Many of us don’t need help figuring out all of the roads we’d like to ride before we high-side off this mortal coil, but just in case you do, here are 35 to start your list, arranged alphabetically by state or country.
The longest stretch of genuine old U.S. 66 is in western Arizona, running 90 lonely miles from Seligman to Kingman alongside the tracks of the Burlington-Northern-Santa Fe. Railroads came in the late 19th century, and automotive roads followed in the early 20th. In Seligman lives Angel Delgadillo, who was born there 88 years ago and has been instrumental in preserving the legend of old 66.
The riding around the Buffalo National River in the Ozark Mountains provides endless amusement, and many chances to wash the dust off your wheels. The Newton County seat of Jasper, on State Route 7, provides a focal point, and little roads go off in every direction, including through the Ozark National Forest. A word to the wise: If you are faced with fording a river, best to walk the distance first, just so you don’t end up with a flooded bike.
The Big Sur Highway, carved out of the coast along the Santa Lucia Range for a hundred miles between Cambria and Carmel, is my own favorite road, being almost in my backyard. It’s an all-year ride, presuming that winter rains do not cause landslides. Two lanes with an uncountable number of curves, the mountains on one side, the surf frothing along the short on the other. Don’t try sightseeing from the moving motorcycle; stop and then look, it’s safer.
Go way, way east to Nova Scotia, and there at the tip of Cape Breton Island is Cape North, the farthest you can ride on the North American continent, 3,922 Mapquest miles from San Diego. The road looping around the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is called the Cabot Trail (after the 15th-century explorer John Cabot), and in good weather the 135-mile loop is one of the more divine rides on the continent. Bad weather? Don’t go.
Schofield Pass (10,707 feet) is not for the faint of heart, being one of the toughest rides in the Rocky Mountains. Back in the 1880s, when silver was king, the 5-mile Gothic Road was built between the mining sites in Marble and Crested Butte, much of it merely a shelf blasted out of the mountainside that just drops straight down into the Crystal River Canyon. It’s a dangerous ride, and only the really, really competent should try it (according to Wikipedia, the pass has claimed 12 lives).
The Chattahoochee National Forest is one of the great motorcycle playgrounds, and the Two Wheels of Suches Motorcycle Campground & Lodge is the place to stay. Founded in the early 1980s by Frank and Jeanie Cheek, the original Two Wheels Only (T.W.O.) Motorcycle Resort hosted well over half a million motorcyclists. T.W.O. closed down in 2011, and the property was later purchased by motorcycle enthusiast and local resident Bill Johnston, who expanded and renovated the facility. It re-opened as Two Wheels of Suches in March 2014. There are hundreds of miles of two-lane roads to ride, including the diabolically twisty Wolf Pen Gap Road (State Route 180), State Route 60 and U.S. Route 129, to name but a few.
For my money, the most fun and least populated island in the archipelago/state of Hawaii is Kauai—and motorcycle rentals are available. There are only about a hundred miles of paved road on the island, which covers some 550 square miles. However, the 20-mile run up Waimea Canyon Drive to the 4,000-foot Kalalau Lookout in the Kokee State Park makes at least one day’s rental essential. The ride is best done early in the morning, before the tourist get out.
The 160-mile Salmon River Scenic Byway runs along State Route 75 and U.S. Route 93 from the southern terminus of Stanley, in the Sawtooth Mountains, up the Continental Divide crossing at 7,014-foot Lost Trail Pass on the Idaho/Montana state line. The river is this great north-flowing cascade of water, paralleling much of the route, shared by fisherfolk and rafters. The forests are full of moose and elk and deer, so best be wary, especially at dawn and dusk.
The 9,045-foot Stelvio Pass may be the most famous pass in the Alps for motorcyclists, with 48 hairpin turns on the northeast side and a lot of curves and tunnels on the southwest slope. The road from Bormio to Prato alla Stelvio is about 30 miles, and was built back in the 1820s to enhance trade. Nowadays it caters mainly to motorcyclists and bicyclists (a hardy lot), with some cars and a few tour busses.
If you want to take a 1950s trip across the Great Plains, take U.S. Route 36 across Kansas, about 400 miles from the Missouri River to St. Francis as the eagle flies. Back 150 years ago, much of this road was a major route for wagon trains and even, briefly, the Pony Express. Nowadays it offers the best of small-town America, with friendly folk serving up eggs and homemade sausage in the cafés, and clean and inexpensive motels when you need to sleep.
