Highway 180 is California’s newest State Scenic Highway


Two segments of State Route 180 in Fresno County (and a two-mile portion of Tulare County) have been officially designated as a State Scenic Highway. Travelers will soon see the telltale signage with a mountain and California poppy from just east of Minkler (20 miles east of Fresno) to near the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park, and from the Grant Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park to Kings Canyon National Park boundary before Cedar Grove.

Traveling eastward on Highway 180 from the Alta Main Canal near Minkler, most of the route is covered under the new designation except for segments of the route that are within the national park. 

Among other scenic distinctions, Highway 180 is a gateway to Kings Canyon National Park and offers access to the one of the deepest canyons in the United States (Kings Canyon), the highest mountain peak in the lower 48 states (Mount Whitney to the south in Sequoia National Park), and the world’s largest trees, the giant sequoia (including the General Grant, the second largest tree, located in Kings Canyon National Park, and the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia). 

There are currently no scenic state highways in Tulare County, although Highways 198 and 190 are deemed eligible but to date have not been officially designated. The eastern end of Highway 190 through Death Valley National Park in Inyo County is a State Scenic Highway and a National Scenic Byway.

To be eligible for scenic designation, the highway should traverse an area of outstanding scenic quality, containing striking views, flora, geology, or other unique natural attributes. Caltrans evaluates the merits of a nominated highway on how much of the natural landscape a traveler sees and the extent to which visual intrusions impact the “scenic corridor.” 

Visual intrusions may be natural or constructed elements, viewed from the highway, that adversely affect the scenic quality of a corridor. Adverse affects are characterized as minor, moderate, or major. 

Visual intrusions are evaluated in the following manner:

— The more pristine the natural landscape is and less affected by intrusions, the more likely the nominated highway will qualify as scenic.

— Where intrusions have occurred, the less impact they have on an area’s natural beauty, the more likely the nominated highway will qualify as scenic.

—The extent to which intrusions dominate views from the highway will determine the significance of their impact on the scenic corridor. 

Scenic highway nominations are evaluated using the following criteria:

—The highway consists of a scenic corridor that is comprised of a memorable landscape that showcases the natural scenic beauty or agriculture of California.

—Existing visual intrusions do not significantly impact the scenic corridor.

—Demonstration of strong local support for the proposed scenic highway designation.

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