District 3 - Scenic Highway Program

The stated intent (Streets and Highway Code Section 260) of the California Scenic Highway Program is to protect and enhance California's natural beauty and to protect the social and economic values provided by the State's scenic resources.

Scenic Routes in District 3

Location: From Government Center Interchange in Placerville to the South Lake Tahoe city limit.

Highway Name: Route 50

Length: 58 miles

Description: This scenic route runs from the suburban foothills of the Sierra Nevada through the American River Canyon, over the granite peaks of Echo Summit, then descends to the Tahoe Basin with spectacular views of Lake Tahoe.

Special Note: Steep and mountainous at times. Chains may be required or partial road closures can occur during winter storms.

Location: From Placer County line to the Alpine County Line

Highway Name: Lake Tahoe Road

Length: 27 miles

Description: This road travels along alpine forests and meadows, with spectacular views of mountain ranges and peaks. The northern portion overlooks Lake Tahoe

Special Note: Steep and mountainous at times. Chains may be required or partial road closures can occur during winter storms.

Location: From Skillman Flat Campground to one-half mile east of Lowell Hill Road.

Highway Name: Yuba-Donner Scenic Byway

Length: 6 miles

Description: This U.S. Forest Service Scenic Byway and State Scenic Highway goes through pine forest and offers views of the dramatic results of hydraulic mining.

Special Note: None.

Location: From the Contra Costa County line to the southern city limit of Sacramento

Highway Name: River Road

Length: 35 miles

Description: This road meanders through historic Delta agricultural areas and small towns along the Sacramento River.

Special Note: None.

Location: From the Yuba County Line to the Yuba Summit.

Highway Name: Yuba-Donner Scenic Byway

Length: 41 miles

Description: This U.S. Forest Service Scenic Byway and State Scenic Highway winds through the Yuba River canyon. It goes through several picturesque gold rush towns and climbs up to the Yuba Summit.

Special Note: None.

This 41-mile drive transects a kaleidoscope of California's geology and its native flora through ancient to recent history. The scenic route accords travelers a complete sensory experience ranging from expansive mountain vistas to sounds of the Yuba River rushing alongside the highway much of the way.

Vegetation in the lower elevation, western portions of the drive is characteristically chaparral with manzanita, buckbrush and chamise dominating roadside environs. As elevation increases, vegetation merges into foothill woodland with dense oak forests, madrone and dogwood, then climbs to mountain forestland and an array of coniferous species.

Before California's 1849 gold rush much of the area was home to Nisenan Native Americans. The Nisenan harvested acorns and fished waters abundant with trout, salmon and other species. The Yuba still favored by recreational anglers with excellent river access from Highway 49 and many day use camping areas.

The region was mined extensively for gold from 1849 to 1941. Riverbeds were reputedly lined with the precious metal but fortunes were produced for a lucky few. Recreational miners can be found today panning, sluicing and dredging gold from the bank and bottoms of the region's river.

Downieville, roughly midpoint along the route at the confluence of the Yuba and Downie Rivers, is the Sierra County seat and a popular tourism destination with ample overnight accommodations and restaurants. Sierra City, about 12-miles east of Downieville, is a restored mining camp-cum-recreation and tourism village featuring a quiet lifestyle, excellent scenery and hospitable residents.

The east end of the scenic drive terminates at the Yuba Summit (elevation 6,701') which overlooks rich agricultural valleys to the east. The westbound drive from Yuba Summit features equally dramatic panoramas of rugged peaks, meandering-to-cascading river waters, and a well-maintained roadway that make Sierra 49 one of California's outstanding scenic highways.

Scenic Highway Program Frequently Asked Questions

A scenic highway can create a positive image for a community, preserve and protect environmental assets and encourage tourism.

Yes. Although there is no official list of county highways eligible for scenic designation, county highways that are believed to have outstanding scenic qualities are considered eligible. To receive official designation, the county must follow the same process required for official designation of state scenic highways.

A scenic corridor is the land generally adjacent to and visible from the highway. A scenic corridor is identified using a motorist's line of vision. A reasonable boundary is selected when the view extends to the distant horizon. Jurisdictional boundaries of the applicants are also considered.