U.S. Route 1/State Route 3 from Bath to Bar Harbor is only about 120 miles, but if you ride along all the little side roads the trip could take you a week. A dozen or more peninsulas reach south into the Atlantic Ocean from the main road, and they all have roads that are well worth exploration, whether it is to Boothbay or Port Clyde or Stonington. Good people will greet you, and the food is excellent—presuming you like fish and lobster.
The Mohawk Trail, otherwise known as State Route 2, runs 40 miles west from Greenfield across the Berkshire Mountains to Williamstown. This is a short ride, but the trail has dozens of little side routes to places like the 5-mile Hoosac railroad tunnel, an engineering marvel in the 1870s, or to the top of Mount Greylock, which at 3,491 feet is the highest point in the state, offering stunning views.
Copper Canyon figures large in the minds of those who want to take a trip to Mexico—and it should, as it is a lot larger than the Grand Canyon. The independent travelers can take a ride on their own down to the colonial mining town of Batopilas, or one can opt for a guided tour with a vehicle to carry the baggage. Most riders use Batopilas as a turnaround point, but the truly adventurous can leave the canyon by fording two big rivers on their way to Urique.
The Natchez Trace Parkway runs 450 miles from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, and the most fun is down where it starts alongside the Mississippi River. There is gambling and drinking and all sorts of goings-on down on Silver Street, just like 150 years ago when the riverboat fellows would get paid off and go and have a good time before making the long walk home up the Trace.
A hundred-mile portion of the Great River Road runs on the west side of the Mississippi River from St. Louis northwest to Hannibal, and it is a cheerfully slow road to ride. St. Louis is a big, bustling city, but as soon as you turn onto State Route 79 that is all left behind. You can ride out to see three of the river’s dams and locks, browse through some 50 antique stores and art galleries along the way, and end up in Tom Sawyer’s hometown.
The 50 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway in Glacier National Park is best tackled early in the morning before the motorhomers get up and clog the road. And the quasi-inevitable construction crews start their work, as they have a short season to keep the road in good repair. From Logan Pass and the Continental Divide, at 6,647 feet, are great views from 10,052-foot Mount Jackson in the south to 10,479-foot Mount Cleveland in the north.
U.S. Route 6 through the Silver State is the true loneliest road—U.S. Route 50 has probably five times more traffic. U.S. 6 runs roughly 250 miles from Montgomery Pass near the California border to the town of Ely, over in the eastern part of Nevada. It’s all high desert, over 6,000 feet, as the road crosses the Great Basin, with hardly a curve to be found. Once you get to Ely you can continue on U.S. 6 all the way to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod.
18. New Hampshire
Every motorcycle rider should run up the Mount Washington Auto Road at least once—though one might have to try several times as the road is closed when the weather is acting up. Which it often does; it took me three tries to get to the top of the 6,288-foot mountain. The 7.6-mile road first opened in 1861, and the toll-ticket (in 2015) is $16 for a motorcycle and operator, plus another $8 for a passenger. In June, two “Ride to the Sky” days are offered—for motorcyclists only.
19. New Mexico
Taking the back way from the town of Shiprock, New Mexico, to Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona along Indian Route 13 is a beautiful ride. Out there in the middle of the desert is Shiprock itself, named by the emigrants with the 8-mile-a-day Conestoga wagons because it looked, from a distance, like a ship at full sail, as it reaches nearly 1,600 feet above the desert floor.
20. New York
The run up Whiteface Mountain is an absolute must. State Route 431 is a short 8-mile road, off State Route 48, with a toll to get in, but the rewards are tremendous, especially if you make the effort to walk, or take the elevator (I kid you not), to the very top, giving you a view across hundreds of square miles of upstate New York, all the way to Lake Champlain. This is at the north end of the Adirondack Park, easily accessible from Lake Placid or Saranac Lake.
21. New Zealand
Two big islands make up this country, and I find that the South Island can provide me with endless motorcycling pleasure. There are few people, little traffic and great roads through great scenery—the New Zealand Alps, Milford Sound and the ever-entertaining resort town of Queenstown, where you can jetboat or bungee jump. Being on the same southerly latitudes as the United States is northerly, it’s a great place for a winter vacation.
22. North Carolina
Taking State Route 12 the 90 miles from Kitty Hawk to Ocracoke includes a couple of ferries, which is all to the good. Most of the real estate falls in the purview of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, so habitations are few. Most tourists congregate around the northern towns, like Kill Devil Hills, where the Wright brothers flew their airplane in 1903, so I advise the motorcyclist to go south, where there are unimpeded roads and views.
The Historic Columbia River Highway is a class ride; this old road (and it is old, being built between 1913 and 1922) runs for 15 miles between Corbett and Dodson. It was built to attract all those folk who drove a Model T or rode an Indian PowerPlus, winding up to 700 feet at Crown Point. Today the trucks and motorhomes are all down on Interstate 84, whereas this original has been well-maintained as a scenic route.
