This Southeast Ohio motorcycle tour story, which highlights some of the best Ohio motorcycle roads and a stay in the historic town of Marietta on the Ohio River, first appeared in the March 2023 issue of Rider.
For riders who want to carve continual curves through forests, along rivers, and past farms, you won’t find better roads in so focused an area than in the southeast corner of Ohio. The landscape of constantly rising and falling hills results in roller coaster roads that will have you laughing with joy. The rush from blind rises, off-camber curves, and decreasing-radius corners is never-ending. Add abundant wildlife, farm vehicles, and the occasional Amish buggy to the equation and you quickly realize how crucial it is to stay laser-focused on the task at hand.
With the benefit of routes created and inspired by Ed Conde of New England Riders, many riders from the Northeast and Canada make the trek south to savor these roads. The small, historic city of Marietta on the bank of the Ohio River is an ideal base of operations for a tour of this region. We found multiple options for lodging, a lively downtown with a variety of great restaurants and pubs, and even a motorcycle shop that will come in handy if your tires lose tread faster than expected.
Our group of experienced sport-touring riders, including my good friends Steve Efthyvoulou, Randy Palmer, and Bob Holahan, confirmed a plan over breakfast and then began our day heading north and east of Marietta on Ohio State Route 821. Beyond Whipple, a right on Dalzell Road had us winding through forested hills. The constant elevation changes could be a cartographer’s worst nightmare, but they’re a motorcyclist’s dream come true. Our group was connected via bike-to-bike intercom, which enabled the lead rider to offer helpful warnings:
Wow, this curve tightens fast!
Watch for gravel in that right hander.
The road drops left after that blind rise … weeee!
At State Route 565, we turned right, curved past Zwick Park, then headed south on State Route 260 through Quarry and to New Matamoras. The curves were incredible! At State Route 7, we turned left toward the township of Fly, then left on State Route 800 back up into the hills. Beyond Jackson Ridge Church, we turned right on State Route 255 to Laings, then stayed on 255 back to Sardis and Route 7.
Route 7 is designated the Ohio River Scenic Byway. Scenic, yes, but it’s mostly flat and lacks challenging curves. However, it was useful for taking us to the next incredibly curvy road up into the hills: State Route 536 in Hannibal. A short diversion onto Long Ridge Road and Short Ridge Road brought us up to Kiedaisch Point Park. From there we enjoyed the vista overlooking the Hannibal Locks and the bridge crossing the Ohio River to New Martinsville, West Virginia.
With our stomachs signaling lunch, we decided to cross that bridge and found Quinet’s Restaurant. The buffet is extensive, and an impressive display of local history covers the walls of this New Martinsville institution. Appetites satisfied, we crossed back into Ohio and picked up State Route 536 all the way to State Route 78, where turning right put us on a parallel track with Sunfish Creek, which meanders and then widens before emptying into the Ohio River at Clarington. Route 7 sent us to State Route 556 where we turned to enjoy more curves all the way to Beallsville and State Route 145.
At Jerusalem, a left pointed us south on State Route 26, the National Forest Covered Bridge Scenic Byway. For most of its length, the byway parallels the Little Muskingum River, and we happened upon Rinard Covered Bridge. It’s the third covered bridge to be constructed on this location, the original dating to 1875. On these winding southeastern Ohio roads, shoulders vary from narrow to nonexistent, so this stop was noteworthy because it was a chance to pull safely off the road to shoot photographs. Continuing on Route 26 provided us miles of smiles back to Marietta.
The mental focus required to follow all these curves, coupled with the physical demands of countersteering and shifting body position on heavy sport-tourers, had us feeling tired at the end of the day. After returning to Marietta, we walked to Tampico Mexican Restaurant and rehashed a fantastic day over a relaxed meal and a pitcher of margaritas.
Your humble scribe is an early riser, so the next morning as the sky began to lighten, I set out to explore more of downtown Marietta. Reading the many historical signs, I learned that pioneers established the town in 1788 as the first permanent white settlement of the United States Territory Northwest of the River Ohio. Many original settlers were Revolutionary War officers who were offered land grants as compensation for military service. Artisans from my native New England also settled here, bringing with them skills that helped Marietta quickly become a center for shipbuilding. Between 1800 and 1812, nearly 30 ocean-going vessels were built here in eight shipyards.
