Photograph by Peter Blottman/Alamy
There’s something uniquely satisfying about touring by motorcycle. The enhanced sense of freedom. The heightened adventure and awareness as you sweep through twisties and curves. You could never get so close to nature's beauty from inside a car. Here are ten great motorcycle rides in the U.S.
Pacific Coast Highway, Carmel to Morro Bay: California
A scenic roadway like no other, the Big Sur section of California’s coastal highway offers a smorgasbord of treats: crashing surf, towering redwood forests, seal-dotted beaches, and enough curves to keep you contented end to end. This cliff-hugging ribbon stretches 120 miles and has frequent turnouts for enjoying the stellar views. It’s enough to whet your appetite for more, and that's no problem. It’s part of the longer Pacific Coast Highway, which extends along pretty much the entire California coast, from Malibu to the Oregon border and beyond. Planning: Avoid summer weekends, and be sure to book a visit to Hearst Castle well in advance. And dress warm: Big Sur is famously fogbound, especially in summer months.
Peak to Peak Highway: Colorado
Sure, it’s barely 60 miles long, but this ride combines sensational twisties with some of the finest scenery that Mother Nature can offer. You’ll marvel at dazzling Rocky Mountain vistas as you crest the Continental Divide through the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. The road scythes into glacier-cut valleys and switchbacks up through thick forests to reach alpine meadows—gloriously ablaze in Monet colors in springtime. From Golden take Highway 6 through Clear Lake Canyon Park to reach Highway 119, the beginning of the Peak to Peak, which extends north along Highways 72 and 7 before dropping to Estes Park. Moose and elk are often seen here; keep to a safe speed, as hitting one could seriously ruin your day. Planning: Pack your hiking boots and take a break to walk a scenic trail, or pack camping gear for overnight.
Blue Ridge Parkway: North Carolina and Virginia
This iconic mountain route is on almost every serious motorcyclist’s must-do list. The northern section, in Virginia, passes Civil War battle sites as it ambles through bucolic countryside. Farther south you climb into the Great Smoky Mountains, where the smooth, well-maintained Blue Ridge Parkway is renowned for its sweeping curves and arresting scenery. A compulsory 45-mile-per-hour speed limit means that you have time to savor the views, which reach a crescendo south of Asheville, North Carolina. For a longer ride, take the 105-mile Skyline Drive through Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park; the drive links to the parkway. Planning: Allow at least two days for this 469-mile ride.
Tail of the Dragon: North Carolina and Tennessee
So famous that it’s been the subject of several movies and TV shows, legendary U.S. 129 whips up 318 tight curves in just 11 miles and could well claim to be the number one motorcycle ride in the country for sheer exhilaration. Touring enthusiasts and die-hard sport-bike riders make a beeline for this road to test their cornering skills. Fortunately, no trucks are allowed. The road spans Deal’s Gap at the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. Planning: Go to enjoy the ride, not to prove your bravado.
Beartooth Highway: Montana and Wyoming
The Beartooth Highway—a 68-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 212—is the perfect definition of what a great bike ride should be, with dozens of hairpins and switchbacks. Beginning at Red Lodge, Montana, the National Scenic Byway is a roller-coaster ride as it travels up through Beartooth Pass (10,947 feet) in Wyoming. It zigzags the entire way as it cuts across the Custer and Shoshone National Forests and sweeps through above-tree line tundra. And those views! High alpine meadows burst into bloom in summer, while lakes reflect snow-capped summits. Traveling southwest, the route ends at Cooke City, the northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Planning: The pass is usually closed October through May due to snow. At any time of year, check the weather forecast before setting off.
Going-to-the-Sun Road: Montana
Remote and accessible solely in summer, this epic 50-mile stretch is a holy grail for serious riders. The up-and-down thriller has more twists and turns than a soap opera drama. It transcends Glacier National Park, climbing 3,000 feet from Lake McDonald to the 6,646-foot summit at Logan Pass. Stop en route at Jackson Glacier Overlook to take in the jaw-dropping views. Planning: Take binoculars and stop to spot bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Check the weather before setting out.
Coastal Route One: Maine
You can smell the crustaceans on the wind as you ride the coastal section of Maine’s U.S. Route 1 from Brunswick to Machias—a quintessential New England experience. The 167-mile stretch of two-lane asphalt leads through quaint seaside villages and past dozens of historic lighthouses. Scenic detours, not twisties, are the name of the game as you dawdle through towns along the way, although the road does have some open sections with high-speed, sweeping curves. Keep two fingers on the brake lever in case a moose appears around the bend. Planning: Avoid summer, when the road can be lined bumper to bumper, and plan on stopping at one of the route's many lobster shacks.
Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument Ride: Utah
Geologists will delight in Scenic Byway 12, which offers 124 miles of sensational eroded scenery as it snakes through Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks and the Petrified Forest State Park. Fantastical multicolored formations—buttes, canyons, cliffs, and mesas—are visible all along this ever writhing route. Plus, the region has been home to Native American peoples since ancient times. Begin in Panguitch and follow U.S. 89 south to reach Route 12, then head east to Torrey. Planning: Allow two days for this drive, including an overnight in the region to savor the mind-blowing colors of sunrise and sunset.
Natchez Trace Parkway: Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi
Before it was the Natchez Trace Parkway, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this route was a migratory trail for buffalo and later for Native Americans. Unfurling for 444 miles from Nashville to Natchez, the two-lane asphalt delight earned the National Scenic Byway moniker for its cultural, historic, and scenic appeal. The ride is steeped in yesteryear mementos, including Civil War battle sites, ghost towns, and segments of the original Natchez Trace Indian Trail. Scenery kaleidoscopes from rolling farmland to cypress swamp. Bikers don’t need to worry about trucks (they’re not allowed) or stop signs (there are none). Planning: There are no commercial services along the route, but plenty of biker-friendly B&Bs are close to the Trace.
River Road: Texas
Enduro riders will love the 17-mile off-road loop through the Valley of the Gods—a highlight of the otherwise smooth pavement of Highway 170 between Candelaria and Presidio, Texas. Known as the River Road, it follows the Rio Grande on a snaking 115-mile trail past soaring cliffs in a spectrum of ochers, reds, and purples. Other highlights include ancient lava flows and the Fort Leaton State Historic Site (an adobe fortress dating from 1848). A side trip from Lajitas leads to the old Contrabando Movie Set in Big Bend Ranch State Park. Planning: Avoid the heat of summer.
Discover America's Best Road Trips
Get inspired for your next epic American road trip with guides, tips, and more from National Geographic.
2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Browse photos of nature, cities, and people and share your favorite photos.