The Millersburg Ferry is certainly an old-fashioned way to cross the Susquehanna River. Ferry service began operation in 1807, with the stern-wheel paddle ferryboat coming along about a hundred years later. This contraption conveys people and vehicles across the river from Millersburg to near Liverpool, with a motorcyclist paying $7 for himself and machine, an additional $3 if there is a passenger (in 2015). This is a fine piece of living history.
South America is a big place, and for my money Peru is the most interesting country to go to, with stupendous geography and fascinating history. To ride east from Pisco (home to the Pisco sour) on the coast through to Cusco high in the Andes and back down to Manu National Park in the Amazon basin is more than 700 rugged miles. Sorry, no road goes to the fabled Macchu Pichu; from Cusco, it’s a walk, take a train, or go by helicopter.
Following the Douro River the hundred miles from Peso de Regua to Porto, on the Atlantic Ocean, is to relish the past. Roads run along either side of the river, often high up, and little cafés offering tripe dishes are in every town—as is the famous port wine, a sweetish wine, both red and white, that the British made famous 200 years ago. Down at the mouth of the river the city of Porto has great history and even better tasting rooms.
27. South Dakota
The Black Hills are definitely worth having a look at, covering some 5,000 square miles in the southwest corner of South Dakota. If you like to share the roads with 100,000 other bikes, go during the annual Sturgis rally in August. I recommend that all motorcyclists witness the event at least once. For a more leisurely approach to the history and beauty of the area, go some other time of year.
There are three ways to get from Airolo to Andermatt. One is to take the 10-mile road tunnel under the 6,900-foot St. Gotthard Pass, another the relatively new road over the pass, or better yet, take the old road. This was a footpath as long ago as the 13th century, became a road that a carriage could use in 1775, and was paved with cobblestones in the late 19th century. Today that old road is definitely the most interesting way for a motorcyclist to get over the pass.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch is in Amarillo, built 50 years ago to cater to the traffic going by on old U.S. Route 66. The Panhandle is the easiest way to cross the Lone Star State as it is only 180 miles wide, with Interstate 40 being the fast route, old U.S. 66 the slow. That free 72-ounce steak is a real deal—if you can eat it all in one hour. The restaurant says that more than 40,000 people have tried, and the success rate is about 1 in 6; I usually pay for the 8-ounce sirloin.
Riding the Friendship Highway 800 miles from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, is a very adventurous trip, being mostly a dirt road, often mud, going up over half-a-dozen very high passes, 16,000 feet or more. Several motorcycle tour companies have, in the past, run trips along this road, but much depends on the current state of political affairs between China and the Tibetan people.
After the inevitable crowds at Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, it is nice to find a stunningly beautiful and under-visited Cedar Breaks National Monument just a few miles away. My favorite way to get there is taking State Route 14 (Markagaunt High Plateau Scenic Byway) east from Cedar City, and after cresting Midway Summit at 9,900 feet, take a left onto State Route 148 (Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway) which runs into the monument. Leaving, I take State Route 143 east toward Panguitch, a very hospitable town.
State Route 100 runs the length of the state, but the best stretch is the 130 miles between Waterbury (home to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream) and Wilmington, a mostly two-lane road that runs along the east side of the Green Mountain National Forest, and half of the fun is taking the little side roads that run over places like Appalachian Gap and Lincoln Gap. The region offers lots of rustic beauty and the occasional general store that makes great deli sandwiches.
More than 200 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway runs through western Virginia, and it is a ride that every motorcyclist should do at least once. This 469-mile road along the crest of the southern Appalachian Mountains between Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks was essentially a WPA project during the Great Depression, and proof that good things can come out of bad times.
Crossing the Cascades on U.S. Route 2, from Snohomish to the pseudo-Bavarian ski-resort town of Leavenworth, is a delightful way to add 100 miles to your bike’s odometer. From sea level the road climbs up to 4,056 feet at Stevens Pass, then descends toward the Columbia River. Little side roads run into the Jackson Wilderness or Alpine Lakes Wilderness, with camping along well-named sites like Icicle Creek—yes, it is cold.
Beartooth Pass (10,947 feet) provides some very stimulating riding. I like to stay in the town of Cody, Buffalo Bill’s old stomping grounds, and head out over Dead Indian Pass (8,071 feet) on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (State Routes 120/296). Is there a Dead White Man Pass somewhere? Then hang a right onto U.S. Route 212 and climb up over the Beartooth Mountains on a road that was opened in 1936—unforgettable!