  1. A scenic highway designation protects the scenic values of an era. Official designation requires a local jurisdiction to enact a scenic corridor protection program that protects and enhances scenic resources. A properly enforced program can:

    • Protect from encroachment of inappropriate land uses such as junkyards, dumps, rendering plants and gravel pits.
    • Mitigate uses which detract from scenic values by proper siting, landscaping or screening.
    • Prohibit billboards and regulate on-site signs so that they do not detract from scenic views.
    • Make development more compatible with the environment by requiring building siting, height, colors and materials that are harmonious with the surroundings.
    • Regulate grading to prevent erosion and cause minimal alteration of existing contours and to preserve important vegetative features along the highway.
    • Protect the hillsides by allowing only low density development on steep slops and along ridge lines.
    • Prevent the need for noise barriers (sound walls) by requiring a minimum setback for residential development adjacent to a scenic highway.
  2. A scenic highway designation can enhance community identity and pride, encouraging citizen commitment to preserving community values.
  3. By preserving scenic resources, a scenic highway designation will enhance land values and make the area more attractive.
  4. A scenic highway designation can be used to promote local tourism that is consistent with the community scenic values.

No, but the corridor protection program seeks to encourage quality development that does not degrade the scenic value of the corridor.

The status of a state scenic highway changes from eligible to officially designated when the local jurisdiction adopts a scenic corridor protection program, applies to the California Department of Transportation for scenic highway approval, and receives notification from Caltrans that the highway has been designated as a Scenic Highway.

A highway may be designated scenic depending upon how much of the natural landscape can be seen by travelers, the scenic quality of the landscape, and the extent to which development intrudes upon the traveler's enjoyment of the view.

There is no special funding for preparation of scenic highway nominations. Some types of projects on scenic highways may qualify for funding under the Transportation Enhancement Activities (TEA) Program.

Caltrans places the colorful "poppy" sign, logo of the scenic highway program along the route. Also, the poppy logo identifies scenic highways on travel maps, and maps produced by the State Division of Tourism.

The State Scenic Highway System includes a list of highways that are either eligible for designation a scenic highways or have been so designated. These highways are identified in Section 263 of the Streets and Highways Code. A list of California's scenic highways and map showing their locations may be obtained from Caltrans' Scenic Highway Coordinators.

There are minimum requirements for scenic corridor protection:

  1. Regulation of land use and density of development.
  2. Detailed land and site planning.
  3. Control of outdoor advertising (including a ban on billboards).
  4. Careful attention to and control of earthmoving and landscaping.
  5. Careful attention to design and appearance of structures and equipment.

The Scenic Highway Coordinator at your local Caltrans district office can provide additional information.

Many state highways are located in areas of outstanding natural beauty. California's Scenic Highway Program was created by the Legislature in 1963. It's purpose is to preserve and protect scenic highway corridors from change which would diminish the aesthetic value of lands adjacent to highways. The state laws governing the Scenic Highway Program are found in the Streets and Highway Code, Section 260 et seq.

When a city or county nominates an eligible scenic highway for official designation, it must identify and define the scenic corridor of the highway. The agency must also adopt ordinances to preserve the scenic quality of the corridor or document such regulations that already exists in various portions of local codes. These ordinances make up the scenic corridor protection program.

The most critical element of the scenic highway program is implementation and maintenance of the scenic corridor protection program. Caltrans monitors officially designated scenic highways at least every five years. Designation can be revoked if the local government ceases to enforce its protection program. A city or county may request revocation if it no longer wishes to be part of the program.

If a route is included on the list of scenic highways eligible for official designation, contact the Caltrans District Scenic Highway Coordinator for a copy of the Guidelines for the Official Designation of Scenic Highways. The city or county with jurisdiction over lands adjacent to the highway must take the following steps:

  1. Inspect and evaluate the route to determine if it meets the current scenic highway criteria and to what extent, if any, development has intruded on the scenic views.
  2. Submit a Resolution of Intent package to the Department Transportation Advisory Committee (DTAC) through the appropriate Caltrans district office. The package should include a Resolution of Intent by the local governing body, maps showing the scenic corridor and existing zoning, a map overlay of development in the corridor, a narrative description of the scenic elements, and a videotape representative of the highway segment. Caltrans District and Headquarters Scenic Highway Coordinators and DTAC evaluate each proposal. If it is determined that the corridor meets the scenic criteria, the applicant proceeds to Step 3. If the route fails this review, it is not advisable to continue seeking official designation.
  3. Prepare and adopt a scenic corridor protection program. Caltrans staff and DTAC review the protection program. If it is determined that the program meets the legislative standards, a recommendation to designate the highway as scenic will be forwarded to the Caltrans Director.

A city of county may propose adding routes with outstanding scenic elements to the list of eligible state highways. However, state legislation is required. Local governments should consult Caltrans' District Scenic Highway Coordinator before initiating action , to ensure that the route qualifies.

Official scenic highway status places no restrictions for making improvements on scenic highways. However, Caltrans works with appropriate agencies to coordinate transportation proposals and maintenance activities and to ensure the protection of scenic corridors to the maximum extent feasible.