Another piece of riverfront history is the place where we stayed, the Lafayette Hotel (c. 1918). Inside, the hotel’s lobby feels like a formal parlor. Realtors might describe the rooms as “quaint” and “cozy,” with the period furnishings and fixtures including styles long forgotten by interior designers. Our tidy room overlooked the Ohio River, the Highland Avenue Bridge, and lovely riverside homes on the opposite riverbank in Williamstown, West Virginia. Even the parking area for our bikes overlooked the river. Modern-day riverboats still dock at that very spot, as one did during our stay, so it’s fitting that this lodging retains the feel of the riverboat era.
After breakfast at the hotel, our group was ready for another day behind the handlebars. Since any road is different in the opposite direction, we began by reversing course on one of our favorites from the day before, Route 26. The weather was perfect, and we enjoyed glimpses of the scenery when we could divert our attention briefly from the curvaceous road. In Woodsfield, we found Ida’s Lunchbox, which other riders had recommended, and enjoyed a light lunch and conversation, while a farmer at the next table listened attentively to the agriculture report on TV.
We continued on 26 to Jerusalem, turned west on State Route 145, kept twisting southwesterly along Duck Creek to Lewisville, and then took State Route 724 west to Carlisle. A different stretch of Route 260 wound us south along East Fork Duck Creek to Harriettsville. Just past town, we turned right on State Route 564 and began to follow Middle Fork Duck Creek to Caldwell. State Route 78 took us out of town and curved to a highlight of the day: Big Muskie Bucket, the business end of one of the largest machines ever to move on land.
Big Muskie was a walking dragline designed to remove earth and uncover a coal seam that lay 180 feet below the surface. This colossal machine was electric, powered by a 13,000-volt “extension cord,” and so enormous it’s hard to wrap your brain around the scale. It was 1.5 times longer than a football field, more than 222 feet tall, and weighed 12,000 tons. The bucket, which weighs 210 tons when empty, could grab 325 tons of earth in a single “bite” and hold 220 cubic yards. In 1969, the entire Morgan High School Marching Band, nearly 50 members strong, played inside the bucket at Big Muskie’s inaugural ceremonies. By 1991, more efficient mining methods and increasingly stringent environmental regulations sidelined Big Muskie. Now the bucket is all that remains, rusting away in a park on Route 78 near Bristol.
We briefly reversed course on 78 to State Route 83 and headed south for gentler curves down to Beverly. There, a left on State Route 339 moved us into farm country and past Crooked Tree. A right on State Route 821 had us paralleling Duck Creek through Macksburg, Elba, and Warner. A right on State Route 530 delivered the day’s last dose of twisties down to Lowell, where leisurely State Route 60 returned us to Marietta.
One thing we had missed thus far was a ferry ride, so we made a quick run up Route 7 to the Sistersville Ferry, which has carried people across the Ohio River between Fly, Ohio, and Sistersville, West Virginia, for over two centuries. Several types of ferry have been used throughout the company’s history, and the one currently in use is a type none of us had seen before. Vehicles drive onto a ferry barge, which is propelled through the water by a tug. The barge is double-ended so it doesn’t have to change direction with each river crossing, but the tug needs to turn around after each landing. The tug’s bow is attached to the barge’s side via a pivoting mechanism that resembles an automotive trailer hitch. When the ferry reaches the other side, the captain simply pivots the tug 180 degrees to cross the other way. Pretty slick.
After the ferry, we made our way back to Marietta, where our dinner spot was a short stroll through Ohio Riverfront Park to Levee House Bistro for, of all things, lobster – prepared by a chef from Boston no less!
Commitments back home had us heading east the next morning, but we plan to return to this region for more great riding. To the north is State Route 555, the renowned “Triple Nickel” (see Ken Frick’s story “Riding Ohio’s Triple Nickel”). To the west are gentler curves leading to Hocking Hills State Park, where riders can enjoy some of Ohio’s best scenery and stretch their legs on short hikes. The hilly landscape is much the same on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River, with roads such as West Virginia State Route 20 from New Martinsville to Mannington and U.S. Route 250 from Mannington to Moundsville, keeping riders on their toes and making joyful noises.
If you prefer roller coaster rides that you control, a motorcyclist’s amusement park awaits you in southeastern Ohio.