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16 Epic Motorcycle Rides Across America

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Pavement Perfection

What makes a road great for motorcyclists? Depending on who you ask, it could be scenery, skill-testing twists and turns, or diversions like historic sites and museums of iconic bikes that can turn a day of riding into the highlight of a longer trip. We spoke to avid riders and combed sites like MotorcycleRoads.com to find some of the nation's very best routes to explore on two wheels.

Natchez Trace Parkway
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Natchez Trace Parkway | Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi

This classic route spanning more than 400 miles in three states is ideal for riders who want to cruise and enjoy the pines, magnolias, and moss-draped oaks — it's mostly flat and straight. But the bigger draw might be the abundance of sights along the way. "The route has historical connections to Civil War battle history, as well as parts of the Natchez Trace Indian Trail," says Dave Gott, manager at American Legend Rider. "It's also a very scenic route, and if you need a break at any point, there's plenty of biker-friendly bed-and-breakfasts as well."

Can't-miss stop: Stop in the Mississippi town of Tupelo to pay homage at Elvis Presley's birthplace and childhood church.

Beartooth Highway
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Beartooth Highway | Wyoming and Montana

This iconic 68-mile pass isn't known for quaint towns or relaxing cruising. What you will get is a dizzying climb and descent, abundant twists and turns, and some of the nation's most dazzling mountain scenery. "You can make a pitstop or two to photograph the scenic mountain lakes or to make a few snowballs deep into summer," says Melanie Musson, an insurance expert for AutoInsurance.org and an avid motorcycle rider. "There's a possibility you may see wildlife like mountain goats, grizzly bears, or black bears. And since you'll cross through so many habitats on your climb, there will always be a zone of abundant wildflowers." The pass is typically open from the end of May through mid-October, but check weather conditions before you go, since snow is possible well into June.

Can't-miss stop: At the western end of Beartooth Pass, Yellowstone National Park beckons. Close to the entrance is Lamar Valley, a prime spot to spy bison, elk, bears, and even wolves.

Tail of the Dragon
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Tail of the Dragon | Tennessee

The imposing-sounding Tail of the Dragon might be the most famous (or infamous) motorcycle route in the country. At just 11 miles, it's not long, but it packs in 318 curves in that short stretch. Make no mistake: The road is well maintained, but there are steep drop-offs and hair-raising hairpin turns aplenty, and most years see at least a couple of fatal crashes. "The ride is challenging, yet thrilling, and takes you through the mountains facing switchbacks and elevation changes, which as a sport bike rider is music to my ears," says Jason Lotoski, founder of Tonit, an app that connects motorcyclists. "This ride is one to add to your bucket list for sure."

Can't-miss stop: The road skirts the southwestern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Slow down on a trail and take in the stunning mountain vistas before or after your ride.

Related: 20 Heart-Stopping Roads to Ride Around the World

blue ridge parkway
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The Blue Ridge Parkway | Virginia and North Carolina

In the mood for a more relaxed Applachian excursion? Sprawling 469 miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway has a 45 mph speed limit and gentle curves that make this ride ideal for beginners or anyone who wants to slow down and enjoy the view. "The parkway has breathtaking scenery, innumerable curves that make the ride interesting, the roadway is well-kept, and perhaps most important of all, there are no traffic lights or stop signs," says Mike Grady, a motorcycle expert with MOTORCYCLEiD.com. "There are plenty of connecting roads off the parkway for access to lodging and restaurants."

Can't-miss stop: Hop off the parkway in quirky Asheville, North Carolina, where the staggering Biltmore Estate is the most notable of many tourist draws. If you're willing to go further afield, Grady recommends the rare motorcycle collection at the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, about 40 minutes west of Asheville.

badlands
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Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway | South Dakota

The Badlands are ideal for a motorcycle trip that combines stunning scenery, challenging roads, and plenty of places to hop off your bike and explore. You'll find it all on the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway, a 70-mile route that includes some of South Dakota's most iconic sights. It also encompasses the famous Needles Highway, one of the best stretches for motorcyclists who want to twist and turn their way through Mother Nature. "Needles Highway features spectacular natural rock needle formations that rise to the sky. While you're in the area, swing by the small town of Sturgis, which turns into a motorcycle mecca every August," Musson says. "No biker's life is complete without some time spent in Sturgis during bike week."

