another.

Some roads take on this special meaning because of the scenic nature of their route. Some byways are chosen due to historic significance and still others because of recreational opportunities along the way.

Think of what may be perhaps the nation's best known and most celebrated byways, routes like the Great River Road that spans both sides of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana or the historic Natchez Trace Parkway through the south.

Michigan, with is scenic beauty and rich history, should be rife with byways. And the state is - 23 of them, in fact. Have you traveled them? Likely, yes, but you may not have been fully away you are on a Pure Michigan Byway.

Michigan's Byway Network

Of the 23 byways in Michigan they can be divided into three main categories based on what governmental organization has recognized the byway.

READ MORE: Understanding Michigan's Expressway Ramp Codes

There are three byways in Michigan that are a part of the National Scenic Byway program overseen by the US Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration. This is the highest level of byways in the nation. Of the three, one is in the Keweenaw Peninsula, another in the northern Lower Peninsula along the AuSable River and a third in metro Detroit celebrating the region's auto manufacturing heritage.

Two other byways in Michigan have been designated by the US Forest Service. These two byways are both in the Upper Peninsula and, not surprisingly, run through national forest land.

The remaining byways in Michigan are designated by the state's Department of Transportation. Michigan designates all of its byways as a "Pure Michigan Byway" and are selected for either being scenic, historic or recreational.

How Roadways in Michigan Become Pure Michigan Byways

The state does not necessarily go looking for roads to become byways, rather, local groups like chambers of commerce will nominate roads to gain byways status. There's a rigorous process with lots of study and must maintain a corridor management plan.

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Just how deep is the byway process? Take, for example, a section of US 2 west of St. Ignace along the northern shore of Lake Michigan. The Corridor Management Plan for what's known as the Top of the Lake Scenic Byway runs an astounding 242 pages.

The Michigan Department of Transportation will attach a Pure Michigan Byway sign to route markers to show travelers they are on a byway. See several examples in the photos below.

The signs, however, are generally generic and do not specify the name of the byway. Take, by contrast, one of the state's National Byways, the Copper Country route through the Keweenaw. This byway carries a special route shield to designate the unique nature of the highway.

This lack of special signage may be why you could have driven many of the state's byways without realizing it.

The Future of Michigan Byways

A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation reports there is a group actively working on a new byway in the northern Lower Peninsula. The group working on the byway has

identified and categorized the route, are putting together an asset inventory, and working with local agencies to pass resolutions of support from each municipality that borders the length of the entire identified route.

In addition, a 2015 law makes three new classifications of byways available in Michigan - roads may now become byways if they have notable cultural, archeological or natural characteristics. As of 2024, no byways with these new designations have been created anywhere in the state.

Beyond Michigan, there are hundreds of byways across the nation and there's a dedicated group that champions them all. The National Scenic Byway Foundation is a one-stop shop for all of America's byways.

Check out these 23 official byways in Michigan from the short 1.5 mile routes though Bay City and Monroe to highways spanning more than 200 miles across Michigan.

23 Official Michigan Byways

These are the 23 official scenic byways in the state of Michigan. Ranging from just a mile to hundreds of miles, these are the roads that have a story across the state.

Gallery Credit: Google Maps Street View