I’ve ridden in 44 of the lower 48 United States, so from personal experience can only attest to those roads that I’ve had the pleasure to ride, but I’ve found that word of mouth is the best way to learn about great rides; in other words, ask someone who has “been there, done that”. There are many on line resources to find great roads. Of course there are several factors that determine a great road like average weather conditions, curves, speed limits, road surface, sites along the road, and ease of accessibility to name a few. Many great roads are found in the southern United States because of the climate and large population, but if you ride only in the south, you’ll be missing a lot of great roads. The following list contains my top ten “best rides”.
10. The Pigs Trail Scenic Byway in Arkansas runs through the Ozark National forest and got its name partially because it was a short cut from I-40 to Fayetteville, home of the Arkansas Razorbacks, and partially from the similarity to the route wild pigs would take if running through the woods. From Breashears to Turner Bend, the 13 mile long ride along Hwy 23 will provide plenty of 15mph hairpin turns, rocky cliffs and steep drop offs, views of flowing river water, and flourishing wildlife. The roads around the area are also good, and this can be combined with a longer ride through Arkansas. The scenic 7 road from Hot Springs, famous for its therapeutic thermal baths, to the quaint resort town of Eureka Springs, for instance, is one scenic stretch all riders will enjoy. There are plenty of great roads in Arkansas, and the state is biker friendly. They even have a “Let’s Ride” brochure available for free at visitor centers and businesses across the state.
9. Vermont Rt. 4 from Ft. Anne to Lebanon is a beautiful ride through tall trees and if ridden in the early autumn, August or September, one will be treated to breathtaking views of fall colors across sweeping hills and a landscape dotted with farm houses and sugar shacks. The small, peaceful and quiet towns along the way deserve a second look, and maybe a stop for food or gas. Vermont’s meandering roads are a well kept secret.
8. Lake Pontchartrain Causeway leading to New Orleans is the longest bridge in the World. This bridge starts in the small seaside town of Mandeville and finishes 28 miles later in Metaire, a suburb of New Orleans. While riding across the bridge, the skyline is invisible, and at many points, you see nothing but the water surrounding you; not a boat, not a bird, not even a bug. Only as you close in, can you see the majestic view of the ancient, historic Crescent city in front of you.
7. The Salmon River Highway in Oregon – Hwy 18 East, southwest of Portland runs dead into Hwy 101 (Oregon Coast Highway) near the Pacific Coast. This lonely road runs through Mt. Hood National Forest, and is one of the best I’ve ever ridden. It’s tall pine trees, river ridges and river views provides constantly changing vistas. It is well known for white water rafting, kayaking and hiking, but another well kept secret for motorcycle enthusiasts.
6. Historic Rt. 66, also called the Mother Road or the Great American Highway. Route 66 is the road from Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA that travelers used before the Interstate system was created and now has some lonely sections. There are plenty of sites, and some of my favorites are the Pops restaurant in Arcadia, OK with a giant pop bottle sculpture that reaches into the sky at an awe inspiring 66 feet tall and weighing in at 4 tons, the street corner in Winslow, Arizona where one can stand on the corner made famous by the Eagle’s tune “Take It Easy”, and the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX where visitors can add their artistic expressions by spray painting the Cadillacs standing grandly on their hoods, in a line, end to end.
5. The Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway has a 433 mile loop mapped out by the Chattanooga Convention and Tourism bureau. The route begins and ends in east Chattanooga, goes through Cleveland and then north east to the Foothills Parkway and Gatlinburg, running through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Cherokee North Carolina, and a breathtaking ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a short while before heading south to cruise the mountains on both sides of the North Carolina/Georgia border and returning to Chattanooga from the south.
4. The Tail of the Dragon, US 129, boasts 318 curves in 11 miles and is challenging for any rider. It crosses from North Carolina into Tennessee and the roads leading up to the Dragon’s Tail are scenic and fun to ride. Again, this is not a road for the novice, but it is an awesome experience. The twists and turns are close together, so there’s not much time for sightseeing while on the 11 mile stretch, but it’s worth it. At Deal’s Gap, you can purchase t-shirts, videos, and souvenirs of your ride.
3. The Devil’s Tail in Hell’s Canyon along the Snake River Canyon in the Magic Valley of Idaho is where Evel Knievel unsuccessfully attempted a jump across the Snake River on his SkyCycle X-2 in 1976. The beauty of the rock canyons to one side and the Snake River to the other never gets old as you ride the 100′s of curves. The tail starts in Oxbow, Oregon and crosses over into Idaho and 22 miles later ends at Hell’s Canyon Dam. You’ll experience high cliffs and riding the river’s edge, and best of all, you’ll get to ride it twice, since it is a dead end at the dam. This is one of the most spectacular motorcycle roads I’ve ever experienced.
2. Iron Mt. Road in South Dakota is the most challenging road I’ve ever been on and don’t recommend it for the novice, but it is a favorite. It winds itself through the Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park, and includes great views of Mount Rushmore. There are plenty of switchbacks, and during the Sturgis Rally, hundreds of motorcycles making the trek, which makes it even more dangerous. There’s no room for error, as you will have motorcycles in front of you and on your tail. But, if you are an experienced rider, and look forward to a challenge, this is one you won’t want to miss. The corkscrew shaped pig tail bridges, one lane tunnels cut through granite, and wildlife including wild burrows, goats and even elk, make this road one of the most hazardous, but thrilling, rides I’ve done.
1. Pacific Coast Highway – I list this as the number one ride because of length, scenery, variety of scenery, small town America, curves, challenges and road side attractions. I chose to ride from Coos Bay, Oregon to San Fransisco, CA. This ride includes the magnificent redwood forest, whale watching and seals sunbathing on rocks along the coastline. The bridges and small towns are each interesting in their own right. As you, you’ll feel the spray of the ocean as it slams against the rocky coastline, and smell the seaweed and salt in the air. Be alert for wildlife along the PCH, especially at night, as deer and elk are abundant as well as smaller animals and rodents. Don’t miss this, my vote for the number one, best ride in the United States.
There are many roads I’ve yet to ride, like A1A to Key West and the southernmost point in the United States, and America’s Loneliest Highway, which are not included in this list, since I can’t speak to them from experience. You can bet they’re on my bucket list, though, and I hope my current top 10 great rides are added to your bucket list, too. You won’t be sorry.