Can't-miss stop: You'll be spoiled for choice along this route, where sights include Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Wildlife lovers will want to explore Custer State Park, one of the nation's largest state parks and home to bison, antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs.

loess hills
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Loess Hills National Scenic Byway | Iowa

If Iowa seems like a state better left off your motorcycle bucket list, the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway may change your mind. Far from flat, this 220-mile route in the state's southeastern corner undulates along sweeping grasslands, forests, and scenic farmland near the Missouri River. As RoadRunner notes, anyone up for a longer ride can take a number of side loops, yet the route is just fine for beginners, with relatively tame curves and elevation changes, plus little traffic.

Can't-miss stop: Hop off your bike at the Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek to learn about how the Loess Hills were formed, take a hike, or watch for hawks and other wildlife from the 45-foot observation tower.

mackinac bridge
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Lake Michigan Circle Tour | Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan

This 1,100-mile route follows scenic state routes that loop around Lake Michigan. Notable sights include Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes and Mackinac Island, Wisconsin's quaint Door Peninsula, and Chicago's Navy Pier and Soldier Field. If you'd rather shortcut across the lake, you can do it on the S.S. Badger, a four-hour car ferry between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Can't-miss stop: Milwuakee's Harley-Davidson Museum is an obvious stop for any motorcyclist, and the museum's Tim McCormick says it's a jumping-off point for plenty of routes. "Our proximity to Chicago and the beginning of Route 66 means a lot of folks will start that epic road trip here on campus before they roll their Harley-Davidson across the country. There are also loads of day-trip options for launching or landing a ride from the museum to explore Wisconsin's rustic roads and beautiful scenery."

going to the sun road
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Going-to-the-Sun Road | Montana

According to the National Park Service, you can drive all of Going-to-the-Sun Road in just two hours. But we recommend you stop — again and again. This breathtaking 50-mile route through Glacier National Park offers unparalleled mountain scenery that makes it worth a special summer trip. Barbara Ann Mealer, author and avid motorcyclist, calls the road a "must-ride" but cautions that riders "need to plan to get off those bikes and take a few hikes while in Glacier. It has a little bit of everything for nature lovers." Plan this trip for summer or early fall, because snow renders it inaccessible the rest of the year.

Can't-miss stop: Leave plenty of time to explore Logan Pass, the highest point on Going-to-the-Sun. Look out for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and grizzly bears in the alpine meadows while hiking to nearby Hidden Lake.

texas highway near big bend
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The Twisted Sisters | Texas

There's no better way to see Texas Hill Country than while zipping along The Twisted Sisters, located an hour outside San Antonio. This trio of modest ranch roads snakes more than 130 miles through some of the state's loveliest scenery. It also offers experienced motorcyclists a chance to enjoy what MotorcycleRoads.com calls "a roller coaster ride" of large hills and sharp turns without too much opposing traffic (though you'll always want to be on the lookout for deer and cattle).

Can't-miss stop: While this isn't a route known for abundant sightseeing, a meal at Old Spanish Trails Restaurant in Bandera will likely satisfy any cowpoke's longing for chicken-fried steak, and the modest Lonestar Motorcycle Museum displays over 60 bikes dating back to the 1910s.

San Juan Skyway
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San Juan Mountain Skyway | Colorado

The 236 miles of the San Juan Mountain Skyway offer some of Colorado's most dramatic Rocky Mountain vistas: rugged peaks, lush forests, rushing rivers, and the occasional abandoned mine. But beware: This route includes a hair-raising stretch that Jerry Raymond, founder of Hog Tours, says will test even the most experienced rider with guardrail-free twists and turns at dizzying heights. "If you're looking for challenging twisty roads, then Colorado is the area. The short ride from Durango through Silverton and on to Ouray includes the famous Million Dollar Highway. A lot of the road follows the old mining railroad and twists and turns through the mountains." Fortunately, there are plenty of turnouts where you can safely enjoy the views, and historic towns that offer a chance to slow down and see some sights after an afternoon of riding.

Can't-miss stop: There are many diversions along this route, but consider hopping aboard the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad's steam-powered locomotive for a completely different way to explore the area.

ozark national forest
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Pig Trail Scenic Byway | Arkansas

Though it's only 19 miles long, the Pig Trail punches above its weight when it comes to scenery. This lush route through the Ozarks' Boston Mountains is a tree-lover's dream and especially lovely during spring wildflower or fall foliage season. Still, it's not exactly a leisurely ride, so beginners beware. There are "hairpin turns, switchbacks, curves, curves, hills, curves and more curves," warns motorcycleroads.com.

Can't-miss stop: Stretch your legs on the gorgeous Ozark Highlands Trail, a major long-distance trail for hikers that stretches 270 miles, more than 160 of those in the Boston Mountains.

pacific coast highway
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Pacific Coast Highway/Pacific Coast Scenic Byway | California, Oregon, and Washington

Jaw-dropping views of the Pacific, sandy beaches, redwood forests, and interesting towns make this a route to tackle not in days, but weeks — especially when you combine the Pacific Coast Highway with the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway in Oregon and Washington. Mealer recommends the stretch from San Francisco north through those two states. "You must take time to see the lighthouses and some of the little towns along with the historic spots," she raves. "It took me over two weeks to make that ride." Though not as technical as some of the other roads on our list, the road can be quite twisty as it hugs the coast, and the steep drop off to the water can churn the stomach of even experienced riders.

Can't-miss stop: How to pick just one? History buffs will want to carve out an afternoon to explore Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst's epic estate, near San Simeon, California. Further north, in Big Sur, the Bixby Bridge is the star of one of the most-photographed vistas on the coast.

Highway 89A
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Grand Canyon South Rim | Arizona

An easy day trip from Flagstaff, the roads to and along the South Rim are mostly straight and ready for cruising. "There are just so many great turnouts and stops to view the most magnificent hole in the ground in the world," Raymond says. He recommends stopping at the Cameron Trading Post on Route 89 to check out Native American arts and crafts, plus "eat a massive Navajo Taco to fill up for the next leg of your journey."

Can't-miss stop: Head north on Route 89 from Cameron and you'll eventually hit the town of Page, near the Utah border. There, after a short hike, you can gaze at Horseshoe Bend, one of the most stunning vistas along the Colorado River. There's also Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon that Raymond highly recommends for a hike.

US 6 in Ansonia, PA
US 6 in Ansonia, PA by Finetooth (CC BY-SA)

U.S. Route 6 | Pennsylvania

U.S. Route 6, otherwise known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, is a Pennsylvania motorcyclist's delight. Though the rolling terrain means plenty of sweeping curves and elevation changes, there's no white-knuckle riding, but there are plenty of glacial valleys, forests, and old mining towns. "This is a laid-back cruise with beautiful scenery, charming villages, and historic sites," raves RoadRunner. The site recommends riders set aside two to three days for the roughly 400-mile ride.

Can't-miss stop: Train enthusiasts won't be able to resist the 5 in Scranton, a railroad museum with a large collection of steam locomotives, some still operational for short excursions.

cape may
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U.S. Route 9 | New Jersey

The Pacific Coast often hogs all the glory, but don't overlook the subtler charms of the Atlantic. One of the best places to explore on two wheels is one you might least expect: New Jersey. Route 9 parallels the coast, giving riders a great sampler of the Garden State — urban, suburban, and rural — along the way. "I look for rides that are varied, have points of interest, and challenge my riding skills. Route 9 fits the bill," says Howard Karp, a longtime New Jersey resident, riding instructor and owner of three motorcycles. "The road continually changes, demanding the rider to adapt." He says a particularly good time to check out the route is during Wildwood's Roar to the Shore Motorcycle Rally, slated this year for September.

Can't-miss stop: Route 9 ends in southern New Jersey in one of the state's most famous beach towns, Cape May. Make time to poke around the shops and grand homes, among the nation's best collection of Victorian architecture. Up for more riding? Hop on the ferry to Lewes, Delaware, and continue your ride down the coast.

Route 66
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U.S. Route 66 | Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California

What can be said about the Mother Road that hasn't already been said? Route 66 and its historic gas stations and kitschy diners still beckon, especially for those who want a relatively easy, nostalgic cruise. Opting to ride all of its 2,000-some miles could consume an entire two-week vacation (and then some). Mealer recommends that anyone short on time check out Arizona's stretch of the Mother Road, where desert mesas and scenic valleys make for its most dazzling riding. "The best section is going to Oatman and sharing the road with wild burros," she says. Even better: This nearly 160-mile stretch, from the Colorado River to Ash Fork, is the longest continuous stretch of the original Route 66 still in existence.

Can't-miss sight: Enjoy a short, steep hike at Walnut Canyon National Monument, just outside of Flagstaff, and marvel at the beauty of the canyon and ancient cliff dwellings tucked within.